The Fiery Trial

  • by Eric Foner
  • Narrated by Norman Dietz
  • 18 hrs and 7 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize, History, 2011
In this landmark work of deep scholarship and insight, Eric Foner gives us the definitive history of Abraham Lincoln and the end of slavery in America. Foner begins with Lincoln's youth in Indiana and Illinois and follows the trajectory of his career across an increasingly tense and shifting political terrain from Illinois to Washington, D.C.
Although "naturally anti-slavery" for as long as he can remember, Lincoln scrupulously holds to the position that the Constitution protects the institution in the original slave states. But the political landscape is transformed in 1854 when the Kansas-Nebraska Act makes the expansion of slavery a national issue.
A man of considered words and deliberate actions, Lincoln navigates the dynamic politics deftly, taking measured steps, often along a path forged by abolitionists and radicals in his party. Lincoln rises to leadership in the new Republican Party by calibrating his politics to the broadest possible antislavery coalition. As president of a divided nation and commander in chief at war, displaying a similar compound of pragmatism and principle, Lincoln finally embraces what he calls the Civil War's "fundamental and astounding" result: the immediate, uncompensated abolition of slavery and recognition of blacks as American citizens.


What the Critics Say

"[A] searching portrait." (Publishers Weekly)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Great Book about a Monstrous Injustice

When my son was in third grade, the class project was either George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. My son chose Lincoln, and we read the Emancipation Proclamation together. He was surprised that the January 1, 1863 Executive Order didn't actually free all slaves - it only freed those in Confederate states and territories. Almost a million slaves in the border states (Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri) were still in bondage.

At the same age, I had imagined that Lincoln had freed the slaves all at once; and that on that very Happy New Year's Day, slaves left the kitchens and fields and went to live on 40 acres given to them by the government, plowing fields with a mule they received on the same day; and that they all voted in the next election. In my eight year old imagination, women voted too. I didn't learn for another year that women weren't guaranteed the right to vote until the 1920.

I explained, as we rolled newspapers into logs, stuck them onto a shoe box, and painted them with brown tempura paint to make a one room log cabin, that Lincoln did not want to have the border states secede. My son, at 8, was satisfied with the explanation. I wanted to learn more, though, and I am really glad that I found Eric Foner's "The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery" (2010) and took the time to listen.

Lincoln described himself as always antislavery, but until nearly the end of his life, he did not believe Blacks and Whites were equal. However, he was an ardent supporter of the constitution, and decided that the phrase in the preamble that "all men are created equal" did not mean all men were the same (people have different abilities, look different, and so on), but rather, all men were equal because all were given the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Slavery denied those rights.

Foner thoroughly discusses the federal and state laws on slavery, and how Lincoln strategized to use those laws and his presidential power to achieve total abolition of slavery, posthumously, when the 13th Amendment was adopted 8 months after his assassination. Lincoln's political and legal strategy began as a gradual, compensated freeing of slaves. The federal government freed slaves in the District of Columbia in 1862, paying owners about $400 a slave. Public opinion on slavery changed so rapidly by the end of the Civil War in 1865, the vast majority of the Union supported abolition; and owners were not compensated when it happened. Lincoln also addressed other concerns, including the important issue of what to do with the freed people. He initially supported deportation to Liberia or South America, but abandoned that position because Lincoln's understanding of Blacks grew to encompass totally equality.

I can't help but wonder what would have happened if he had lived through his second term - or if the Republican Party had selected a competent and moral Vice President instead of Andrew Johnson. Instead, Johnson was the first president to be impeached.

As to the 40 acres and a mule, it wasn't a myth - but the slaves entitled to that were freed from the Indian Nations.

This is the third Audible book on Lincoln I've listened to. The first was Delores Kearns Goodwins' "Team of Rivals" (2005) followed by Joshua Wolf Shenk's "Lincoln's Melancholy" (2005). Both are quite good, and they do address the issue of slavery - but not in the legal and cultural context that "The Fiery Trial" does. This book is a fresh study of Lincoln, not a compilation of old research.

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- Cynthia "Always moving. Always listening. Always learning. "After all this time?" "Always.""

great book about slavery and lincoln

You would be justified if you thought there are too many books about the Civil War & about Lincoln. I believe there are more books about Lincoln than there are about any figure in the western canon. So I looked askance at yet another one. Since I had read 2 other excellent volumes by Foner, including one I highly recommend about reconstruction, I took the dive.

Foner has produced something unique here. He has followed the line of the history of antebellum racism and thought about slavery, in general, and Lincoln's thoughts and actions about it in particular. There may not be anything 100% new in the book, but the way it is all put in one place, chronologically and with ample evidence, is what makes it a valuable addition to history.

Lincoln was both a man of his time and a professional politician. That has to be the starting point for any discussion of his views and actions about slavery in the United States. As Foner makes clear, Lincoln always had an abhorrence of slavery and unpaid servitude in general. Which does not mean he was not a racist by our 21st century standards. Lincoln was not the most anti-slavery man, or politician of his time ... had he been so, we would not know his name today, because he never could have become so prominent in politics nor become president.

Foner's accomplishment is to show how Lincoln's views changed over his career. From someone not terribly concern about slavery (in the 1840s, for instance) but still against it, to someone increasing concerned about it (in the 1850s) but mainly in the context of territorial expansion, to someone who gradually recognized it as the central cause of the war between the states. Along the way, Lincoln did drag along some of his cherished (and now repudiated) ideas, like the idea of colonization (which he held until late in his presidency in some fashion). And a habit of demeaning blacks in his manner of talking (like using the n-word and telling jokes). Highly recommended.
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- D. Littman "history buff"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-05-2010
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio