A Change In His Attitude Toward Slavery
10th of 45 excerpts from Lincoln by David Herbert Donald:
Largely perfunctory, Lincoln's  eulogy on Henry Clay came alive only in its final paragraphs. Of the hundreds of funeral addresses on the Kentucky statesman, Lincoln's was one of the very few to explicitly dealt with Clay's views on slavery. Clay "did not perceive, that on a question of human right, the negroes were to be excepted from the human race," Lincoln announced; consequently, "he ever was, on principle and in feeling, opposed to slavery." Because Clay (photo, right) recognized that it could not be "at once eradicated, without producing a greater evil," he supported the efforts of the American Colonization Society to transport African-Americans back to Africa and served for many years as president of that organization.
Endorsing Clay's views on colonization, Lincoln revealed a change in his own attitude toward slavery. He had all along been against the peculiar institution, but it had not hitherto seemed a particularly important or divisive issue, partly because he had so little personal knowledge of slavery. But in Washington his strongly antislavery friends in Congress, like Joshua F. Giddings and Horace Mann (photos below, left and right), helped him see the atrocities that occurred every day in the nation's capital were the inevitable results of the slave system. As Lincoln's sensitivity to the cruelty of slavery changed, so did his memories. In 1941, returning from the Speed plantation, he had been amused by the cheerful docility of a gang of African-Americans who were being sold down the Mississippi. Now, reflecting on that scene, he recalled it as "a continual torment," which crucified his feelings. . . .
Lincoln looked for a rational way to deal with the problems caused by the existence of slavery in a free American society, and he believed he had found it in colonization. Like Clay and Chief Justice John Marshall, who belonged to the American Colonization Society, he became convinced that transporting African-Americans to Liberia would defuse several social problems. By relocating free Negroes from the United States -- and, at least initially, all those transported were to be freedmen -- colonization would remove what many white Southerners considered the most disruptive elements in their society. Consequently, Southern whites would more willingly manumit their slaves if they were going to be shipped off to Africa. . . .
The plan was entirely rational -- and wholly impracticable. American blacks, nearly all of whom were born and raised in the United States, had not the slightest desire to go to Africa; Southern planters had no intention of freeing their slaves; and there was no possibility that the Northern states would pay the enormous amounts of money required to deport and resettle millions of African-Americans.