President Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln sat at the center of the war. Three of his most important political actions during the war were issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, naming Ulysses S. Grant commander in chief of Union armies, and winning re-election in 1864.
Freeing the Slaves
Although Lincoln had always opposed slavery, he had not favored abolition when elected. But after the battle of Antietam, he decided that freeing the slaves in the rebellious South was critical to winning the war. The Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, made a negotiated settlement between North and South almost impossible. It solidified Lincolns political support. It ended the possibility that England would recognize the Confederacy. It encouraged Southern slaves to escape and join the Union Army. And it was a major step toward a more just nation, where all would be free.
In 1864, Lincoln named Ulysses S. Grant general in chief of all the armies, then supported him as he led the Union to victory. At the beginning of the war, the Union Army had suffered from uneven senior leadership. Despite superior numbers, equipment, supplies, and rail transportation, Union generals continually lost important battles. Although Lincoln had little military experience himself, he exercised his authority as commander in chief and replaced his generals one after another. He finally found the determined military leader he sought in Grant.
To win the war, Lincoln had to maintain popular support and win reelection in November 1864. His Democratic opponent was George McClellan, the man Lincoln had named and then replaced as general of the Army of the Potomac. Although McClellan himself vacillated on negotiating peace, many of his supporters strongly favored it.
In early 1864, Lincoln was convinced that a war-weary electorate would vote against him. But by election day, military successes by Generals Grant, Sheridan, and Sherman gave voters confidence that victory was near, and Lincoln handily won reelection, with 55 percent of the popular vote.