Eric Foner's "The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery" is the finst study I have ever seen of Lincoln and the central question that America faced in the middle of the 19th century: what to do about slavery? Foner's book traces in great detail Lincoln's evolving public responses on what to do about slavery (and rce) from the 1830s until the eve of his death in 1865. And I do specify "public responses" because in private Lincoln played his cards very close to the vest, and it is extremely difficult to determine exactly how far his true inner feelings varied at any particular time from what he said or wrote for public knowledge. Obviously, his opinions modified with time; the Lincoln of April, 1865, was not wholly the same man as the Lincoln of mid-1861, just as that man differed from the Lincoln of 1860 or 1858 or 1854. The line between consciously forming and leading public opinion on the subject versus being led by external events is not readily discerned in every case, but Foner does as thorough a job of analysis as we are ever likely to see.
"The Fiery Trial" demands close attention, as the narrative thread winds and twists among the myriad complex issues presented by slavery and its attendent racism. In the end, the story does become one of change, how one extraordinary man traveled from the ordinary deep, casual racism of the time and place of his birth to a position that impelled him in the end to embrace a notion of equality that not only forbade slavery but demanded even-handed treatment before the law and even expanded to include that simple justice required extension of the right to vote. It was a long journey, and Lincoln was neither the perfect saint of later myth, nor the racist demon featured in so much recent revisionist history, but instead was a complex, real man who grew in stature to meet the greatest challenge of his era.