By capturing, confiscating and conscripting black men for his war effort, Lincoln greatly succeeded where earlier British emancipation efforts to thwart American independence failed. Had Cornwallis won victory at Yorktown, would George III and Parliament have hung Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Henry and the rest of American leadership, and rewarded black slaves with political rights and the land of rebels?
Lincoln was certainly appreciative of the black military labor gained from captured Southern territory, and depriving the South of agricultural workers which was the primary target of earlier British emancipation efforts in 1775 and 1814. At the same time Lincoln had to face political reality once the Southern armies and leadership were dispensed with, and the votes of his freedmen were required to insure permanent Republican party hegemony.
“While there is endless speculation about how Lincoln felt in the recesses of his heart and about what he would have done had he lived, it is usually agreed that he never gave his support to full equality for Negroes. Nor is there one shred of credible evidence that he ever modified his fundamental racial attitudes, in spite of his gentle nature, his kind feelings for Negroes, and his appreciation for their military prowess.
Beyond signing the bills that came before him and aiding the struggle to equalize military pay rates, the President generally stood aloof from the campaign being waged in Congress for more rights and advancement for Negroes.
Moreover, he never so much as hinted that the ballot be given to Negroes living in the North, and he apparently assumed no leadership in the battle to eliminate the Black Laws in Illinois and elsewhere in the Middle West.
Although he assented to the repeal of his colonization program in 1864, it is likely he never gave up the idea completely. As prospects for deportation dimmed, he suggested at various times that an apprenticeship system ought to be established to prepare for racial coexistence.
But it was the need to found a loyal political organization in the South, rather than his compassion for the Negro, that absorbed most of his attention, and the party he envisaged was to have a white base. At one time the President suggested that the Unionist government in Louisiana might consider enfranchising “some of the colored people . . .”; but he steadily turned down demands that equal suffrage be imposed on the South and used his influence in Congress to block such legislation.
According to his lights, the freedmen were to be entrusted to the care of those conservative white Southerners whom he hoped would control politics in the new South. As Kenneth M. Stammp has said, “The Negroes, if they remained, would be governed by the white men among whom they lived, subject only to certain minimum requirements of fair play.”
(Free But Not Equal: The Midwest and the Negro During the Civil War, V. Jacque Voegeli, University of Chicago Press, 1967, excerpts pp. 168-169)