Abraham Lincoln's Great Awakening: From Moderate to Abolitionist

How the Civil War president came to abolish slavery.

President Abraham Lincoln

President Abraham Lincoln

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That winter, when he gave his annual address to Congress, Lincoln seemed to acknowledge that the war's purpose had been irrevocably altered. "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present," he said. "The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country." On Jan. 1, 1863, Lincoln's proclamation went into effect, freeing the slaves held in the South. In a final nod to the political importance of the border states, though, it did not apply outside the Confederacy.

In the years to come, Lincoln would continue pursuing his slow progress toward civil rights, allowing black soldiers to fight for the Union and ultimately pushing for black citizenship. But it was with emancipation that he first pushed, and was pushed, into history.