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Douglass and Lincoln : How a Revolutionary Black Leader and a Reluctant Liberator Struggled to End Slavery and Save the Union
The influence Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln had on each other and on the nation altered the course of slavery and the outcome of the Civil War.
Although Abraham Lincoln deeply opposed the existence of slavery, he saw his mission throughout much of the Civil War as preserving the Union, with or without slavery. Frederick Douglass, a former slave, passionately believed the war's central mission to be the total abolition of slavery. During their meetings between 1863 and 1865, and through reading each other's speeches and letters, they managed to forge a strong, mutual understanding and respect that helped convince Lincoln the war could not be truly won without black soldiers and permanent emancipation.
Paul Kendrick, assistant director of the Harlem Children's Zone, and his father, Stephen, a Boston minister (coauthors of Sarah's Long Walk, about Boston's free blacks) give a thorough look at two unlikely allies. Lincoln began as a white supremacist who saw Douglass as an exception to the rule of black inferiority. What is more, his first priority was the preservation of the Union. The onetime slave Douglass, on the other hand, stood uncompromisingly for complete emancipation, to be followed by full and equal citizenship. He further held that the Civil War's massive carnage could only be redeemed by the annihilation of the "peculiar institution." Despite their mutual respect, the two men had only three face-to-face meetings, just two of these in private. Thus, this study of Douglass, Lincoln and their "relationship" is chiefly a discussion of evolving rhetoric, primarily Lincoln's on such topics as emancipation, black service in the Union ranks and black suffrage, and how his views initially contrasted with, but were eventually influenced by, Douglass's fiery arguments in public speeches and newspaper editorials. This is a workmanlike narrative of the same story recently explored by James Oakes in his critically praised The Radical and the Republican.
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December 22, 2008
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