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To what extent was Lincoln a mandate to abolish slavery?

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The South feared that their rights to slavery were in jeopardy with the election of Republican, Abraham Lincoln. However, the election of Lincoln was not a mandate for the abolition of slavery in the United States. Lincoln’s primary platform while running for president was to stop the spread of slavery, not to abolish it. His Republican principles were the foundation for his disapproval of slavery. However, Lincoln realized that slavery was protected by the constitution and that he did not hold the power to abolish slavery. The popular votes showed that more than half of the population did not vote for Lincoln. The outcome of the election was not a mandate to end slavery because Lincoln did not receive the majority of the popular votes and he had no intention of abolishing slavery.

Although Abraham Lincoln disapproved of slavery, he had no intention of abolishing it. Prior to his election, slavery was legal and the ownership of slaves was defended by the constitution as private property. Lincoln understood this law, the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, and he recognized the restrictions of the government when dealing with slavery. It is stated in the Fifth Amendment that “private property can not be taken for public use, without just compensation.” During Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, he stated “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” Lincoln did, however, express his desire to stop the spread of slavery and even to see slavery abolished in the District of Columbia.

Lincoln was acutely aware that slavery was protected under the constitution, yet he still expressed his discontent of it by saying he would be “exceedingly glad to see Slavery abolished in the District of Columbia.” Lincoln only wanted this if it happened under certain conditions which he viewed as fair to the southern states. In the Lincoln-Douglas Debate at Freeport, Illinois, he stated “I should not, with my present views, be in favor of endeavoring to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, unless it would be upon these conditions: First that the abolition should be gradual; second, that it should be on a vote of the majority of qualified voters in the district, and third, that compensation should be made to unwilling owners.” The plan to gradually end slavery, starting with the territories, (such as the District of Columbia) was not popular with the country. Although the country respected and supported Lincoln, they did not always agree with his views. This country was founded on democratic principles, and therefore it was the majority, not the opinion of one omnipotent ruler, that dictated the laws of the land.

Lincoln managed to win the election through the Electoral College, where he received 180 votes. He only received 40 percent of the popular vote. Lincoln’s name was not even present on the ballot in ten southern states. In order for Lincoln’s election to become a clearly defined mandate for the American population, he would have had to win the election by an overwhelming majority. One of his primary platforms would also have had to have been the emancipation of slavery. Neither of these is true about Lincoln’s presidential election.

An editorial from the Pennsylvania Schuylkill Journal pointed out that the slavery issue was not the sole Republican principle. This reflected the public’s view that most of those who voted for Lincoln were not doing it to free the slaves. In an editorial from the Schuylkill Journal it is stated, “There are, no doubt, many who voted for Lincoln, who are entirely indifferent to the subject of slavery,” The editorial points out that radical abolitionists refused to vote. The abolitionists were much harsher on Lincoln than they were on any of his opponents. Republicans received most of their votes as a result of their other policies including protective tariffs, internal improvements, and homesteads. The northern states, which were Lincoln’s primary support in the election, denounced the emancipation of the slaves. Therefore, Lincoln’s victory in the election certainly was not a mandate for the slaves’ emancipation.

Southerners viewed Lincoln’s election into office very symbolically. They felt as though the Southern institution of slavery was completely dependent on the will and inclination of the North. This also led them to feel as though other aspects of their Southern culture were dependent on the North. Because of this, the southern states began to consider leaving the Union. Immediately following the election of Lincoln, South Carolina realized that the government was completely under the Northern states’ control, and it seceded from the Union. It was widely known that Lincoln and his supporters wanted a gradual, peaceful end to slavery. Lincoln had been elected despite the fact that he received no votes in ten of the southern states. The southern states were offended by the election results, and soon ten other states followed South Carolina’s actions and seceded from the Union. Lincoln did not have any support from the southern half of the country, and this is evidenced by the fact that Lincoln’s election was not a mandate for the abolition of slavery or any other of his beliefs.

Lincoln had no intention of abolishing slavery in the states in which it was already established, and that idea was also opposed by the Constitution and the majority of the American population. In order for his election to have been a mandate for the abolition of slavery, he would have needed his whole campaign to revolve around the emancipation of the slaves. Lincoln also would have then needed a majority win in both the popular votes and in the electoral college. The outcome of Lincoln’s election was not a mandate to abolish slavery but merely a result of Lincoln having overwhelming support from the northern states and the majority of the votes from the Electoral College.

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