Paul Finkelman’s essay on “Slavery, the Constitution, and the Origins of the Civil War” describes the slow-developing constitutional collision over slavery that began in 1787 and finally erupted into war by 1861. This excerpt, however, focuses on Lincoln’s emancipation policy and argues that the “irony” of southern secession was how it “allowed Lincoln to do what he had always wanted.” Finkelman, a law professor at the University of Albany, considers Lincoln deeply opposed to slavery and yet also committed to upholding the Constitution and political compromises over slavery during the years before war broke out. You can read Finkelman’s full essay inside the print edition of Volume 25 of the OAH Magazine of History (April 2011) or online via Oxford Journals.

Study Questions

1. According to Paul Finkelman, what are some of the key wartime anti-slavery policies that predated the Emancipation Proclamation? What can you find out about them using the House Divided research engine?

2. Read the full-text of Lincoln’s letters to Horace Greeley (August 22, 1862) and to Albert G. Hodges, (April 4, 1864). What did they say? How did they differ? How does Finkelman uses short quotations from these letters to build his argument about Lincoln’s anti-slavery beliefs? What does he leave out?

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