President Abraham Lincoln had asked Congress to endorse his plan in which the loyal slave states (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri, as well as western Virginia) would receive “pecuniary aid” if they voluntarily developed programs for gradual slave emancipation. The states would then use the funds to pay for their programs as they saw fit. This included job training, education, welfare, or deportation; or to compensate slaveholders for their loss of labor and property.
Since the Federal government had no constitutional right to regulate slavery within the states, this measure was intended to nudge the slave states into ending the institution themselves. Lincoln had implicitly warned the border states that if they did not accept this Federal offer, wartime exigencies could someday force him to free their slaves involuntarily, without compensation.
The Republican press in the northern states overwhelmingly supported this resolution. According to the New York Tribune, “This message constitutes of itself an epoch in the history of our country. It is the day-star of a new National dawn.” However, some Radical Republicans (i.e., those who sought to destroy slavery as a means to win the war) believed that Lincoln’s plan was too lenient toward slaveholders. Abolitionists contended that bribing states to free slaves was immoral.
More moderate newspapers, such as the New York Times, questioned the large costs of such a program. Constitutionalists asserted that paying slave states to end slavery violated the constitutional guarantee that the Federal government deal with all states equally, as the slave states would receive special treatment at the expense of the free states.
In the end, the resolution was approved by a vote of 88 to 31 in the House of Representatives, and 32 to 10 in the Senate. Senator Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts Radical, beamed that “The Proposition of the Presidt. is an epoch, & I hope it will commence the end” of slavery. But the results were not as encouraging as they seemed. The resolution was opposed by 85 percent of Democrats and border statesmen in Congress. None of the slave state members of Congress had changed their minds since Lincoln had tried to persuade them support the plan. Moreover, this resolution was never enforced because none of the slave states would voluntarily end slavery.
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