SLAVERY IS WRONG (Illustration) American History Awesome Radio - Narrated Stories Civil Rights Government Law and Politics Slaves and Slave Owners Social Studies Nineteenth Century Life American Presidents Ethics African American History

On the 4th of April, in 1864, President Lincoln wrote a letter confirming a conversation he’d had about a week earlier with officials from Kentucky (then a “border state”) about allowing runaway male slaves to gain their freedom by serving in the Federal Army. Near the beginning of the letter, which is now maintained by the Library of Congress, Lincoln wrote: “I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel. And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling.” This facsimile image depicts the first page of Lincoln’s letter. Click here to read the rest of it.


On the momentous day Lincoln signed the Proclamation, he did the most that he, as President, could do. Slavery had been legal in America since 1619, when the first Jamestown settlers used slaves. But, for the 16th American president, "If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong."

Here's what Lincoln knew.

Africans had been "imported" (that word was used in contemporary flyers) and were "sold at private sale" for work on plantations in the South. What did "imported" mean? Just as it sounds: Africans were taken from one country (their own) and shipped as "cargo" to another (America).

Sadly, even "imported" is a euphemism which hardly comes close to the facts.

Africans were kidnapped against their will, forcibly placed in detention enclosures (a slave barracoon) while still in Africa, and then jammed into ships to travel to the "New World" as products to be sold at auction. Many captives didn't survive the journey. Those who did faced an oppressive life in a country where they couldn't even keep their own names. (Remember Roots - by Alex Haley - where Kunta Kinte became known as "Toby?")

Once sold to a plantation owner, Africans who had children provided the owner with more free labor.

Slaves, including young people, faced life in a land where a "Fugitive Slave Law" made escape a crime not just for runaways but for the people who helped them - and - authorized rewards for those who turned them in. (Scroll down to the last sentence of this flyer where the "owner" of a runaway offers a greater reward than "the law allows.")

As Lincoln said:

If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.

The 16th President did what even the Founding Fathers had not done. He took the first formal step to eliminate the "right" any man had to "own" another.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5197stories and lessons created

Original Release: Aug 01, 2005

Updated Last Revision: Feb 25, 2015

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"SLAVERY IS WRONG" AwesomeStories.com. Aug 01, 2005. Jun 05, 2020.
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