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The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery Paperback – September 26, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A mixture of visionary progressivism and repugnant racism, Abraham Lincoln's attitude toward slavery is the most troubling aspect of his public life, one that gets a probing assessment in this study. Columbia historian and Bancroft Prize winner Foner (Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men) traces the complexities of Lincoln's evolving ideas about slavery and African-Americans: while he detested slavery, he also publicly rejected political and social equality for blacks, dragged his feet (critics charged) on emancipating slaves and accepting black recruits into the Union army, and floated schemes for colonizing freedmen overseas almost to war's end. Foner situates this record within a lucid, nuanced discussion of the era's turbulent racial politics; in his account Lincoln is a canny operator, cautiously navigating the racist attitudes of Northern whites, prodded--and sometimes willing to be prodded--by abolitionists and racial egalitarians pressing faster reforms. But as Foner tells it, Lincoln also embodies a society-wide transformation in consciousness, as the war's upheavals and the dynamic new roles played by African-Americans made previously unthinkable claims of freedom and equality seem inevitable. Lincoln is no paragon in Foner's searching portrait, but something more essential--a politician with an open mind and a restless conscience. 16 pages of illus., 3 maps.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

“Do we need another book on Lincoln? Yes, we do—if the book is by so richly informed a commentator as Eric Foner.” — David S. Reynolds (The New York Times Book Review)

“Starred Review. Original and compelling….In the vast library on Lincoln, Foner’s book stands out as the most sensible and sensitive reading of Lincoln’s lifetime involvement with slavery and the most insightful assessment of Lincoln’s—and indeed America’s—imperative to move toward freedom lest it be lost. An essential work for all Americans.” — Library Journal

“Moving and rewarding. . . . A master historian at work.” — David W. Blight (San Francisco Chronicle)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (September 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039334066X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393340662
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,645 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Eric Foner is DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, where he earned his B.A. and Ph.D. In his teaching and scholarship, Foner focuses on the Civil War and Reconstruction, slavery, and nineteenth-century America. His "Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877," won the Bancroft, Parkman, and Los Angeles Times Book prizes and remains the standard history of the period. In 2006 Foner received the Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching at Columbia University. He has served as president of the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association, and the Society of American Historians. He is currently writing a book on Lincoln and slavery.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

92 of 94 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Trinque VINE VOICE on November 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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.
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121 of 132 people found the following review helpful By James W. Durney TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
We see Abraham Lincoln as "The Great Emancipator", who ended slavery in the United States of America. Lincoln's words describe and inspire us, remaining as current as the day they were spoke. We see Lincoln not as the man but as the larger than life occupant of the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln's 1860 nomination is not because he is or is thought to be "The Great Emancipator". Lincoln is a moderate on slavery and race, acceptable to both wings of the party.
Abraham Lincoln's and Americans journey to emancipation is the subject of this excellent book. America faces serious divisions over slavery but very few over race. The wish to end slavery often did not include what to do with the former slaves. Northern states, with few slaves, accepted gradual emancipation and managed to tolerate their Black population. In the majority of Northern states Blacks could not vote, could not serve on a jury nor could they testify against a White person. Some Northern states essentially ban Blacks. In many more states, they are under server restrictions and required to post bonds to insure good conduct. Garrison said that Illinois is essentially a "slave state" due to the restrictive laws on Blacks.
This is a book about race relations more than about slavery. The majority agreed that slavery is "bad" but cannot see a reasonable exit. Gradual Emancipation is an acceptable answer. Slaves born after a set date become free when they become n years old. The current slaves either remain slaves or become free after n years. This pushes the race problem away, leaving it for another generation to deal with. Immediate Emancipation ends slavery but has few answers to the race question. Colonization is a popular answer.
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55 of 58 people found the following review helpful By JMB1014 on February 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Eric Foner is a great American historian. His book on Reconstruction remains the standard and definitive work. This volume is the definitive study of Lincoln's evolving attitude toward slavery.

Foner sets out the story in chronological order. He strikes a fine balance between the competing demands of completeness and concision and does so with both sound scholarship and narrative flair. To say this book reads well is an understatement.

Of course we read that Lincoln grew up in border areas and had limited and somewhat ambivalent dealings with blacks. He talked about blacks in language that makes us cringe. He could be patronizing and yet he was increasingly aware. And his initial stance on slavery, which originally owed much to his "beau ideal," Henry Clay, seems in retrospect hopelessly naive. For many years, he favored a combination of gradual emancipation rather than outright abolition, compensation of slave-owners, and colonization of slaves in another nation rather than integration here. Bizarre as colonization seems to us now, among opponents of slavery it was for decades considered the only realistic option once slaves were emancipated. Even in the North, it was all but unthinkable that blacks could be integrated and enjoy social, legal and political equality.

It is widely understood that Lincoln's attitude toward blacks and slavery evolved, as did his insight into how to govern a divided nation in the midst of a war that almost daily threatened to arrive at his very doorstep.
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