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Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865 [Kindle Edition]

James Oakes
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Winner of the Lincoln Prize. “Oakes brilliantly succeeds in [clarifying] the aims of the war with a wholly new perspective.”—David Brion Davis, New York Review of Books

Freedom National is a groundbreaking history of emancipation that joins the political initiatives of Lincoln and the Republicans in Congress with the courageous actions of Union soldiers and runaway slaves in the South. It shatters the widespread conviction that the Civil War was first and foremost a war to restore the Union and only gradually, when it became a military necessity, a war to end slavery. These two aims—"Liberty and Union, one and inseparable"—were intertwined in Republican policy from the very start of the war.

By summer 1861 the federal government invoked military authority to begin freeing slaves, immediately and without slaveholder compensation, as they fled to Union lines in the disloyal South. In the loyal Border States the Republicans tried coaxing officials into gradual abolition with promises of compensation and the colonization abroad of freed blacks. James Oakes shows that Lincoln’s landmark 1863 proclamation marked neither the beginning nor the end of emancipation: it triggered a more aggressive phase of military emancipation, sending Union soldiers onto plantations to entice slaves away and enlist the men in the army. But slavery proved deeply entrenched, with slaveholders determined to re-enslave freedmen left behind the shifting Union lines. Lincoln feared that the war could end in Union victory with slavery still intact. The Thirteenth Amendment that so succinctly abolished slavery was no formality: it was the final act in a saga of immense war, social upheaval, and determined political leadership.

Fresh and compelling, this magisterial history offers a new understanding of the death of slavery and the rebirth of a nation.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Long before the Civil War, the age of emancipation was marked by antislavery movements throughout the Caribbean empire and the British ban on slavery. Historian Oakes details how the U.S., despite its heritage of freedom, was much slower to adopt a national ideal of freedom, drudging through a long, painful, and very complicated process that did not necessarily have to lead to the Thirteenth Amendment. The greatest obstacle to antislavery efforts was the constitutional protection of slavery in states where it existed. Fervent debates about how to end slavery included directives to isolate the South, offer incentives and compensation, or exercise the military option that meant immediate emancipation and no compensation. Oakes examines the history of the antislavery movement, slave resistance, Lincoln’s political machinations, the Republican Party, the Civil War, and the revisionist history of the intent of the political players in the 1800s as seen through more modern perspectives. This is an absorbing look at the complex process of emancipation and the forces behind the incentives and threats—and the war—that eventually led to the end of slavery in the U.S. --Vanessa Bush


““[A] brilliant new look at the destruction of slavery during the American Civil War.” (Walter Russell Mead - Foreign Affairs)

“Was Lincoln really a ‘Reluctant Emancipator’? Freedom National answers that question eloquently and fully. Oakes argues that Lincoln, from the moment of his inauguration, began using every political and military means at his disposal to wipe out slavery forever.” (Howell Raines - Washington Post)

“Brilliant in analysis and compelling in argument, this is now the book to read on how slavery died.” (Library Journal)

“This remarkable book offers the best account ever written of the complex historical process known as emancipation. The story is dramatic and compelling, and no one interested in the American Civil War or the fate of slavery can afford to ignore it.” (Eric Foner, author of The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery)

“The best account we have of the process of emancipation and the ultimate abolition of slavery, on the ground in the South and in the halls of power at Washington. It also makes clear that from the beginning, nearly all participants recognized that the central issue of the war was slavery and that its likely outcome was a new birth of freedom.” (James M. McPherson, author of War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861—1865)

“A masterful piece of scholarship.... A must-read book for anyone seeking a greater understanding of the complicated and politically charged nature of emancipation.” (Robert I. Girardi - Washington Independent Review of Books)

““[This] myth-busting account of one of the most pivotal moments in our history is penetrating and persuasive.” (Glenn Altschuler - Florida Courier)

Product Details

  • File Size: 10110 KB
  • Print Length: 641 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0393065316
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (December 3, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007Q6XKXU
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #102,718 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterful work January 2, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Freedom National is an exhaustive study of the destruction of slavery in the United States. Author James Oakes traces the development and application of a constitutional theory of abolition that originated in Europe and England and eventually became mainstream Republican thought. Mr. Oakes then shows how this theory guided the anti-slavery actions of Republicans from the civil war to ratification of the thirteenth amendment.

Mr. Oakes presents an argument originally developed by abolitionists that since our constitution is based in natural law and since holding a property in man violates natural law, that chattel slavery -- the right of property in people -- is not natural and can only exist where legislation has been passed to create it. The constitution does not do so -- it only speaks of a servile status, of "persons held in service", not of a property in people. Because the constitution does not sanction slavery, it can only exist within states that passed "positive" legislation to specifically authorize it. Hence, freedom is national and slavery is only legal locally.

Most history restates President Lincoln's promises not to interfere with slavery in the states where it existed and portrays the southern states as acting rashly, but the author shows that Republican policies, based on a constitutional theory of abolition, would have created a cordon around the slave states and were intended to bring about the eventual elimination of slavery. As the author notes, "Historians often treat (Southern) rhetoric as though it were a species of hysteria...when in fact all the secessionists did was take Republicans at their word".

Like many people, I have always heard two conflicting views of the Emancipation Proclamation.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Freedom National definitive new study December 20, 2012
By alz
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
James Oakes has been probing Republican ideology and slavery in a series of articles he began publishing shortly after 'Radical and the Republican' was released. The articles were highly intellectual and thought-provoking about the Constitutional guarantees of property in man. This work is the culmination of those years.

Freedom National is a magisterial study of the end of slavery as a legal institution in the United States. While many studies begin with the Emancipation Proclamation or the 13th Amendment and focus on struggles between slaves and their former owners, Oakes' work differs from others by ending with the 13th Amendment and focusing on the Lincoln administration, Republican ideology, and the role of the military and runaway slaves. Oakes argues that beginning in the 1830s and 40s with the creation of a main-stream, political abolition ideology, abolitionists (and Republicans by 1860,) had recognized that the Constitution banned the Federal Government from interfering directly where slavery already existed. However, Republicans argued that wherever slavery did not already exist, freedom was the reining principle. Freedom National, Slavery Local. As such, Republicans believed they could put slavery on the course of "ultimate extinction" simply by defeating the slave power which Republicans believed artificially maintained the dying institution of slavery and by surrounding the slave states with free states.

A second way of ending slavery became practical during the secession winter of 1860. States that left the union also left behind any Constitutional protections towards slavery.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First-Rate January 24, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I would like to add my endorsement to the more learned comments already posted. In a year which will see much published about the process of emancipation, Oakes's book should strand as one of lasting importance. Elegantly written,deeply researched, and persuasively argued, this should appeal to academics and to any serious reader. It joins the recent historiographical tendency to return the abolition of slavery to the forefront of Republican policy and thus of (Civil) war aims, and makes that point amply and convincingly. Lincoln is here portrayed as far from a reluctant emancipator.This volume will be the definitive narrative of wartime emancipation as a matter of national policy, albeit somewhat more concerned with top-down policy than slave agency in the process.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down February 7, 2013
This is a thorough, definitive study of how American slavery came to its violent end in the middle of the 19th century. Mr. Oakes re establishes slavery as a prime cause of the war - the South did not quit the Union over states rights.

The author also fully describes how the evolving Republican strategy of preventing the growth of slavery was perceived in the South as an attack, in the same sense that a siege is an act of war, even if the army laying siege to the city does not fire the first shot. The book gives a complete account of events from the 1850s through the Civil War and provides a deep, thoughtful analysis of the characters on both sides.

It is a very strong book, one of the best and most in-depth I've read on the Civil War, but I would stop short of recommending it for everyone, as I am skeptical that casual readers will take to it. If you've read 8-10 books on the topic already, and cant get enough Civil War history, than you may be ready.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A treasure tove of irmation and argument
His deserves al the plaudits cited on its back cover. It covers every corner of the slavery debate. It is particularly interesting about the fact that our Constitution does not... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Andrew J McKenna
5.0 out of 5 stars Favorite book of the semester
I was assigned this book for a grad class and I have to say it's my favorite read of the semester. Although Oakes is repetitive at times he presents his argument logically and... Read more
Published 8 months ago by M. Snyder
4.0 out of 5 stars The Legal Justification for the Second American Revolution
This is an important book, but I don't think it presents a radically new view of the question of slavery in the Civil War (Second American Revolution). Read more
Published 8 months ago by Marc Lichtman
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
This is one of the best history books I've read and a must-read for those interested
in the end of slavery and 19th century American history. Read more
Published 9 months ago by J Chadderdon
2.0 out of 5 stars An Ideological Marxist Interpretation
The author's contention in this book that "The War For Southern Independence" from the very beginning was for Lincoln (and for most of the Republican Party) essentially a crusade... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Eric Martin
4.0 out of 5 stars good stuff
i enjoyed this book and it made some good points and had good background..i found it at times difficult in style i tended to get lost or i dunno just feel uncomfortably lost.. Read more
Published 11 months ago by J. craig
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent scholarship
excellent scholarship on the road to the abolition of slavery; overstates a bit the inevitability of its demise once the republicans led by Lincoln took office. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Keith Brooks
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read
This is a great book, ranking right along side David Potter's "Impending Crisis". It gets into the mind of the slave owner and the slave and gives you a nice look at how slave... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Bernard Lavallee
5.0 out of 5 stars The real story of the 13th Amendment
Learn how the amendment reaally happened without the 'hollywood' influence. a fascinating and entertaining
account. Worth the time. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Joseph A. Truglio
5.0 out of 5 stars A must have for your Civil War shelf
I thought this was a well researched and genuine historical look at slavery just before and during the Civil War. Read more
Published 13 months ago by 4moreshelflife
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