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Consistency and change in Lincoln’s rhetoric about equality

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Abstract

On the surface, Abraham Lincoln seemed to say inconsistent things about racial equality both before and during his presidency – sometimes asserting that all men were created equal, sometimes asserting that the white and black races could not be equal. Careful analysis, however, reveals an underlying consistency, even though Lincoln adapted his message to his specific audiences. Lincoln believed in the equality of all with regard to economic rights, which he associated with the right to upward mobility. He did not support social and political equality between the races, however. His 1857 Springfield speech and 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates are explored to how he carefully balanced these two positions. He carried this delicate balance into the presidency, although he increasingly made rhetorical space for the possibility of emancipation, and then (after that occurred) space for at least a limited right of suffrage for black Americans.

References

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