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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.
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.
The consensus view of the Civil War—that it was first and foremost a war to restore the Union, and an antislavery war only later when it became necessary for Union victory—dies here. James Oakes’s groundbreaking history shows how deftly Lincoln and congressional Republicans pursued antislavery throughout the war, pragmatic in policy but steadfast on principle.
In the disloyal South the federal government quickly began freeing slaves, immediately and without slaveholder compensation, as they fled to Union lines. In the loyal Border States the Republicans tried coaxing officials into abolishing slavery gradually with promises of compensation. As the devastating war continued with slavery still entrenched, Republicans embraced a more aggressive military emancipation, triggered by the Emancipation Proclamation. Finally it took a constitutional amendment on abolition to achieve the Union’s primary goal in the war. Here, in a magisterial history, are the intertwined stories of emancipation and the Civil 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.
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