Well the reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution, it was like the conscience of the American people. Unfortunately there were some court decisions like Dred Scott and others that defined some people as property, but the Constitution kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights’ in the minds of God. But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people, it did not come from the federal government. It came from a growing movement among the people, particularly people of faith, that this was wrong. People like [British abolitionist William Wilberforce] who persisted for years because of his faith and because of his love for people. So no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves. In fact, it was Abraham Lincoln, the very first Republican, who took this on as a cause and a lot of it was based on a love in his heart that comes from God.So government didn't free the slaves, it was just the Constitution and Abraham Lincoln, neither of which is government because shut up. Also, the slaves were freed because the American people wanted to free the slaves, except for the half that didn't, shut up about that too please, and Dred Scott was terrible and defining people as property was terrible and we will go to great and gymnastic lengths to not mention an entire freaking and unbelievably bloody war premised on the supposed small-gubbermint right to keep defining those people as property or to leave and form a new country which would. Nope, it was all the Constitution and the people and long-dead British politicians, and I say unto you again will you please shut up about the rest of it.
Still, though: Could there be anything more "big government" than going to war with secessionist states to force them to remain a part of the nation, then freeing the slaves by presidential fiat? Calling that a small government act seems a hard sell indeed. I am fairly certain, for example, that if current president Barack Obama sent federal armies into the southern states to enforce the Affordable Care Act Jim DeMint would personally burst every blood vessel in his head, even if his great-great-grandchildren eventually went on to claim Obama as one of the best and truest Republicans ever. No sir, I think sending in armed troops to occupy unruly states would definitely get put on the "big government" side of the pegboard, if you were to ask most current conservatives about it.