BLOOMINGTON — Issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, ending slavery and preventing the Confederate states from seceding were about more than racial injustice, an Abraham Lincoln scholar said Wednesday, speaking at the Illinois Wesleyan University Founders’ Day convocation.
Allen Guelzo, Henry Luce professor of the Civil War era at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, said Lincoln equally despised “the reemergence of the old demon of aristocracy” represented by the Southern institution of slavery and plantations and the idea that certain people were born into privilege and above certain types of work.
This system “represented a step away from democracy,” Guelzo said.
Those who argue about whether the Civil War was “the Second American Revolution” are too focused on the means than the end, he said.
Rather, Guelzo said, the war showed “freedom is worth having, by revolutionary or any other means.”
Because of the sacrifices made on behalf of others, Guelzo said, “Lincoln and the Civil War imparted to the notion of democracy a nobility and moral grandeur that democracy often lacked.”
Meanwhile, many of today’s issues about the war on terror and detention of suspected terrorists in Guantanamo “really have their origins in the Civil War,” Guelzo said after his talk.
Legal precedents from Civil War-era court cases are still cited today, Guelzo said.
Like presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Lincoln argued his “war powers” as commander in chief allowed him to take certain actions not spelled out in the Constitution, even though the phrase “doesn’t appear anywhere in the Constitution,” Guelzo said.
Lincoln cited those “war powers” in issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in states that were “in rebellion.” This year marks the 150th anniversary of Lincoln issuing the proclamation.