Big Enough to Be Inconsistent: Abraham Lincoln Confronts Slavery and Race

Big Enough to Be Inconsistent: Abraham Lincoln Confronts Slavery and Race

by George M. Fredrickson
     
 

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This book focuses on the most controversial aspect of Lincoln’s thought and politics—his attitudes and actions regarding slavery and race. Drawing attention to the limitations of Lincoln’s judgment and policies without denying his magnitude, the book provides the most comprehensive and even-handed account available of Lincoln’s contradictory… See more details below

Overview

This book focuses on the most controversial aspect of Lincoln’s thought and politics—his attitudes and actions regarding slavery and race. Drawing attention to the limitations of Lincoln’s judgment and policies without denying his magnitude, the book provides the most comprehensive and even-handed account available of Lincoln’s contradictory treatment of black Americans in matters of slavery in the South and basic civil rights in the North.

Editorial Reviews

Philadelphia Inquirer

Offers a lucid analysis of scholarship on that topic over recent decades. Lincoln has been depicted as everything from a pragmatic racist to a prudential abolitionist.
— Carlin Romano

Rain Taxi

The cottage industry of books on Abraham Lincoln represents both a process of national hagiography and the impulse to deconstruct the myth of Honest Abe, the Great Emancipator. George Fredrickson, pioneer of the comparative method of historical study, aims in this slim book for a middle ground between those who hold to a vision of Lincoln as a saintly anti-slavery advocate (albeit one who bided his time, waiting for the perfect political moment to champion emancipation) and those who argue that Lincoln was, as many of his statements seem to indicate, a racist...This book, through its engagement with the complicated tensions around race at the time of the Civil War, also offers a valuable insight into the continuing history of racism and the racial divide in American today. The legacy of slavery and segregation still characterizes our society, occasionally dominating headlines but far more frequently remaining a ubiquitous subtext in private conversations and national discourse. The noble goal of Fredrickson's career was bringing such tension, and its ugly, tangled history, to the surface, so that we, his readers, can continue to repair our divided house.
— Spencer Drew

New York Review of Books

For more than thirty years George Frederickson was a leading historian of race relations and racial ideologies in the United States and other multiracial societies...Frederickson's thorough research, original insights, common-sense interpretations, and lucid prose made him a historian's historian as well as a writer who reached a broad audience with several of his books...Big Enough to Be Inconsistent focuses more on Lincoln's own racial attitudes than on his policies toward slavery.
— James M. McPherson

Eric Foner
Like all of Fredrickson's work, Big Enough to Be Inconsistent is marked by meticulous scholarship and a fair-minded evaluation of differing interpretations and pieces of evidence. It is balanced and insightful throughout.
Philadelphia Inquirer - Carlin Romano
Offers a lucid analysis of scholarship on that topic over recent decades. Lincoln has been depicted as everything from a pragmatic racist to a prudential abolitionist.
Rain Taxi - Spencer Drew
The cottage industry of books on Abraham Lincoln represents both a process of national hagiography and the impulse to deconstruct the myth of Honest Abe, the Great Emancipator. George Fredrickson, pioneer of the comparative method of historical study, aims in this slim book for a middle ground between those who hold to a vision of Lincoln as a saintly anti-slavery advocate (albeit one who bided his time, waiting for the perfect political moment to champion emancipation) and those who argue that Lincoln was, as many of his statements seem to indicate, a racist...This book, through its engagement with the complicated tensions around race at the time of the Civil War, also offers a valuable insight into the continuing history of racism and the racial divide in American today. The legacy of slavery and segregation still characterizes our society, occasionally dominating headlines but far more frequently remaining a ubiquitous subtext in private conversations and national discourse. The noble goal of Fredrickson's career was bringing such tension, and its ugly, tangled history, to the surface, so that we, his readers, can continue to repair our divided house.
New York Review of Books - James M. McPherson
For more than thirty years George Frederickson was a leading historian of race relations and racial ideologies in the United States and other multiracial societies...Frederickson's thorough research, original insights, common-sense interpretations, and lucid prose made him a historian's historian as well as a writer who reached a broad audience with several of his books...Big Enough to Be Inconsistent focuses more on Lincoln's own racial attitudes than on his policies toward slavery.
Publishers Weekly

Based on his W.E.B. Du Bois lectures at Harvard, Stanford professor emeritus Fredrickson (Arrogance of Race) wades into a controversial arena: was Lincoln a heroic emancipator or a racist who didn't care about slaves at all? Stating that in between "pathological" racism and egalitarianism lies a spectrum of possibilities, Fredrickson says that Lincoln is not easily classified. After opening with a quick, useful survey of the relevant historiography, Fredrickson addresses Lincoln's thoughts about issues ranging from white supremacy to colonization and black military service. One question that looms large for Fredrickson is whether Lincoln meant the most racist comments he made during the 1850s. He hated slavery yet "clearly... could not readily envision a society in which blacks and whites could live in harmony as... equals." Fredrickson suggests that Lincoln's public statements may have reflected both his real thoughts and the savvy political sensibility of an ambitious man who knew he couldn't get elected without invoking white supremacist shibboleths; furthermore, Lincoln's thoughts about blacks-especially about their capacity for citizenship-may have changed during the Civil War. This brief book will be widely discussed by historians and will provide nonacademic readers a lucid introduction to some of the most heated debates about the 16th president. (Feb.)

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Library Journal

Three masterly essays (the title is an estimation of Lincoln from Du Bois himself) based on the author's lectures. With graceful and efficient expertise, Fredrickson (history, emeritus, Stanford Univ.) deconstructs our rigid castings of Lincoln as either savior or racist. This exceptional book has that rare ability to make the less informed feel wise and the wise feel all the more discerning and learned. For all libraries.


—Margaret Heilbrun

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674027749
Publisher:
Harvard University Press
Publication date:
02/28/2008
Series:
The W. E. B. Du Bois Lectures Series, #6
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
168
Sales rank:
917,568
Product dimensions:
4.50(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.90(d)

What People are saying about this

Like all of Fredrickson's work, Big Enough to Be Inconsistent is marked by meticulous scholarship and a fair-minded evaluation of differing interpretations and pieces of evidence. It is balanced and insightful throughout.
Eric Foner
Like all of Fredrickson's work, Big Enough to Be Inconsistent is marked by meticulous scholarship and a fair-minded evaluation of differing interpretations and pieces of evidence. It is balanced and insightful throughout. --(Eric Foner)

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