In Robert A. Godwin, ed., 100 Years of Emancipation (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1963). Reprinted in Equality and Liberty: Theory and Practice in American Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965).
Both in the pre-inaugural period, and in the opening stages of the conflict, the danger of disunion, now the paramount danger, did not come from the forces of slavery alone. It came as well from the abolitionists. Now the name ‘abolitionist’ was applied to a number of shades of opinion, although it is usually identified with the most extreme among them. However, there was a spectrum of opinions, beginning with those who insisted upon instant emancipation of all slaves, by any means, without regard to existing legality, without regard to the disruption and injury it would cause among both whites and blacks, and without regard to existing legality, without regard to the disruption and injury it would cause among both whites and blacks, and without indemnity or compensation of any kind….As the spectrum proceeded from left to right, at some point the name ‘abolitionist’ ceased to apply, and that of free-soiler replaced it. Lincoln was always a free-soiler, never an abolitionist, and in some respects Lincoln agreed with his Southern brethern that the abolitionists were a curse and an affliction….
In the spectrum of antislavery opinions…Lincoln himself would have to be placed at the farthest limit of the extreme right. He was the most conservative of antislavery men. He did not, in any campaign, urge any form of emancipation other than that implied in the exclusion of slavery from the territories. First privately, later publicly, he favored gradual emancipation, and in the plan he recommended to Congress in December, 1862, the state action which he envisaged might have been extended over thirty-five years, until 1900. In the plan he put forward while a Congressman, in 1848, for emancipation in the District of Columbia, three factors were crucial: it had to be gradual, voluntary (it had to be approved by a referendum in the District), and compensated. But Lincoln’s task, as war came, was to preserve the Union. All the emancipation Lincoln desired, and probably a good deal more, was assured if the Union endured. If it did not endure, all the lets and hindrances exerted upon slavery by the free states in the Union would be removed. The extreme abolitionists, in the supposed purity of their principles, would have abandoned the four million slaves to their fate