Compensated Emancipation Was Tried — But Didn’t Work
Ta-Nehisi Coates takes the time to respond, with historical data, to the those who would claim the Civil War could have been avoided through a program of compensated emancipation. He’s certainly right that this was impossible among slaveholders from the states that seceded — but it’s worth noting that we know compensated emancipation would not have worked among even the border states. In late 1861, Lincoln pushed for a program of compensated emancipation in Delaware.
Here’s how the University of Delaware Library describes the event:
In the fall of 1861, Abraham Lincoln proposed to Delaware Congressman George P. Fisher a plan that would compensate the state’s slave owners from federal funds if they would free their remaining slaves (approximately 1800). Lincoln believed that if compensated emancipation was successful in Delaware, it could be extended to the other Union slave states. But even though slavery was not essential to the Delaware economy, the plan was rejected on the grounds that it represented Federal interference in what was regarded as an internal matter.
In fact, the bill succeeded in the Delaware House of Representatives by a single vote, but was withdrawn when Fisher realized he didn’t have the votes in the Senate. (The following year, as if to reject the plan for a second time, Delaware voters declined to return Fisher to Congress.) Though Fisher still believed in his plan, for Lincoln had seen enough. Compensated emancipation was not a feasible plan for Missouri and Kentucky if it only might be able to pass, with great effort, in Delaware.