One of the nation's foremost Lincoln scholars offers an authoritative consideration of the document that represents the most far-reaching accomplishment of our greatest president.
No single official paper in American history changed the lives of as many Americans as Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. But no American document has been held up to greater suspicion. Its bland and lawyerlike language is unfavorably compared to the soaring eloquence of the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural; its effectiveness in freeing the slaves has been dismissed as a legal illusion. And for some African-Americans the Proclamation raises doubts about Lincoln himself.
Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation dispels the myths and mistakes surrounding the Emancipation Proclamation and skillfully reconstructs how America's greatest president wrote the greatest American proclamation of freedom.
This impressive work is a splendid history of the genesis, issuance and aftermath of Lincoln's epoch-making Emancipation Proclamation. Not surprisingly, it focuses on the president, whom Guelzo (whose Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President won the 2000 Lincoln Prize) presents in all his prudent, acute genius. As is well known, the recovery of the Union, not emancipation, was always uppermost in Lincoln's aims. Therefore, he had to convince himself that options other than emancipation-principally treating escaping slaves as contraband of war or compensating slaveholders for their freed slaves-were unworkable and likely to retard Northern victory before concluding that the slaves' emancipation would advance the cause of war as well as end an evil. The history of how Lincoln convinced himself is Guelzo's main subject. The political and legal reasoning behind Lincoln's series of hugely difficult decisions has never been presented so well before nor in such authoritative detail. And rarely has Lincoln's cautious approach seemed, paradoxically, so fit and so bold. His ability both to listen to others and to explain with clarity and eloquence why he had taken the decision he did stands out, as does his firmness of resolve in the face of violent criticism. In this fast-paced and riveting work, whose details propel rather than retard it, the president stands forth not so much as the deeply compassionate and thoughtful man he was but rather as a man of inordinate understanding of his fellow citizens and of the needs of his fractured nation. It's hard to imagine that this book will soon be surpassed as the definitive work on its subject. Agent, Michele Rubin, Writer's House. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
Simon & Schuster
November 01, 2006
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation by Allen C. Guelzo
The Emancipation Proclamation is surely the unhappiest of all of Abraham Lincoln's great presidential papers. Taken at face value, the Emancipation Proclamation was the most revolutionary pronouncement ever signed by an American president, striking the legal shackles from four million black slaves and setting the nation's face toward the total abolition of slavery within three more years. Today, however, the Proclamation is probably best known for what it did not do, beginning with its apparent failure to rise to the level of eloquence Lincoln achieved in the Gettysburg Address or the Second Inaugural. Even in the 1860s, Karl Marx, the author of a few proclamations of his own, found that the language of the Proclamation, with its ponderous whereases and therefores, reminded him of "ordinary summonses sent by one lawyer to another on the opposing side." When the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated in 1922, quotations from the Second Inaugural and the Gettysburg Address flanked the great Daniel Chester French statue of the seated Lincoln, but there was no matching quotation from the Proclamation, only a vague, elliptical representation in Jules Guerin's mural, Emancipation of a Race, which was mostly lost to sight near the ceiling of one of the memorial's side chambers.
But the unkindest cut at the Proclamation came from the hands of Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter, in his essay on Lincoln in The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It (1948). A onetime member of the circle of American Marxist intellectuals around Partisan Review, Hofstadter repudiated the traditional Progressive view of American political history as a struggle between the legacies of the liberal Thomas Jefferson and the conservative Alexander Hamilton. Instead, Hofstadter viewed American politics as a single, consistent, and deeply cynical story of how capitalism had corrupted Jeffersonians and Hamiltonians alike and turned the United States into "a democracy of cupidity rather than a democracy of fraternity." But he reserved his angriest words for Lincoln and for the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln's opposition to slavery, in Hofstadter's reckoning, was kindled only by the threat it posed to free white labor and the development of industrial capitalism. Lincoln "was, as always, thinking primarily of the free white worker" and was "never much troubled about the Negro." No one, then, should be fooled by the Proclamation. Its motives were entirely other than had been advertised, and that fact explained its stylistic flaccidity. "Had the political strategy of the moment called for a momentous human document of the stature of the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln could have risen to the occasion." Instead, what he composed on New Year's Day, 1863, "had all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading." It accomplished nothing because it was intended to accomplish nothing "beyond its propaganda value."