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The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics Paperback – January 17, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
The perennial tension between principle and pragmatism in politics frames this engaging account of two Civil War Era icons. Historian Oakes (Slavery and Freedom) charts the course by which Douglass and Lincoln, initially far apart on the antislavery spectrum, gravitated toward each other. Lincoln began as a moderate who advocated banning slavery in the territories while tolerating it in the South, rejected social equality for blacks and wanted to send freedmen overseas—and wound up abolishing slavery outright and increasingly supporting black voting rights. Conversely, the abolitionist firebrand Douglass moved from an impatient, self-marginalizing moral rectitude to a recognition of compromise, coalition building and incremental goals as necessary steps forward in a democracy. Douglass's views on race were essentially modern; the book is really a study through his eyes of the more complex figure of Lincoln. Oakes lucidly explores how political realities and military necessity influenced Lincoln's tortuous path to emancipation, and asks whether his often bigoted pronouncements represented real conviction or strategic concessions to white racism. As Douglass shifts from denouncing Lincoln's foot-dragging to revering his achievements, Oakes vividly conveys both the immense distance America traveled to arrive at a more enlightened place and the fraught politics that brought it there. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
James Oakes is the author of several acclaimed books on slavery and the Civil War. His history of emancipation, Freedom National, won the Lincoln Prize and was longlisted for the National Book Award. He is Distinguished Professor of History and Graduate School Humanities Professor at the Graduate Center, CUNY.
Top customer reviews
Anyway, enough about the contents of the book. The structure of the book was interesting. Whether it is a good interesting or a bad interesting is up to the reader. Typically, Oakes would state the result, as if writing an abstract of a paper, then go back to the beginning of the event and expalin the intricacies of Lincoln's actions, or Douglas' opinions, etc. When he sequentially arrived back to the result, he would infer more of his own analysis and wax eloquent on Lincoln's decisions. Occasionally, while writing a paper, and trying to remember what happens first, this causes the reader a bit of confusion, but it is minimal to negligible, especially if one is already familiar with Civil War history.
James Oates' The Radical and the Republican masterfully witnesses to the crucial role temperament plays in determining which side of the political and moral divide one lands in the higher law debate. Lincoln (the republican) was by nature a man inclined toward moderation, reason, patience, and unemotional analysis. Although always a loather of slavery, it took the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act to put slavery in the middle of his political radar screen. Even then, he insisted that slavery was implicitly guaranteed in the Constitution, and that, short of a constitutional amendment, the most a President or Congress could do was to geographically contain it. Lincoln, who eventually adopted a policy Oates calls "strategic racism"--refusing to speak against the race-baiting so popular in the U.S. in order to make his eventual decision to emancipate the slaves an easier pill to swallow--thought John Brown a madman.
Douglass (the reformer--or better, perhaps, the rebel) had a much more phlegmatic tempermant: emotional, volatile, black-and-white thinking, quick judgments. Although aligned when young with the pacifist Garrisonians, Douglass was never much of a pacifist. But he imbibed the Garrisonian insistence that the Constitution and the government, through their complicity with slavery, were utterly corrupt, and that a higher moral law not only sanctioned but obliged disregard of them when it came to slavery. Douglass, who adopted a policy of black self-reliance which Oates calls "strategic separatism," thought John Brown a hero.
The Civil War created an extraordinary environment, argues Oates, in which Lincoln the republican and Douglass the reformer began to converge. Lincoln dropped his idea of gradual and compensated emancipation by issuing the Emancipation Declaration and lobbying for the passage of the 13th Amendment. Douglass, under the influence of Gerrit Smith, came to see the Constitution as an anti-slavery document and politics as a legitimate method to reforming society. By the time Lincoln was murdered, Douglass had come to greatly admire the man who he mercilessly criticized through much of the war. And Lincoln went out of his way to refer publicly to "my friend" Douglass. Still, their basic temperaments remained quite different, and it's curious to reflect on what their relationship might've evolved into had Lincoln lived.
Oates' discussion of the two men is fascinating, well-written, and well-documented. Strongly recommended not only for those interested in the Civil War but also for anyone interestd in the higher law debate.