When Abraham was a young child, the humble Lincoln family frequently relocated, however he mainly grew up and lived in Perry County, Indiana.
Later in life, Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, in office from 4th March 1861 to 14th April 1865.
This dissertation explores how a man from such a humble background could often be considered the most influential United States president. It must be noted that the title of this essay is based on a multitude of sources, such as ThoughtCo (Kelly, 2019) and CNN Politics (CNN Politics, 2019), who state that Lincoln is the most influential United States president. Research reveals that this is due to three major factors. The first, the Emancipation Proclamation, was a document in which the Union’s intentions for the Civil War became crystal clear. The second component is the Gettysburg Address, which was a very well known speech given at the height of the American Civil War. The final major factor is Lincoln’s assassination.
The Emancipation Proclamation, also known as Proclamation 95, was a document declaring that a victory for the Union in the civil war would be a victory for all those who oppose slavery (National Archives, 2019a). Issued by Lincoln on 1st January 1863, this proclamation existed before the Gettysburg Address took place.
The Emancipation Proclamation broadened the goals of the Civil War.
At the start of the war, Lincoln’s only legally stated goal was to preserve the Union, however this document explicitly and legally declared Lincoln’s intentions for the outcome of the war (Wikipedia, 2019). Proclamation is defined, according to the Oxford dictionary, as ‘a public or official announcement dealing with a matter of great importance’, in this case Emancipation, the process of becoming ‘free from legal social or political restraint’.
It is therefore obvious that Lincoln wanted to explicitly state that this Civil War was not only to preserve the Union, but also to eliminate slavery. Consequently, the already clear divide between the Union and the Confederacy reached further extremes, meaning that Lincoln and the Union were under tremendous quantities of support, challenge and reprimand. This dynamic occurred as those who valued slavery opposed the Union, while those who supported the abolition of slavery would certainly back the Union. One could say that this induced further influence for Lincoln because, as a consequence of producing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln had polarised an audience. This means that those who already supported, praised and liked Lincoln became increasingly influenced by his words and decisions. Similarly, those who could be considered to ‘hate’ Lincoln would have had a high probability of becoming more polarised due to this document, and therefore were also influenced, due to disliking Lincoln and his ideas.
Another interesting observation on the consequences of the Emancipation Proclamation is that Lincoln’s opinion on slavery was revealed to be in a state of moral congruence with the large majority of people in the modern day. Governments and education in developed countries are constantly aiming to grow and improve the equality between different types of people throughout the different areas of life over the last few decades. This makes it clear that, as all of these governments that are referred to are directly supported and influenced by the people they represent, these democracies are geared strongly away from slavery. Lincoln clearly cannot be entirely credited for this result, as other countries abolished slavery long before the United States which would have had an impact. It can be deduced, however, that Lincoln will be more likely to be respected and admired by many people in the present day due to his view and many may consider Lincoln to be a ‘founding father’ of equality as a result of his actions. This is one of the reasons there are around ‘15,000 books’ written about Lincoln (NPR, 2012), in comparison to the ‘6000 scholarly books’ written about George Washington (Wikipedia, 2019).
Lincoln’s proclamation can be linked to a huge success story for the Civil War and the abolition of slavery internationally. The National Archives and Records Administration (National Archives, 2019b) states that ‘by the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom’. The liberation of slaves had a profound impact on the war, as it weakened the Confederacy while simultaneously strengthening the Union. For this reason it was in Lincoln’s best interests to free the American slaves. Due to this intelligent method of increasing the probability of the Union winning the war, Lincoln gained respect from the military, explaining why individuals such as Edward Everett praised Lincoln in Gettysburg. The support from the ‘200,000 black soldiers’ is significant for Lincoln, because his choices and decisions led to the increased Union support. Even if these slaves did not like Lincoln or his message, the probability of any slave supporting the Confederacy was very low.
The proclamation, therefore, transformed the Civil War, from a war for the Union to a war for freedom. Those who already supported the Union were likely to remain loyal, while those who wanted to fight for the abolition of slavery could after the document was issued, even if they were not slaves themselves. This increased freedom for the people, an idea which can be linked to the founding fathers’ original constitutional amendments. Not only did Lincoln’s actions lead to 9.2% of the Union army being composed of ex-slaves, but he also influenced the future of slavery in America to this day.
A second point that can be made in reference to the National Archives and Records Administration, is that Lincoln influenced some of the supporters of the Union in a profound way. An accurate depiction of how these Union supporters felt about Lincoln is expressed in a letter from the mother of a northern black soldier written in July 1863. It reads as follows, ‘When you are dead and in Heaven, in a thousand years that action of yours will make the Angels sing your praises’, in reference to the Emancipation Proclamation. Clearly Lincoln’s decision to support the abolition of slavery from a position of power profoundly influenced many individuals across America, despite the proclamation not actually freeing a single slave immediately.
It is important to note that the public opinion of Lincoln as a whole was not nearly as positive as it is today. Any action that Lincoln took would obviously be heavily criticised by the Confederate sympathisers, however there were a number of Union supporters who disapproved of Lincoln and his strategies. Lincoln would frequently be belittled in ‘editorials, speeches, journals, and private letters’ (Bowden, 2013), by those who supported the Union, or at least did not support the Confederates. The comments and criticisms Lincoln would frequently receive would refer to his ancestry, his morality was routinely attacked and even the commanding general of the Union armies, George McClellan, insulted Lincoln, calling him the ‘original gorilla’. It can be argued that Lincoln’s influence was in fact furthered by this praise and reprimand dynamic, as the resentment expressed is purely more publicity and discussion about Lincoln. At the time of Lincoln’s presidency this did not have a huge impact, however in the last century, the extreme challenge Lincoln was presented with has resulted in many people idolising Lincoln. In other words, if Lincoln were not to have been presented with this high level of opposition, he may not have been a very significant president.
Lincoln’s proclamation perfectly demonstrates how Lincoln became a more famous president, and therefore influential, as his words reached a greater number of people. The Emancipation Proclamation significantly increased the stakes of the Civil War (History, 2009), by producing a greater divide between the Union and Confederacy. This document evolved the war into a battle between morals. In the modern day, it could be considered a Civil War between good and evil. Regardless, the Civil War was undoubtedly made more significant in history due to Lincoln’s proclamation, hence the war has had greater publicity than it otherwise would have had. This directly translated to the number of people that Lincoln’s legacy reached, as the probability of Lincoln being mentioned within a discussion about the American Civil War is very high. If Lincoln’s message spreads to a greater number of people, then he can comfortably be considered a more influential individual.
As a consequence of the Emancipation Proclamation, three constitutional amendments, specifically the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth, were created, making Lincoln second only to George Washington and the founding fathers in terms of creating constitutional amendments for the United States.
According to the Legal Information Institute (2019) the Thirteenth Amendment states that ‘Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction’. Despite Lincoln and the Constitution’s efforts to enforce this, various southern states, such as Mississippi and South Carolina, produced ‘Black Codes’. These codes were essentially laws that restricted the human rights for African Americans in the United States.
Due to the Black Codes, the Fourteenth Amendment was implemented, which consisted of three separate clauses. The first, namely the Citizenship Clause, was designed to reverse the 1857 Dred Scott Decision, which stated that ‘slaves were neither protected by the Constitution, nor were they U.S. citizens’ (Constitutionfacts, 2019). This is often considered the worst decision the Supreme Court ever made. The second and third clauses were both designed to reinforce the Citizenship Clause, as well as eradicate the ‘Black Codes’ in the south.
Finally, the Fifteenth Amendment gave black men the right to vote in the United States. It is obvious that Lincoln intended to abolish slavery through the Emancipation Proclamation, and these constitutional laws were a direct product and consequence of Lincoln’s actions. All of the amendments described above are still enforced, providing a foundation for human equality to be built upon. Due to this, Lincoln can be considered a huge factor in the development of equality between races in America, in which his impact continues to grow. Without Lincoln, America may be in a very different situation.
Clarity of the direction of the war was achieved when Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on 1st January 1863: it became obvious that the Union was partly fighting for the abolition of slavery. As the Confederacy continued to oppose the Union, it is therefore clear that the Confederates were fighting in support of slavery in America. This not only created a shift in support and respect for each view at the time, but also the Confederates’ view is often condemned as it is in a state of incongruence with the common modern opinion about slavery – that being that it is unacceptable. Due to the newfound direction of the Civil War, Britain and France lost enthusiasm for cotton trading, as well as various other commodities, with the Confederacy (Hallowed Ground Magazine, 2012). An explanation for this is that slavery did not exist in either France or Britain at the time of the Civil War, as it had been abolished in 1794 and 1833 respectively. If the two superpowers were to continue trading with the Confederacy, it would be clear that they were indirectly supporting slavery, which would not have been good for their public opinion. Furthermore, after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, the Union stated that neither of the two superpowers could recognise the Confederacy legally without war being declared between Britain or France, and the Union. As a consequence of this, the British economy suffered. It is easy to explain how this illustrates Lincoln’s extensive influence, as America clearly had an influence over the two superpowers at the time, essentially as the Union told them what to do, putting them in their place. America’s influence and power was growing internationally at the time, as a consequence of Lincoln’s actions, explaining why he is now commonly known as the most influential United States president.