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When, in May 1861, hundreds of slaves escaped from border states and sought refuge with the Union army, Lincoln ordered his generals to return 38 President Lincoln and the Civil War the fugitive slaves to their owners. Furthermore, in August 1861, Union General John C. Frémont freed the slaves of Confederate sympathizers in Missouri, Lincoln overturned the order. Lincoln hoped these loyal border states would eventually end slavery voluntarily. A year later, in August 1862, President Lincoln wrote a letter published in a popular newspaper, declaring: “ If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.

To Save the Union From the start of the war in April 1861, the Confederates were fighting primarily to preserve the institution of slavery. Lincoln’s goal at the time was primarily to preserve the Union. In addition to the 11 Southern states that seceded following Lincoln’s election, four other states were slave states. These four states—Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri, were collectively known as the border states. Unlike the 11 other slave states, the border states stayed in the Union.

Reaction to the speech was generally quite positive, although few who heard it may have understood how history would come to cherish it for its message and its carefully crafted style in phrases such as these: 46 “ President Lincoln and the Civil War Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal… [W]e here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

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Abraham Lincoln. The Great Emancipator by David P. Press


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