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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.
29 of 29 people found this review helpful
Politics is the art of the possible. A perfect piece of art is the one in which no item could be added or subtracted from the canvas without making the picture less perfect. The author of this book has made the development of Lincoln's understanding of slavery like a perfect painting.
Lincoln is always ready to grow and revise his understanding of the 'peculiar institution'. He realizes that he can't get too far ahead of the people or the politics without marginalizing his ultimate objectives. For example, Lincoln fully believes the border states are vital for the success of the Union, and realizes their importance, "We want God on our side, but we must have Kentucky". He'll make political compromises in order to secure the border states while at the same time refining how he sees the moving parts that make up the issues of the time.
I just recently read the book, "What Had God Wrought", a history of America 1815-1848. From the book, it's clear that Slavery is the main character for American History during that time period. I wanted a book that filled in the period from after 1848 through the Civil War. This book, "Fiery Trial", does that superbly by showing how one man handled the question and how he led the change for the country as a whole and was always willing to grow and learn as the times would permit.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful