Foner gives us a good story on the progression of Lincoln''s thoughts and actions in regards to slavery and emancipation. In the century and a half since the death of Lincoln, he has been presented to us in our history books as the great emancipator, but Foner...
Foner gives us a good story on the progression of Lincoln''s thoughts and actions in regards to slavery and emancipation.
In the century and a half since the death of Lincoln, he has been presented to us in our history books as the great emancipator, but Foner presents an accurate and well documented history of Lincoln and his actions during this important part of our history. Foner''s honesty is evident when on page 120 he says that race is our obsession , not Lincoln''s. That is so true, because as a society, we make grave mistakes when we try to translate the lives of the long departed into the sizzle of the 21st century. Lincoln is no exception.
Over the years of his presidency, Lincoln carefully gauged the sentiments of the nation from every angle, attempting not to alienate his uneasy coalition and to eventually have his vision of emancipation become reality.
There is much discussion of the border states in this book. They were important Lincoln because he did not want to do anything to flush them into the arms of the Confederacy. He was to have said that he hoped God was on his side, but he must have Kentucky. His birth state held slaves, and had a policy of an armed neutrality, and while Lincoln was careful regarding Kentucky and all the border states, the Confederacy helped to wound herself when she marched an army into Kentucky.
Lincoln, and many like him wanted to have a long term emancipation, compensating slave owners loyal to the union, and deporting or relocating (pick your word here)slaves to central America, or back to Africa. What struck me so evident in the book, is that outside of possibly the state of Massachusetts and the immediate area surrounding it, the white people in America wanted rid of the black man. They were against slavery and the concept that one man could own another, but totally against any attempt to assimilate the black population into a white owned society. And, when you think about it, it was easy for the Abolitionists to clamor for total emancipation and suffrage and civil rights for the freed slave, when the vast majority of the four million victims of this evil thing were located primarily in the deep South. It is easy to advocate something that has little effect on you or your region, but Lincoln understood that such a thing would be a tremendous adjustment for the nation, and while there were organizations set up to promote colonization of blacks, the vast majority of blacks considered themselves Americans and insisted on staying here in an attempt to gain their liberty, and their pursuit of happiness.
It was also interesting that the author shows that when emancipation was brought to Washington, D.C. at the end of January 1863, the Treasury paid $900,000 to hundreds of former slave holders for 3,000 slaves aged from an infant to 93 years of age. I suppose it helps to illustrate the enormity of the problem. To resolve the issue for 3,000 is nothing in comparison to the four million held in captivity. If nothing else, it shows how ineffective government was back then in attempting to address the problem. Ultimately, it was a war that was required to rid this from the nation, and once in it, Lincoln never waivered in his determination to see the thing through, not only for the benefit of the slaves, but also the long term benefits to the nation.
And, in all honesty, Foner and all of us have to admit that the Emancipation Proclamation was symbolic, but often, history proves to us that perception is more important than reality.
The story is a long and complicated one, but Foner does provide it with interest to the reader and shows the trials that Lincoln indeed went through in this process.
I have a small criticism for the editor of the book who allowed that the fall of Vicksburg and the final defeat of Lee at Gettysburg fell on the same day. Any moderately educated student of the Civil War knows better than this, and it gently detracts from the book.
Regardless, there is a lot of information here. I have read it twice and encourage readers to add it to their libraries because it is an honest representation of a difficult time, and shows not only the extreme patience of Lincoln, but also his ultimate wisdom.