Abraham Lincoln’s tenure as U.S. president coincided almost exactly with the duration of the Civil War (1861-1865). During the course of his presidency, Lincoln’s articulation of the Northern cause evolved. His tone and his emphasis changed with changing circumstances. As he wrote in 1862, “as our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.” Simply put, at the outset of the War, Lincoln underscored the preservation of the Union. By 1862-63, and certainly by the time of the Gettysburg Address in late 1863, he had shifted to a theme of liberation. And by the Second Inaugural Address in 1865, one month before his death, in defining the War’s meaning he echoed the Abolitionist argument that the entire nation had been complicit in slavery. In examining this four-year pattern, we can credit Lincoln’s astute political skills for shrewdly reading and acting upon the fast-changing events, including the North’s strengthening position on the battlefield. But this course also highlights the crucial role of black Americans.
Read: Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, Garry Wills