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Invasion of the South by Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was a statesman and an American lawyer who later became the 16th president of the United States of America (McPherson 1992, 129). Lincoln ruled America for five years, from 1861 to 1865, before his assassination. Lincoln was born a leader naturally. He was a powerful speaker and a good negotiator with impeccable ability to command a room. As the American 16th president, Lincoln determined to hold together a nation falling apart at the seams (McPherson 1992, 129). If it were not for his leadership during the civil war, it is unimaginable to explain where America would be right now. The United States was a young nation during this time, and it had the oldest democracy. America’s superpowers were established through leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, who tried new things and understood that the great sacrifice was necessary for U.S.A growth and development. Lincoln is the epitome of the highest standard for selfless service to the United States. His leadership is remembered in America for what he created and believed was the best for the nation. He is an iconic figure whose qualities of personal perseverance, vision, and integrity have become ideal for leaders in all times (McPherson 1992, 129). Despite the racial and discrimination issues, which were a plague in his time and still today in America, he ensured liberty and freedom, to some extent, for all despite their races, gender, or ethnicities. Abraham Lincoln’s lasting legacy in both deeds and words has contributed to this research. His masterful leadership skills portrayed in managing the Civil War and balancing the African Americans on the beam balance of equality with the Emancipation Proclamation, which prevented the dissolution of the Union, among other significant legislative acts, make the topic relevant for discussion. Therefore, this paper aims to conduct comprehensive research on why Abraham Lincoln invaded the South during his leadership era.

Lincoln became the President when the civil war established its roots, and he was declared the 16th president on March 4, 1861 (McPherson 1992, 129). At his inauguration speech, Lincoln stated his devotion and dedication to protect and enforce the federal laws of the U.S. During Lincoln’s election in 1860 November, more than six states had left the Union (Arnold et al. 2020, 197). In his speech, Lincoln emphasized his dedication to enforcing federal laws to the states that had seceded. He stated that “even if it means freeing some slave and leaving others, freeing all the slaves, or freeing no slaves to enforce the federal laws, I will do that” (Potter 2009, 180). Abraham Lincoln was a Republican; therefore, the election of a Republican brought worries to the South that Lincoln would threaten their rights, primarily slavery. Consequently, they decided to secede from the Union and form the Confederate States of America (Browning 1980, 131). During the formation of the Confederate, several states had seized federal properties such as forts and armories. During Lincoln’s inauguration in Washington D.C, war threats from these states were heavily hanging in the air (Poast 2015, 520). However, Abraham took a cautious approach in his speech with no specific threats to the southern states. Thus, he had to make some changes to keep some of the southern states like Delaware, Tennessee, Maryland, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Virginia, and North Carolina in the Union. He also promised to suspend federal government activities temporarily in the hostile regions. However, Abraham Lincoln had to take a robust stance against the seizure and succession of federal property. According to federal law, only Abraham Lincoln had the power and authority to possess, occupy, and hold the government property and collect taxes (Browning 1980, 131). Six weeks after the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln, the Confederate States of America fired South Carolina and Fort Sumter in Charleston.

President Abraham Lincoln strongly believed that no state had the right to leave the Union (McPherson 1992, 129). The firing of the South Carolina and Fort Sumter in Charleston by the Confederate States of America struggled over whether the states had the right to withdraw from the Union. Therefore, President Lincoln had to declare war on the South, specifically on the states that tried to leave the Union. However, the fight to preserve the nation was proceeding badly. Before the summer of 1862, Lincoln’s troops (Union troops) had not won a decisive victory in Virginia, which was the center of the Confederacy (Potter 2009, 180). The war was also losing support from the public and politicians from the North, forcing President Abraham Lincoln to do something to ensure their progressive support. As a result, the Union troops successfully stopped the Confederate of Maryland. The Confederate army under General Robert E. Lee and the Union army under General George McClellan fought near Antietam Creek (McPherson 1992, 129). The battle included almost 100,000 men, among which more than 24,000 men were wounded, killed, and missing (McPherson 1992, 129). The battle was savage and violent, and it is the bloodiest single-day battle in American history.

North’s victory over the South made it easier for President Abraham Lincoln to make an announcement that is remembered today. After considering the process and outcomes of the war, Lincoln realized that slavery was the primary issue in the war. As a result, Lincoln announced a new policy on September 22, 1862, which targeted enslaved people who supported the southern rebel states against the U.S government. The announcement was known as the Emancipation Proclamation (Potter 2009, 180). The American newspaper printed the Emancipation Proclamation and declared that by the first day of January 1863, every person held captive as an enslaved person within any southern state against the U.S government should be free forever. As per the declaration by Abraham Lincoln, the President and commander in chief of the armed forces of the U.S.A, the rights and freedom of the formerly enslaved people were to be recognized and protected by the American government, including the naval and military forces (Nevins 1959, 340). The government was also not supposed to interfere with any formerly enslaved people’s efforts for their actual freedom.

The emancipation Proclamation successfully freed enslaved people from southern states held by the confederates. However, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free slaves from states that supported the Union or New Orleans, Norfolk, Louisiana, and Virginia (McPherson 1992, 129). The government claimed that political reasons restricted them from freeing enslaved people in these states. Although Lincoln had agreed on all enslaved people to be freed, he did not believe the constitution had given him such powers. According to Abraham Lincoln, Emancipation Proclamation was just a military measure established during wartime powers as the President of America and the acting commander in chief (Nevins 1959, 340). Application of such policy was illegal to states that supported the Union. The policy was only legally applicable in enemy territories such as southern states that were rebellious to the Union. However, Abraham Lincoln believed that freeing enslaved people in all the states could be carried out slowly after the war. Since the southern states were furious with the proclamation, they accused the President of creating a slave rebellion in southern states because he could not occupy his troops. However, the accusations met the cheers from the North; most of the Northern states cheered the Emancipation Proclamation policy (Johannsen et al. 1993, 17). The Northern states claimed that the policy changed the nature of the Civil War. Additionally, the perspective changed from a struggle over the southern rights to a struggle for human freedom.

After exploring the onset of the American Civil war, I understood more profound policy implications and significant theoretical concepts. Foreign policymakers should remember that Lincoln was cautious about using military force and knew the possible results when excessive force was applied. From the perspective of military-Civilian relations, outrageous bloodshed killings were expected (McPherson 1994, 531). However, the decision was not based on Lincoln alone; cabinet generals had a great deal of influence on the decision. The cabinet spoke to Abraham, disagreed with each other, informed Lincoln of the risks associated with several options, and finally allowed Lincoln to decide about using offensive force against the southern states (McPherson 1994, 531). On his decision, Lincoln decided to initiate a military strike against the southern states with the expectation of winning the battle before the southern states against foreign recognition. However, they were defeated by the South. The defeat contributed to the escalation of the crisis into a full-fledge battle (McPherson 1994, 531).

Literature Review

Most of the available past studies are mainly information-oriented about why Lincoln invaded the South. They argue that the battle would not have happened if Lincoln and his cabinet had good information about the southern capabilities and possible invading the southern states. However, the available evidence suggests that Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet were aware that the two sides were green; therefore, attacking would result in a vast, bloody battle. The beginning of the invasion and the American civil war can best be explained through the concept of a preventive war. The invention was meant to protect the Union federal law and prevent the Southern Confederacy from recognizing the British as an independent nation. Several studies have discussed much about the leadership of President Abraham Lincoln and his contribution to the American government. Several books have also been published explaining the significant events, acts, and policies made during the leadership of President Abraham Lincoln.

Among the books is “Abraham Lincoln and the second American revolution,” written and published by James M. McPherson in 1992. It aimed at addressing three significant things during Lincoln’s leadership. The book studies how Abraham Lincoln brought liberty among enslaved people from the southern state (McPherson 1992, 43). The book also examines Abraham Lincoln and his strategies of unconditional surrender, which helped him manage the Civil War (McPherson 1992, 65). Finally, it explores how Lincoln won the war with metaphors, power, and liberty in the second American Revolution (McPherson 1994, 531). The book outlined that the emancipation proclamation policy by President Abraham Lincoln was the gateway to freedom of the enslaved people held captive in southern states. The withdrawal of the enslaved people from the rebellious states from the South made it easy for the Union troops to win the battle since slavery was the primary issue. Through Abraham Lincoln’s leadership and strategies of unconditional surrender, the balance of power between the North and South was radically altered and ended the seventy years of southern power in the U.S national government. Emancipation Proclamation strategy was considered a public relations technique that was used out of desperation due to the utter failure of the American federal armies to defeat the rebels during the first 18 months of the war. The policy helped in encouraging other European powers, primarily England, to stop trading with the South. Such strategies helped President Abraham Lincoln defeat the South, free slaves, and grant them liberty and freedom.

“The great centralizer: Abraham Lincoln and the War Between the States” by Thomas DiLorenzo, 1998, contributed to explaining the invasion of the South by Abraham Lincoln. Historian Thomas DiLorenzo refers to Lincoln’s leadership period as the progressive era. According to Thomas, the genuine breaking point in the relationship between the states and the American citizens was the defeat of the southern states in their war for their independence from the Union (DiLorenzo 1998, 244). The two significant things that occupied Abraham Lincoln’s political mind were slavery and the American System since he had spent 28 years of his political career promoting the American system (DiLorenzo 1998, 244). Lincoln is also remembered as a Great Emancipator and a great centralizer (DiLorenzo 1998, 275). His policies significantly undermined the decentralized federal systems already put in place.

Regarding the slavery and racism issue, Lincoln’s words were consistent with his actions. In 1861, Lincoln was presented with an opportunity to free thousands of enslaved people, but he did not take the chance (Basler 1946, 652). The Republican candidate for President in 1856, General John Fremont, was the commander of the Union military in Missouri. General Fremont separated the pro-Union side from the pro-Confederacy side and ordered that anyone aiding the secessionists would have their slaves emancipated, and any individual on the Confederate side caught carrying a firearm would be shot (Basler 1946, 652). However, enslaved people in the states that supported the Union remained undisturbed (Randall and Donald 1961, 371). After General Fremont sent his order for approval, the President disapproved of the order and stripped General John Fremont of his powers and commands. The order was disapproved because the core objective of Abraham Lincoln was to preserve the federal power and save the Union and not to liberate the enslaved people from the southern states. Lincoln had noted that his principal efforts in the struggle were to save the Union and was neither destroying nor saving slavery. He was dedicated to preserving federal power and the Union. If he could save them by freeing some enslaved people and leaving others alone, he could do that; if he could save the Union without liberating any enslaved person, he would also do so. He did all he did about the colored race and slavery because he believed it would help save the Union (Basler 1946, 652). Therefore, Lincoln’s invasion of southern states saved the Union and the federal law.

Nevins (1959, 340) shockingly deliberates that the primary purpose of invading the South by Abraham Lincoln was to confiscate their property and emancipate their slaves. Unlike the order by General John Fremont, which could have had liberated all the enslaved people, the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln only targeted the enemy territory, especially the southern states. The proclamation did not free any single enslaved person from the states that supported the Union and the federal power. The Emancipation Proclamation only liberated enslaved people from southern states that were rebels to the Union even though the North had controlled most of the parts of the South, such as Virginia and Tennessee, where they could have liberated thousands of enslaved people (Nevins 1959, 384). It is believed that most of the liberated slaves ended up in the powers of the union army, where they were enslaved again and forced to work on unpleasant tasks in and around the camps of the union army (Nevins 1959, 421). Other enslaved people were taken back to their owners by the Union troops after congress passed several confiscations acts, which allowed the federal troops to enslave subjugated people among other properties in the defeated rebel states. The truth of these reports was confirmed after one of the Illinois lieutenants reported that he had eleven African Americans in his company who handled the dirty work and two more women in his territory (McPherson 1992, 129).

Although most of these studies give a comprehensive explanation for the invasion of the South, some of the reasons given are invalid. The claims that the invasion was for property and enslavement of people again are wrong (Johannsen et al. 1993, 17). Abraham Lincoln believed that economic blockade could win back the southern states to the federal power and the Union without battles. As the recognition of the southern Confederacy became more acute, Lincoln was worried about losing the American government institutions and the liberties of the American people, which forced him to use offensive military forces to strike Southern troops at Manassas, Virginia (Johannsen et al. 1993, 17). The attack failed since they could not prevent the southern Confederate from sending reinforcement. While the invasion targeted the protection of the federal law, it did not aim at acquiring enslaved people from the southern states for the federal troops in the North. Although Lincoln had planned to compel southern states with blockade to avoid bloodshed, the firing of South Carolina and Fort Sumter in Charleston and the South’s victory compromised Lincoln’s credibility forcing him to use offensive strike (Johannsen et al. 1993, 17).

Invasion of South as a preventive War Argument

The concept of preventive war well explains Abraham’s choice to use military force. Lincoln and his decision-making group decided to use military forces to strike the South. The reason was not to confiscate their property, misjudge the South’s fighting skills, or misjudge the South’s capabilities but to preserve federal power, protect the Union, and prevent the recognition of the South by the British (Fisher 2010, 503). Therefore, the invasion served as a strategy to change the shift in the balance of power-driven by better-now-than-later logic (Fisher 2010, 503). Lincoln chose to fight rather than risk-averse consequences of inaction such as war under less favorable circumstances, which diminished the bargaining leverage and declined relative power. The preventive war logic is a “ubiquitous motive for war” (Fisher 2010, 503). Considering Lincoln’s motive and fears, he had limited options to handle the situation. His fears against the coalition between the southern states and the British pushed him and his cabinet to call off the blockade tactic and initiate military force before the two parties were ready to disrupt the anticipated coalition. The preventive logic used by Abraham Lincoln can also explain the attack of the United States by Japan in 1941 (Gunderson 1974, 934). The preventive war logic is what finally made Japan choose war for one simple reason: they believed that if they could step back to evade the war, their power would significantly decline such that they would be much more vulnerable to future attacks from the United States or their traditional enemies such as Russia (Gunderson 1974, 934). Therefore, for the same reasons, Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet had to pick a battle to safeguard the federal power of the United States and the Union from the southern states and British.

As outlined in the definition, the preventive logic was military-driven, with the primary wish being to prevent a relative decline in military power. The drive to avoid a boost in warfighting and foreign material assistance factored into the attack of the southern states by the northern states (Gunderson 1974, 934). The preventive motivations went far beyond the military consideration. The primary motivations for preventive war were not solely because they deemed southern states to be a direct military threat (sometimes the southern states was not perceived as a threat to the federal law until Abraham Lincoln chose to declare America free from slavery), but to prevent the detrimental changes in the international system (Gunderson 1974, 934). Therefore, the northern-southern war was launched to avoid a breakdown in federal law, leading to lawlessness and intolerable uncertainties in American Union and federal law. The battle did not target destroying southern states’ military power but stabilizing and restoring the threatened federal law (Gunderson 1974, 934). Abraham Lincoln had to restore and retain the power of federal law and the Union either peacefully (through economic blockade) or through military force (attacking Manassas).

The First Manassas (the First Battle of Bull Run) was the first significant and actual initiator of the war between Lincoln and the southern states (Gunderson 1974, 934). During the First Battle of Bull Run, Lincoln let go of the economic blockade technique and adopted the offensive military strike on the South. By making this decision, two facts were clear: (a) Abraham and the cabinet feared the recognition chances of southern states (the main threat facing American government) by the British concerning the secession crisis and (b) that Abraham and the cabinet had adequate and reliable information that striking South could forestall the recognition of South as an independent nation.

Why Lincoln Chose Taking the Offensive Strike

Invasion of the South was not due to a lack of information concerning southern capabilities or resolves. Lincoln and the cabinet knew that both were well trained and that the North troops could win the battle. However, we do not have a direct comment from Lincoln stating he authorized the invasion for “these” reasons; therefore, we have primarily the possible motivations of the invasion offered by history scholars. First, among the motivators of the invasion was Fort Sumter’s attack. After the attack, the public highly supported and demanded an invasion of the South (Basler 1946, 652). The support was evident in the letter from Wisconsin governor Alexander Randall to Lincoln, which stated that the government had to chance to delay because the states were willing to take action (Fehrenbacher et al. 1996, 1). The letter influenced Lincoln’s decision since he could not allow the situation to turn wild. The government had to take action instead of letting the liberty-loving people of America take action. Secondly, Lincoln’s generals were concerned that the southern states could fire a preemptive strike (Deutsch and Joseph 2005, 177). Therefore, they had to use federal troops to dismiss the plan of attacking by the southern troops on Washington. Thirdly, the economic blockade to compel the southern states into the Union had failed (Thomas 2008, 240). Therefore, they used military force to safeguard the union and federal law and prevent Europeans from recognizing the South as an independent nation, mainly the British.

The attack to prevent recognition was a significant concern when the decision to attack Manassas was made. According to Lincoln, it was among the primary issues surrounding the insurrection (Thomas 2008, 240). Therefore, Lincoln and his cabinet had to use force to attack the southern states to end the crisis before the British could chip in to help the South. However, the evidence also showed that Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet had reliable and incredible information concerning the repercussion of attacking and preventing British recognition (Gunderson 1974, 934). Lincoln and the cabinet knew that recognition of the South could cause irreparable harm to the prestige and status of America. According to Lincoln, the recognition could lead to the conversion of the insurrectionists into a hostile foreign power. The recognition could have led to foreign support, directly improving the southern military capacity, resulting in overthrowing the United States institutions and destroying American liberties (Basler 1946, 652). Recognizing the South would bolster its resolve; therefore, Lincoln and his cabinet decided to strike the South using military forces instead of risking the American people’s liberties, the institution of the United States government, and federal power (Gienapp 2002, 6).


The concept of preventive war avails convincing reasons for Lincoln’s invasion of the southern states compared to the former studies that were information-oriented explanations. The invasion of the South in 1861 played a part in the American Civil War since President Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet chose to use military forces to cease the southern states that were rebels to the Union and the federal law. After the attack of Fort Sumter, Lincoln believed that economic blockade would win the South back to the Union. However, the cabinet advised that a decisive strike would quickly end the crisis. Although Lincoln feared the possibility of initiating a devastating war, the desire to prevent recognition of the Southern Confederacy by the British made him take the risk of legalizing an offensive strike on Manassas, Virginia. Even though Lincoln’s invasion of the South failed to defeat the southern forces, it successfully prevented the British from recognizing the Southern Confederacy. Their worries that the British military forces would intervene were met by the unbelievable fact that the British were to remain, observers until the war took a more decided turn. Therefore, in case the North could have lost the war, it would be due to the exaggerated eminent fear of British recognition. Although preventing the British from recognizing the southern states as independent nations provoked the war, without the deep causes such as disagreement about state rights and slavery disputes, the war between the Lincoln and South could not have been provoked.

Works Cited

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Basler, Roy P. “Abraham Lincoln.” His Speeches and Writings, (Cleveland: The World (1946): 560-672

Browning, Robert M. “The Blockade of Wilmington, North Carolina: 1861-1865.” Ph.D. diss, (1980): 124-45.

Deutsch, Kenneth L., and Joseph R. Fornieri, eds. Lincoln’s American Dream: Clashing Political Perspectives. Potomac Books, Inc., 2005: 175-188

DiLorenzo, Thomas J. “The great centralizer: Abraham Lincoln and the War Between the States.” The Independent Review 3, no. 2 (1998): 243-271.

Gunderson, Gerald. “The Origin of the American Civil War.” The Journal of Economic History 34.4 (1974): 915-950.

Fehrenbacher, Don, and Virginia Fehrenbacher, eds. Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln. Stanford University Press, 1996.

Fisher, Louis. “Abraham Lincoln: Preserving the Union and the Constitution.” Alb. Gov’t L. Rev. 3 (2010): 503.

Gienapp, William E. Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America: A Biography. Oxford University Press, 2002. 6

Johannsen, Robert Walter, and Robert W. Johannsen. Lincoln, the South, and Slavery: The Political Dimension. LSU Press, (1993). 17.

McPherson, James M. Abraham Lincoln, and the second American revolution. Oxford University Press, 1992.

McPherson, James M. “What They Fought For, 1861-1865. Baton Rouge.” (1994). 502-527

Nevins, Allan. “A Major Result of the Civil War.” Civil War History 5, no. 3 (1959): 237-250.

Poast, Paul. “Lincoln’s gamble: Fear of intervention and the onset of the American civil war.” Security Studies 24, no. 3 (2015): 502-527.

Potter, David M. “Why the Republicans Rejected Both Compromise and Secession.” The Best American History Essays on Lincoln. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, (2009). 175-188.

Randall, James Garfield, and David Herbert Donald. The Divided Union. Little, Brown, (1961): 194-206.

Surdam, David G. “The Blockades Effect upon the Beef and Pork Trade of the Confederacy.” Unpublished Paper. 1994a. “Cotton Potential as Economic Weapon: An Examination of the Antebellum and Wartime Market for Cotton Textiles.” Agriculture History 68 (1994): 124-45.

Thomas, Benjamin P. Abraham Lincoln: a biography. SIU Press, (2008). 237-250.


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