Lincoln and the Abolitionists
LINCOLN AND THE ABOLITIONISTS
History records Abraham Lincoln as the Great Emancipator, yet ardent abolitionists of his day such as William Lloyd Garrison viewed him with deep suspicion. That the 16th president eventually achieved the abolitionists' most cherished dream, says biographer Allen Guelzo, happened through a curious combination of political maneuvering, personal conviction, and commitment to constitutional principle.
One of the ironies of the Civil War era and the end of slavery in the United States has always been that the man who played the role of the Great Emancipator was so hugely mistrusted and so energetically vilified by the party of abolition. Abraham Lincoln, whatever his larger reputation as the liberator of two
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Julian, James Ashley, Thaddeus Stevens, and Charles Sumner--all heaped opprobrium on Lincoln's head. Wade, according to Ohio lawyer and congressman Joshua Giddings, "denounced the President as a failure from the moment of his election." It mattered nothing to Wade if the war "continues 30 years and bankrupts the whole nation" unless "we can say there is not a slave in this land," but he could not convince Lincoln of that. "Lincoln himself seems to have no nerve or decision in dealing with great issues," wrote Ohio Congressman William Parker Cutler in his diary. And even the middle-of-the-road Maine senator William Pitt Fessenden erupted, "If the President had his wife's will and would use it rightly, our affairs would look much better." Sometimes, the attacks were so biting that Lincoln (in a comment to his attorney general, the Missourian Edward Bates) found the radical Republicans "almost fiendish." "Stevens, Sumner, and Wilson simply haunt me with the importunities for a Proclamation of Emancipation," Lincoln complained to Missouri senator John B. Henderson. "Wherever I go and whatever way I turn, they are on my trail."
None of the abolitionists, however, were more vituperative in their contempt for Lincoln than the Boston patrician Wendell Phillips. A self-professed "Jeffersonian democrat in the darkest hour," Phillips was disposed from the start to suspect anyone like Lincoln, who had