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A major history of Civil War America through the lens of its two towering figures: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
"My husband considered you a dear friend," Mary Todd Lincoln wrote to Frederick Douglass in the weeks after Lincoln's assassination. The frontier lawyer and the former slave, the cautious politician and the fiery reformer, the president and the most famous black man in America—their lives traced different paths that finally met in the bloody landscape of secession, Civil War, and emancipation. Opponents at first, they gradually became allies, each influenced by and attracted to the other. Their three meetings in the White House signaled a profound shift in the direction of the Civil War, and in the fate of the United States. In this first book to draw the two together, James Oakes has written a masterful narrative history. He brings these two iconic figures to life and sheds new light on the central issues of slavery, race, and equality in Civil War America.
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James Oakes, professor of history at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, is the author of acclaimed works on slavery and the South. He lives in New York City.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.)
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