“As described in the previous chapter, well-meaning, God-fearing, and idealistic citizens—both Northern and Southern—sought to move their country in the direction of a new democracy and civil society that could accommodate the existence of slavery.
Some slaveowners were still looking for a way to avoid condoning the more barbarous features of human enslavement while stopping short of advocating abolition. In The Legacy of the Civil War (1961), Robert Penn Warren’s classic reflection on that conflict’s 100th anniversary, he wrote: “More than one slaveholder is on record as sympathizing with the distress of a certain Gustavus Henry, who admitted to his wife that ‘I sometimes think my feelings unfit me for a slaveholder.’
“Abraham Lincoln, during his first debate with Stephen Douglas in Ottawa, Illinois, on June 24, 1858, captured another side of the dilemma in what literary scholar John Burt calls Lincoln’s penchant for “tragic pragmatism”:
Doubtless there are individuals on both sides who would not hold slaves under any circumstances; and others who would gladly introduce slavery anew, if it were out of existence. We know that some southern men do free their slaves, go north, and become tip-top abolitionists; while some northern ones go south and become most cruel slave-masters.”
Excerpted from The Liberating Promise of Philanthropy.