Collaborators for Emancipation is an examination of the relationship between President Abraham Lincoln and Congregational minister Owen Lovejoy.
Authors William F. Moore and Jane Ann Moore collaborated themselves on both the book and answering some questions for the UIP blog.
Q: For those who aren’t familiar with Owen Lovejoy, what was his role in promoting emancipation?
Moore & Moore: As a Congregational minister in Princeton, Illinois, Owen Lovejoy became the leader of the political, religious antislavery movement in Illinois and became a vital influence in organizing the Republican Party in Illinois. Elected to Congress in 1856 he became an effective antislavery voice in the House of Representatives, and played a very active role in the election of Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860. As an effective floor manager for antislavery legislation in the House during the 37th Congress, he promoted the D.C. Emancipation bill and the Territorial Emancipation bill, the latter being the organizing issue of the Republican Party. As a confidant of the President he helped pave the way for the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation by the president in September 1862. During the first session of the 38th Congress in December 1863, he introduced the first bill for emancipation of all slaves in the United States.
Q: How did Lincoln come to know Lovejoy?
Moore & Moore: Their acquaintance commenced in 1854 and constantly continued to grow in depth until Lovejoy’s death in 1864. In 1838 in Lincoln’s Lyceum Speech he admonished the mob spirit that took the law into their own hands by throwing printing presses into the river and killing editors. This was a clear reference to Owen Lovejoy’s brother Elijah, murdered in the defense of the freedom of the press. In March 1854 Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas passed the Nebraska Act. Lincoln and Lovejoy were both outraged that Douglas’s bill had broken the sacred compromise, which had outlawed slavery in the Nebraska Territory. The bill allowed, under certain circumstances, that slavery could expand in those areas where it had been prohibited. They both decided to get involved again in politics, and became candidates for the Illinois House of Representatives. They met for the first time at the Springfield State Fair in October 1854 where Lovejoy heard Lincoln give a rousing speech on restoring the Missouri Compromise that had prohibited the expansion of slavery. On hearing the speech, Lovejoy invited Lincoln to a convention of all those who were against the Nebraska Act, but Lincoln rejected the invitation for fear of being identified with “so-called” fanatical abolitionists.
Q: Your book examines the strategies of belief Abraham Lincoln and Owen Lovejoy brought to the epic controversies of slavery versus abolition and union versus disunion. How did Lincoln and Lovejoy differ in their opinions of these issues?
Moore & Moore: Both men from their youth and young adulthood firmly believed that slavery was unjust and wrong. They disagreed profoundly over the role that abolitionism played. Lincoln believed that abolitionists made the matters of slavery worse because abolitionists were governed by passion and judgmentalism, and that civilized government must be guided by the reverence for law and “reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason.” Lovejoy believed leaders “must rule justly in the fear of God,” and therefore must at times obey a higher law. He was convinced that God never intended a man to be a slave. He defied state and federal laws that required people to return to their slavemasters those escaping to freedom in the North. He did this by being an active Captain in the Underground Railroad. They differed for a long time on the issue of upholding fugitive slave laws. After a few years Lincoln slowly came to understand that Lovejoy was not a fanatical abolitionist who considered religion as the bulwark for slavery, nor was Lovejoy a disunionist who considered the constitution a means of perpetuating slavery. By 1858 Lincoln came to fully recognize to others that Lovejoy was a practical antislavery man politically committed only to prohibit the expansion of slavery. They both also recognized they were adamant patriotic defenders and promoters the Union; “Union and Liberty, Now and Forever.”
Q: You describe Lincoln as “not only a pragmatist, but also a radical” and Lovejoy as “not only a radical but also a pragmatist.” Briefly, elaborate on these distinctions of personality and the effect it had on their relationship?
Moore & Moore: Many stereotype Lincoln as a pragmatist and Lovejoy as a radical. But both snapshots are misleading. Lincoln was basically a practical, wise, non-judgmental, forgiving person who did not want to alienate others and sought to comprehend the real interests others. He hardly ever supported another candidate for office publicly because he did not want to alienate the supporters of the opposing candidate. Also Lincoln was a man of high ideals, basic principles and honest integrity wanting to be known for keeping his word and being esteemed by others for doing good. He was radical in the sense of going to the root of the problem, which he made clear in 1854 when he claimed there was humanity in the Negro and that slaveholders had no political right to take their Negroes into Kansas just because a freeman has the right to take his hogs and horses there. Lovejoy had a comprehensive mind, compassionate spirit, and profound convictions. He also had the ability to express his thoughts clearly and directly and to express his feelings passionately and convincingly. He had been taught that the root and grounding of human life was to fear and love God for that was the beginning of wisdom. He had been deeply moved by the senseless murder of his brother and he accepted the biblical truth that revenge belonged to God, not to man. He agreed with Lincoln that slavery was wrong, but in more dramatic words, “No man on earth has the Power to make man a slave.” Negroes are “human beings not property.” However, Lincoln saw no possible way to end the wrong of slavery, while Lovejoy had the vision and strength to begin building a political coalition to do so, which started in 1840 with his founding of the first Liberty Party in the West in Bureau County. They both came to see that they needed each other and also each other’s talents and political constituencies to achieve their mutual goal of righting the wrong of slavery.
Q: What risks did the pair take to mold practical public opinion to accept the radical objective of freeing the slaves?
Moore & Moore: Lincoln risked in 1854 expressing his hatred for slavery as unjust, and calling his Whig political colleagues a little silly for not standing with the abolitionists when they are right in advocating the restoration of the Missouri Compromise which outlawed the expansion of slavery into the Nebraska Territory. In 1855 Lincoln reached out to Lovejoy and his 25 Republican colleagues in the state legislature and secretly agreed to have some of his close associates vote for their resolution on the non-extension of slavery in all territories in return for their vote for him for U.S. Senator. In 1856 Lincoln on seeing the thousands supporting Lovejoy in Princeton wrote his conservative Eighth Circuit Court lawyer friends recommending they not support another Republican candidate to run against Lovejoy. When Lincoln made the same recommendation to his lawyer friends in 1858, many think it prevented him from getting enough delegates in the state legislature to elect him Senator. His House Divided speech in 1858, his Cooper Union speech in 1860, and his signing of the Second Confiscation Act, and his announcing the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation just before the 1862 election, which Lovejoy supported unequivocally, are among the highlights of many other Lincoln risk-taking events. Lovejoy’s big risks were earlier. In 1842 he broke with Garrisonian eastern abolitionists who were committed primarily to achieving abolition through moral persuasion and felt that political involvement required compromising one’s commitment to righteousness. He became a congressional candidate for the Liberty Party in 1846. In 1848 he risked again breaking with the one issue of eliminating-slavery–by-constitutional-means-only Liberty Party to join the Free Soil Party in order to expand their issues and political base. After the devastating loss of the Free Soil Party in 1848, and the passage of a strict federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Lovejoy reached out in 1852 to the Illinois religious communities to oppose the Fugitive Slave Act on religious and humane grounds which resulted in collaboration with Ichabod Codding and Zebina Eastman in the formation of a vitalized Free Democratic Party in northern Illinois. This became the base of the antislavery wing on the Republican Party in Illinois, in which Lincoln and Lovejoy continued to effectively expose the distortions and deceptions about the encroachment on northern rights by the Slave Power’s domination of the federal government.
Q: How does your interpretation of Lincoln’s and Lovejoy’s relationship differ from previous works examining Lincoln’s influences?
Moore & Moore: There has been a long discussion since 1948 when T. Harry Williams published Lincoln and the Radicals advocating that Lincoln was a puppet and the radical abolitionists were the heroes. After World War II scholars claimed both men were basically irrelevant and that it was an unnecessary war caused by the extreme southern “fire-eaters’” yearning for disunion and extreme northern fanatical abolitionists’ yearning to end slavery immediately. With the coming of the centennial celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1963, the praise of Lincoln as the Great Emancipator increased, but was challenged by new scholarship led by John Hope Franklin on the role that African Americans performed in the freedom movement. The debate over whether the prudent Lincoln or the impassioned radicals had the greater influence on the Emancipation process has waxed and waned over the decades and renewed with vigor leading up to the Lincoln bicentennial in 2009. This study emphasizes that Lincoln and Lovejoy demonstrate that in the realm of governance a dynamic relationship between radical ends and practical means is required. Heretofore, Lincoln was seen as committed to practicality and Lovejoy to radicalism. The appendix of the book lists the ways Lincoln acted as a radical and Lovejoy acted as a pragmatist.