Shown in this 1861 cartoon, Union General in Chief Winfield Scott’s plan to win the war involved sealing Confederate ports and gaining control of the Mississippi River. The notion was ridiculed by those who thought the war would be too brief to warrant such a strategy. As the war pressed on, though, the once-dismissed idea became a key factor in the Union’s victory. (MP/Getty Images)
For abolitionists, the key issue at stake in the war was slavery. But even President Lincoln, who found slavery repugnant, had run for office on a platform committed merely to containing the institution—rather than eliminating it altogether. As the war dragged on, however, and casualties mounted, the Union sought a way to break the stalemate. Both Congress and the president began to consider emancipation, which would change not only the moral but also the tactical calculus of the war.
In late January 1862, Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered a lecture at the Smithsonian Institution, urging emancipation and emphasizing that only ending slavery would end the conflict. Two days later, he visited Lincoln at the White House. Three months after that, the text of his speech (along with some additional paragraphs commending Lincoln for steps he had since taken toward emancipation) appeared in The Atlantic. Within a year, Lincoln would issue the Emancipation Proclamation.—Sage Stossel
The highest proof of civility is, that the whole public action of the State is directed on securing the greatest good of the greatest number.