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Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865by James Oakes
Synopses & Reviews
Freedom National is a groundbreaking history of emancipation that joins the political initiatives of Lincoln and the Republicans in Congress with the courageous actions of Union soldiers and runaway slaves in the South. It shatters the widespread conviction that the Civil War was first and foremost a war to restore the Union and only gradually, when it became a military necessity, a war to end slavery. These two aims—"Liberty and Union, one and inseparable"—were intertwined in Republican policy from the very start of the war.
By summer 1861 the federal government invoked military authority to begin freeing slaves, immediately and without slaveholder compensation, as they fled to Union lines in the disloyal South. In the loyal Border States the Republicans tried coaxing officials into gradual abolition with promises of compensation and the colonization abroad of freed blacks. James Oakes shows that Lincoln’s landmark 1863 proclamation marked neither the beginning nor the end of emancipation: it triggered a more aggressive phase of military emancipation, sending Union soldiers onto plantations to entice slaves away and enlist the men in the army. But slavery proved deeply entrenched, with slaveholders determined to re-enslave freedmen left behind the shifting Union lines. Lincoln feared that the war could end in Union victory with slavery still intact. The Thirteenth Amendment that so succinctly abolished slavery was no formality: it was the final act in a saga of immense war, social upheaval, and determined political leadership.
Fresh and compelling, this magisterial history offers a new understanding of the death of slavery and the rebirth of a nation.
"Eliminating slavery proved harder 'than anyone first imagined,' writes Oakes (The Radical and the Republican), professor of history at the CUNY Graduate Center, in this richly satisfying account. Ironically, the Constitution was 'one of the most formidable obstacles to abolition — 'enlightenment economics taught that slavery would eventually disappear, so the Founding Fathers felt little was lost in placating southern states by writing protections into the document. As deferent to the Constitution as their opponents, Republicans never supported abolishing slavery where it was legal, and though Lincoln maintained 'that he would take no stance that went against his party,' Southern states saw the election of 1860 as a harbinger of abolition. It was, however, a slow process: by war's end a mere 15% of four million slaves were free. Congressman James Wilson remarked, 'slavery was a Ã¢Â€Â˜condemned' but Ã¢Â€Â˜unexecuted culprit.'Â ' Only with the 1865 ratification of the 13th Amendment were all slaves freed, 'everywhere, for all future time.' Both a refreshing take on a moment in history and a primer on the political process, Oakes's study is thoroughly absorbing. Maps & illus." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A powerful history of emancipation that reshapes our understanding of Lincoln, the Civil War, and the end of American slavery.
Who freed Americaand#8217;s slaves? The real story of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitutionand#151;which codified the rhetoric of the Emancipation Proclamationand#151;remains surprisingly obscure in the public imagination. Too often, this story has been told as a mere coda to that of the Proclamation, or as a tale of the Great Mr. Lincoln. Neither is historically accurate or complete. In Leonard Richardsand#8217;s hands, the full story makes for the best kind of political narrative, gripping and suspenseful.
and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; The prime mover of the amendment was James Ashley, firebrand congressman from Toledo, Ohio. An angry and articulate idealist, Ashley pushed Congress, the president, and the country again and again until the arc of justice bent his way. Both a tale of righteous rage and legislative legerdemain, Outlawing Slavery details Ashleyand#8217;s campaign, replete with horse trading, arm twisting, and (maybe) vote buying. With many Congressmenand#151;and, for a long time, Abraham Lincolnand#151;resisting Ashleyand#8217;s demand for a constitutional amendment, Ashley had to engage in procedural shenanigans during a lame-duck session in 1864and#150;1865 to maneuver Congress into finally doing the right thing.
In the popular imagination, slavery in the United States ended with Abraham Lincolnand#8217;s Emancipation Proclamation. The Proclamation may have been limitedand#151;freeing only slaves within Confederate states who were able to make their way to Union linesand#151;but it is nonetheless generally seen as the key moment, with Lincolnand#8217;s leadership setting into motion a train of inevitable events that culminated in the passage of an outright ban: the Thirteenth Amendment.
The real story, however, is much more complicatedand#151;and dramaticand#151;than that. With Who Freed the Slaves?, distinguished historian Leonard L. Richards tells the little-known story of the battle over the Thirteenth Amendment, and of James Ashley, the unsung Ohio congressman who proposed the amendment and steered it to passage. Taking readers to the floor of Congress and the back rooms where deals were made, Richards brings to life the messy process of legislationand#151;a process made all the more complicated by the bloody war and the deep-rooted fear of black emancipation. We watch as Ashley proposes, fine-tunes, and pushes the amendment even as Lincoln drags his feet, only coming aboard and providing crucial support at the last minute. Even as emancipation became the law of the land, Richards shows, its opponents were already regrouping, beginning what would become a decades-longand#151;and largely successfuland#151;fight to limit the amendmentand#8217;s impact.
Who Freed the Slaves? is a masterwork of American history, presenting a surprising, nuanced portrayal of a crucial moment for the nation, one whose effects are still being felt today.
is a groundbreaking history of emancipation that joins the political initiatives of Lincoln and the Republicans in Congress with the courageous actions of Union soldiers and runaway slaves in the South. It shatters the widespread conviction that the Civil War was first and foremost a war to restore the Union and only gradually, when it became a military necessity, a war to end slavery. These two aims--"Liberty and Union, one and inseparable"--were intertwined in Republican policy from the very start of the war.
About the Author
is a Distinguished Professor of History and Graduate School Humanities Professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author of several acclaimed works on the South and the Civil War, including and , both winners of the Lincoln Prize. He and his family live in New York City.
Table of Contents
Prologue: Wednesday, June 15, 1864
Chapter One: The Old Order and Its Defenders
Chapter Two: Lincoln and Emancipation
Chapter Three: To a White and Black Manand#8217;s War
Chapter Four: The Odd Couple
Chapter Five: Hostility of the Northern Democracy
Chapter Six: The Lame Ducks of 1864
Chapter Seven: The Enforcement Clause and Its Enemies
Epilogue: Emancipation Day, 1893
Appendix A: A Historiographical Note
Appendix B: Significant Dates in the History of the Civil War and Thirteenth Amendment
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