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Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865
Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865
by James Oakes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.43
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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
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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. Republicans predicted that the slaves themselves would destroy the institution either by fleeing for freedom or through insurrection and by the summer of 1861 (only a few months after the firing on Fort Sumter) their predictions seemed to be coming true.

Oakes argues that Republicans quickly realized more would have to be done to destroy slavery because -- although slaves could emancipate themselves -- the institution of slavery remained. As such, starting in August of 1861, Republicans started a process that would ultimately led to the Emancipation Proclamation and the complete legal destruction of slavery. The process was two fold, emancipate individual slaves who ran towards union lines and abolish slavery as a state institution. There was never a shift from a war for Union to a war for slavery. According to Oakes, the war was always for the restoration of the Union, but most Northerners believed from the very beginning, that slavery would have to die during that process. For Republicans, slavery and Union were linked.

The book is beautifully written. The research is stunning for its scope and thoroughness. The result is a new "revisionist" history of the Civil War that challenges much of what we think about the Civil War.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 18, 2013 1:23 PM PST


Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America: A Biography
Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America: A Biography
by William E. Gienapp
Edition: Paperback
Price: $32.67
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a great concise biography, January 1, 2009
Gienapp, William E. 'Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America; A Biography.' Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

The recently deceased, William Gienapp's brief biography of Abraham Lincoln is in great need to be revisited. Since the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth, nearly 50 new Lincoln books are set to come out, yet few will be as concise and well organized as Gienapps.

While Gienapp offers few new quotations in his work, his use of them as well as more well known ones is unparalleled; making for a new and refreshing read. Along the same lines as James M McPherson's Tried by War, Gienapp (6 years earlier) attempted to explain "why this man [Abraham Lincoln] turned out to be such an extraordinary war leader." (x)

Gienapp starts his book with Lincolns obscured early years. This section, nearly 80 pages worth of reading, seems characterless and stale. He merely follows the chronology of Lincoln, leaving the reader with an almost obsolete knowledge of the antebellum period. However, once Lincoln is elected president in 1860, the remaining of the book is a marvelous read.

Gienapp devotes large sections of his book to tracing the development and concept of Total War. Believing that the Civil War was the first total war, Gienapp writes that by 1864, "the Union army had confiscated private property in the South, expelled disloyal civilians from Union lines, emancipated slaves, utilized black soldiers, and waged a grinding, all-out form of warfare. To this mix was now added the dimension of psychological warfare designed to break the will of southern civilians. This was the nineteenth-century equivalent of the strategy of total war." (177) Gienapp's definition of total war is near the best offered. Other than McPherson's 1996 essay "From Limited to Total War," Gienapp comes the closest to understanding the concept. However Gienapp seems to forget the importance that new technology plays in total war which seems odd when one reflects on Lincolns interests and support for new advancements in technology. By 1864, most Union soldiers were equipped with the seven shot repeating carbine rifle, giving them a distinct and deadly advantage over their southern opponents. Also the appearance of Ironclad warships helped to change naval warfare. This component is important within the evolution of Total Warfare.

Following the trend of other historians, Gienapp heavily favors the war in the east. Gienapp also forgets about the harsh guerrilla warfare that was going on in Missouri and Kansas. Here, as Joseph Glatthar demonstrates in his Partners in Command, is were Grant, Sherman, Sheridan and Porter (the major proponents of the hard war concept) were first exposed to the ruthless type of war which would be required to dispel the rebellion.

Curiously, Gienapp writes on several occasions that the Union never took any propaganda efforts to mobilize the public. This is not completely true, in an essay by William Hesseltine in 1935, Hesseltine convincingly demonstrates that in 1861, as a result of McClellan's inactivity, Senator Benjamin Wade created the Committee on the Conduct of the War which highly publicized Southern atrocities toward Union soldiers in an effort to enrage the Northern public opinion. While this propaganda may or may not have been influenced by Lincoln, it is spurious to write there were no attempts to create a war hysteria through propaganda. In fact, the Norths bellicose mood after the end of the war culminated in the hanging of Captain Henry Wirtz, is direct evidence of sustained war hysteria.

Gienapp demonstrates his overall ability as a scholar by effectively including small and obscure events such as Lincoln's Corning Letter into the text. Here Lincoln responds to Democrat Erastus Corning to defend his measures against civil liberties. Gienapp writes Lincoln was always more concerned with policy to end the war rather then policy to up hold an already sundered Constitution. It is these small inclusions which puts Gienapps work closer to the level of much larger Civil War study's such as McPherson's Pulitzer prize winning, 'Battle Cry of Freedom' and David Donald's 'Civil War and Reconstruction.'

In conclusion Gienapp's study is an effective biography given its relatively small breadth. The book offers a large punch and should be considered by both experts and laymen alike as an example of first rate scholarship. It's small size and relatively inexpensive price should make this book a standard within the field.


Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South
Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South
by James Oakes
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.45
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Seminal Synthesis of Scholarship, December 28, 2008
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Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South. By James Oakes.
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990. Pp. xxii, 246. $22.95.)

In Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Mrs. Bird asks, "What could induce you to leave a good home, then, and run away, and go through such dangers? The woman [Eliza] looked up at Mrs. Bird, with a keen, scrutinizing glance...` Ma'am,' she said, suddenly, `have you ever lost a child?"' In this telling scene between Eliza and a northern woman who helps her, Stowe struck the moral cord in the hearts of many middle-class, religious families. The destruction of the slave family is one repeatedly analyzed by historians and typically placed among one of the most destructive affects of the peculiar institution. Recently, micro-analysis works such as, "The African-American Family" (1998) by Leslie Owens, have successfully divorced the individual from society, losing its linkage to the bigger picture. In James Oakes' second book, Slavery and Freedom, Oakes declares that the destruction of the slave family is ultimately a result of slaves being `outsiders' from Southern society. Oakes, in a similar light to works such as the eminent historian Kenneth Stampp's Peculiar Institution, examines fundamental questions of Southern antebellum history, the structure of slavery, the relationship between slaves and their masters, as well as the politics of slavery. Oakes argues, "This is not a study of the origins of the Civil War so much as the "southern road" to it...These, then, are essays in interpretation, frankly exploratory and by intent suggestive rather than definitive." (xx)

Oakes convincingly argues that since slavery is always defined as the complete denial of freedom within a society; freedom is "inescapably" tied to the way a society defines slavery. Drawing on lessons learned from other `slave societies' such as ancient Greece and Rome, Oakes writes that the Old South's slavery touched every aspect of life in the south. "It dominated the social structure, drove the economy, and permeated the political system." (40) By the time of the American Revolution, the North and South were at the crossroads of exceptionalism; yet as Oakes writes, "New World slavery was itself the servant of the driving force of capitalism." (52) As Oakes writes, "American masters were the first in history whose power depended on commercial relations with a capitalist world that was ultimately more powerful than all the slave societies put together." (53)

A cogent idea, Oakes lauds the fugitive slaves for forcing change in America and ultimately bringing freedom to four million enthralled peoples. He writes that the reality of fugitives brought the Northern `liberty laws' face-to-face with the Constitutions protection of property. Slave resistance, in the form of runaways, according to Oakes, is ultimately what helped divide the nation toward war and emancipation. Oakes writes, "Many citizens who were perfectly prepared to defend the masters' right to own slaves were increasingly unprepared to let the slaveholders exercise their privileges as masters at the expense of northern liberties and safeguard." (173)

In relations between slaveholders and nonslaveholders, Oakes writes, that the planter class often offered minor concessions in order to solidify the yeomen's support for slavery- a view echoed a decade later by historian Sean Wilentz. However, Oakes contains that it is not these concessions but rather racism that is the ultimate unifier of support for slavery. "Racism thus had the one advantage that all dominant ideologies must have to be effective: it meant such different things to different people that it could bring together those for whom no other terms of agreement were available." (131) While, Oakes discusses the important racism served in unifying the South, he make no attempt to trace the divergence of white supremacy in the North which would only grow stronger as the North looked to keep slavery were it already existed as a way to oppress blacks- slave and free. Southerners, on the other hand, looked to spread slavery through the territories as a way to maintain their own unique form of white supremacy.
Another critique of Oakes' work comes in the form of his perpetuating of the American `yeoman' farmer myth. As the eminent Jeffersonian scholar, Joyce Appleby demonstrates in her article, "Commercial Farming and the `Agrarian Myth' in the Early Republic," historians have placed an over emphasis on the "romantic myth of the rural self-sufficient" farmer. Oakes resists continuing this trend by writing, "Whereas slaveholders produced first for the market and tried in addition to cultivate subsistence crops, yeomen farmers produced first for their own subsistence and tried in addition to cultivate marketable commodities." (107) However, by labeling nonslaveholders of the Old South as yeoman, it derives the very connotation Oakes is trying to avoid.

Nevertheless, Slavery and Freedom is a seminal synthesis of scholarship, were Oakes brilliantly blends the major works into a coherent, highly readable study of slavery. Showing deep reflection, Oakes adds new interpretations as well as new questions to a century-old debate that has raged within academia. Through the use of new and obscure sources Oakes work is thought provoking and significantly helps further ones understanding of slavery's relationship to freedom, and will doubtlessly be a reference for students of the peculiar institution for years to come.


Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World
Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World
by Eric Foner
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.25
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Coterie of Essays, December 7, 2008
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This newest publication from the eminent Eric Foner is an early gift to avid readers of the Civil War and Lincoln. A Many of us know, we are fast approaching the bicentennial of Lincolns birth. As such this is but one of dozens of new volumes expected to arrive. Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer estimates at least 40 new works on Lincoln between November of 2008-Feb of 2009 will be published, yet this one will not get lost amongst the crowd.

Foner's volume "Our Lincoln; New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World," does in fact offer new information. McPherson starts the volume off with a chapter dealing with Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief. While this is also the topic of McPherson's newest book, Tried by War, the topic of Lincoln as the Commander of both political and military America has been long over looked.

Mark Neely, in the subsequent chapter, returns to an old debate which Neely has dominated for years- Civil Liberties. Neely does not necessarily conclude anything startling new; however he does bring to light two obscure letters which directly lead to Civil War policy and help demonstrate Lincoln's sincerity for emancipation.

James Oakes has included a beautiful essay on Lincoln and Race. This is one of three essays on the subject of 'Lincoln as Emancipator'. Oakes' essay is perhaps the most original within the entire collection. Well-conceived and stunningly convincing, Oakes demonstrates that for Lincoln, race was typically a State issue. In fact, as Oakes proves, nearly every non-egalitarian statement Lincoln made concerning jurors, education, suffrage where all State Right issues in the middle of the 19th Century. The stunning conclusions this leads us to helps exemplify why Oakes is quickly becoming one of the fore-most Civil War historians.

Foner contributed an excellent essay on Lincoln and Colonization. This topic, often overshadowed by scholars is now, and in my view rightly, returning to its prominence. Again this topic, nor this 'perspective' is all that 'new;' yet it does bring an old issue to new light. Foner concludes that Lincoln was sincere in his belief in Colonization, probably up until his death, however he also grew to embraced uncompensated emancipation at the same time.

Two of the more original essays come from Andrew Delbanco and Sean Wilentz. Wilentz writes about Lincoln's relationship to Andrew Jackson and the Jacksonian world. Undeniably more work in this area is still needed. Delbanco discusses Lincoln's role in shaping literature but far more importantly, reflects on if Lincoln's voice is still heard as his contemporaries heard him.

In 1876, Frederick Douglass spoke, "No man can say anything that is new of Abraham Lincoln." The statement remains as untrue today as it was when Douglass spoke it. Foner, McPherson, Oakes and a score of other prominent historians disagree with Douglass; yet, perhaps a more appropriate title would be "Our Lincoln; Perspectives on Lincoln and His World."

This book is an excellent source for Licolnian scholars as well as novices to Lincoln and the Civil War.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 7, 2012 9:35 AM PDT


Tom Paine and Revolutionary America (Galaxy Books)
Tom Paine and Revolutionary America (Galaxy Books)
by Eric Foner
Edition: Paperback
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tom Paine and Revolutionary America, March 24, 2008
Foner, Eric. Tom Paine and Revolutionary America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976. Pp. xx, 326

While Foner's book, Tom Paine and Revolutionary America, came out in 1976, it remains as relevant and widely used today as it was when it was first published. Clearly, Foner's depiction of Paine strikes a chord with several other historians since many undergraduate text books and other scholarly texts have the book listed in there works citied. Acclaimed books such as Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States (1980) as well as A Leap in the Dark (2003) by John Ferling have both turned to Foner's book in reference to Thomas Paine and radical ideologies during the American Revolution. Furthermore, in Eric Foner's newer college level text, Give Me Liberty!, (2006) his use of and importance placed on Paine has remained unchanged as a key and leading figure in the development of radical American ideologies. The book is an excellent source for any student of Thomas Paine or radical participation during the Revolution, while it remains slightly out of reach of the average Sunday reader. Foner's forth book clearly demonstrates his talent as a historian and sheds new light into the American Revolution.


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