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Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865 Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 596 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First edition (December 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393065316
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393065312
  • Product Dimensions: 2.6 x 3.7 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #266,369 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Review

“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)

Freedom National provides 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)

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Customer Reviews

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It was an easy read.
Dale Rethlake
Elegantly written,deeply researched, and persuasively argued, this should appeal to academics and to any serious reader.
Mark Levine
I was assigned this book for a grad class and I have to say it's my favorite read of the semester.
M. Snyder

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By alz on December 20, 2012
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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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Karen Sullivan on 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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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Mark Levine on 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Brian Lewis on February 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover
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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