In the last year of the war, and of his life, Lincoln was able to abolish slavery universally through the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He rightly saw that once the Confederacy was defeated, much anti-slavery sentiment in the North would dissipate. The recent film “Lincoln” provides a reasonably accurate portrayal of the tremendous effort, including at times unsavory political horse trading, required to achieve this result.
Second, Lincoln evolved into an insightful military strategist. The Civil War was the first modern total war, and the president grasped early that economics were as vital as armed forces.
The agrarian South lacked the industrial base necessary to sustain this type of war. The Union naval blockade was put in place quickly along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Lincoln also emphasized gaining control of the major rivers.
Coinciding with the Gettysburg victory, Gen. Ulysses Grant captured the strategically vital city of Vicksburg (Tenn.) on the Mississippi River. The long-term siege of the Confederate garrison involved complex engineering and patience. Lincoln promoted him to command all Union armies for what proved the final offensive against the South.
Third, Lincoln was a brilliant writer and speaker, but the rightly celebrated Gettysburg Address must be understood as one visible tip of underlying, continuous effort. A political leader who relies on rhetoric alone is bound to fail.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.