In this essay I analyze the debate over Abraham Lincoln’s role in the emancipation of African American slaves. Speaking both to contemporary public memory and the evidence of history, I contend that when Lincoln discussed or wrote about emancipation between 1860 and 1863, his rhetoric exhibited a dialogic form that shifted responsibility from the president to congressional leaders and common citizens. I conclude that Lincoln’s dialogic rhetoric does not signal his opposition to emancipation but rather his deep belief that emancipation would become meaningful only after the considered deliberation and action of the American people.

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