Hahn on “What Lincoln Meant to the Slaves”

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A wood engraving of “contraband” slaves escaping to Fort Monroe, Va. (Library of Congress)

Hahn, Steven. “What Lincoln Meant to the Slaves.” New York Times. Disunion, February 12, 2011. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/12/what-lincoln-meant-to-the-slaves/.


Scholars and the interested public have long debated Lincoln’s views on slavery and how they influenced his policies as president. How committed was he to abolition? What was he prepared to do? Could he imagine a world in which white and black people lived together in peace and freedom? For many slaves, at least at first, the answer was clear: Lincoln’s election meant emancipation.

On one Virginia plantation, a group of slaves celebrated Lincoln’s inauguration by proclaiming their freedom and marching off their owner’s estate. In Alabama, some slaves had come to believe that “Lincoln is soon going to free them all,” and had begun “making preparations to aid him when he makes his appearance,” according to local whites. A runaway slave in Louisiana told his captors in late May 1861 that “the North was fighting for the Negroes now and that he was as free as his master.” Shortly thereafter, a nearby planter conceded that “the Negroes have gotten a confused idea of Lincoln’s Congress meeting and of the war; they think it is all to help them and they expected for ‘something to turn up….’”

Read the rest here.

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