Facts for Patriotic Abolitionists

A significant difference of opinion existed in the northern black community at the beginning of the Civil War. While all African Americans in the North wanted slavery to end, besides the dwindling supporters of emigration, the community was divided on whether to throw their support behind the Union war effort unconditionally or wait until when and if the Lincoln administration embraced emancipation. Clearly the Weekly Anglo-African favored the latter position as is clear from the April 27 edition of Civil War Emancipation, and from the May 11, 1861 issue of the newspaper, as the following editorial makes clear.


We have maintained that the Government of the United States have, as yet, no intention whatever to liberate the slave, even as a military necessity. That it has no wish to do so as a moral duty, all of us well know. Since our last issue an authoritative announcement of our opinion has been made by the President himself. In a carefully written letter addressed by Garrett Davis to Geo. D. Prentice, that responsible politician, in relating a conversation with the President, says:

“He (The President) remarked that he intended to make no attack, direct or indirect, upon the Institutions or Property of any State; but on the contrary would defend them to the full extent with which the Constitution and the Laws of Congress have vested the President with the power.”

Now this honest old Abe means just what he says; the more’s the pity, it is true, but this is the fact. Let our patriotically inclined friends think seriously of this announcement, and keep their blood for a better market than that in which Old Abe and Ben Butler keep stalls.

Abraham Lincoln’s public position on slavery was well-known. But ironically like the slaveholders of the South, free blacks in the North distrusted whether his public pronouncements reflected his private thoughts on the matter. That is why the Weekly Anglo-African latched on to this letter from a Kentucky Senator (Davis) to a Louisville newspaper editor (Prentice). This black newspaper disliked, with good reason, supporting the Lincoln administration in its goal to preserve the Union, when it both publicly and privately in Spring 1861 still supported the property rights of slaveholders.

It is also interesting that the Weekly Anglo-African chose to mention Benjamin Butler in the same breath as Abraham Lincoln. Clearly, news had reached the northern black community of Butler’s reassurances to Marylanders that he would use his troops to suppress a feared slave uprising in the state. The paper understandably came to the conclusion that both Butler and Lincoln both were intent on appeasing slaveholders to forestall further secession. What they did not know was that Benjamin Butler soon would prove he was far less sympathetic with the property rights of disloyal slaveholders.

About Donald R. Shaffer

Donald R. Shaffer is the author of _After the Glory: The Struggles of Black Civil War Veterans_ (Kansas, 2004), which won the Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship in 2005. More recently he published (with Elizabeth Regosin), _Voices of Emancipation: Understanding Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction through the U.S. Pension Bureau Files_ (2008). Dr. Shaffer teaches online exclusively (i.e., a virtual professor). He lives in Arizona and can be contacted at donald_shaffer@yahoo.com
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