From Publishers Weekly
Based on his W.E.B. Du Bois lectures at Harvard, Stanford professor emeritus Fredrickson (Arrogance of Race
) wades into a controversial arena: was Lincoln a heroic emancipator or a racist who didn't care about slaves at all? Stating that in between pathological racism and egalitarianism lies a spectrum of possibilities, Fredrickson says that Lincoln is not easily classified. After opening with a quick, useful survey of the relevant historiography, Fredrickson addresses Lincoln's thoughts about issues ranging from white supremacy to colonization and black military service. One question that looms large for Fredrickson is whether Lincoln meant the most racist comments he made during the 1850s. He hated slavery yet clearly... could not readily envision a society in which blacks and whites could live in harmony as... equals. Fredrickson suggests that Lincoln's public statements may have reflected both his real thoughts and the savvy political sensibility of an ambitious man who knew he couldn't get elected without invoking white supremacist shibboleths; furthermore, Lincoln's thoughts about blacks—especially about their capacity for citizenship—may have changed during the Civil War. This brief book will be widely discussed by historians and will provide nonacademic readers a lucid introduction to some of the most heated debates about the 16th president. (Feb.)
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The debate over the fourteenth president’s true attitude toward slavery and racial equality is apparently endless, but in this cogent appraisal of the subject, Stanford historian Fredrickson interestingly summarizes, in the title of his book, both the problem and the right conclusion. That Lincoln was sometimes uncertain or confused about what he should do or think about slavery and race simply indicates he was big enough to be inconsistent. Fredrickson reviews the literature on the subject, as well as Lincoln’s spoken and written words from the time of his political apprenticeship in Springfield, Illinois, to the weeks before his assassination; he seeks to avoid concluding that Lincoln was either an abolitionist or a racist, bringing into his discussion the importance of avoiding rigid thinking and remaining flexible in approaching Lincoln and this complicated issue. This not-swiftly-read summation of perhaps the most controversial aspect of Lincoln’s character and presidency is nevertheless a serious, effective contribution not only to the complete picture of the man but also to civil rights history in this country. --Brad Hooper