“I Felt It to Be My Duty to Refuse”: The President and the Slave Trader

John Y. Simon, Harold Holzer and Dawn Vogel

in Lincoln Revisited

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print May 2007 | ISBN: 9780823227365
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780823240869 | DOI:
“I Felt It to Be My Duty to Refuse”: The President and the Slave Trader

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The most common complaint by Abraham Lincoln's critics was that he was too easily moved by a personal, emotional appeal, particularly from women. His own attorney general, Edward Bates, was one of those who made this criticism. In the first winter of Lincoln's presidency, 1861–1862, there would come to his desk an appeal for a mitigation of punishment that would seem to be just the sort of case that the tender-hearted Lincoln would find it impossible to resist. The accused was Nathaniel Gordon, a slave trader. Of course, Lincoln, or any other president, would not extend clemency to a slave trader. However, in the context of the time that was by no means so clear. American history up to that point had a deep ambivalence not only about slavery but even about the slave trade. It is true that fervor of the Revolution led to the abolishing of slavery in the Northern states.

Keywords: Abraham Lincoln; Edward Bates; punishment; Nathaniel Gordon; slave trader; clemency; slavery; slave trade

Chapter.  7356 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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