"If my name ever goes into history, it will be for this act."
-- Abraham Lincoln
Many agree with Lincoln's own opinion of the importance of his signing the Emancipation Proclamation into law on January 1, 1863. Yet his action provoked controversy then, and even today raised debate. We wonder what his motives were as he cast about for a policy on slavery, especially since some of his moves seem open to more than one interpretation.
As a politician, Lincoln had opposed the spread of slavery. As president, he moved publicly from a hands-off approach, to stronger action -- from encouraging phased emancipation and slaveholder compensation, to ordering immediate and unpaid liberation; from proposing to send freed slaves to colonies overseas, to enlisting them as soldiers; and from commanding an army to save the political Union, to leading a war that embodied a struggle for human liberty.