GREAT EMANCIPATOR As a result of his Emancipation Proclamation of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln is generally referred to as the "Great Emancipator." There are some who regard this designation as historically inaccurate and an exaggeration. The Emancipation Proclamation only provided for partial emancipation of the slaves. Nearly one million blacks remained slaves long after the Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863.
Lincoln was primarily concerned with saving the Union. In a letter to Horace Greeley in 1862, for example, President Lincoln stated that his "paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. 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 do it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do it. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union."
Although convinced that slavery was indeed a moral evil, Lincoln was not an abolitionist. As an attorney, he respected the Constitution and the property rights of slave owners. During his early career, in fact, Lincoln had provided legal representation for southern slaveowners seeking to reclaim runaway slaves in Illinois. Concurrently, he was not an advocate of racial equality. During the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, for example, he confessed that he was not, "nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race."
Had events (i.e., military exigency) not dictated otherwise, Lincoln would have preferred a program of voluntary gradual state-by-state emancipation with compensation to the slaveowners and, following this, colonization of African Americans in Africa or Latin America. Speaking to a group of free blacks on August 14, 1862, for example, the President urged that the racial differences between whites and blacks dictated that colonization ("separation") would be the most logical solution: "Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence." See also: EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION.