The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

3.5 17
by Eric Foner
     
 

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“A masterwork [by] the preeminent historian of the Civil War era.”—Boston Globe

Selected as a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times Book Review, this landmark work gives us a definitive account of Lincoln's lifelong engagement with the nation's critical issue: American slavery. A master historian, Eric Foner draws

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Overview

“A masterwork [by] the preeminent historian of the Civil War era.”—Boston Globe

Selected as a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times Book Review, this landmark work gives us a definitive account of Lincoln's lifelong engagement with the nation's critical issue: American slavery. A master historian, Eric Foner draws Lincoln and the broader history of the period into perfect balance. We see Lincoln, a pragmatic politician grounded in principle, deftly navigating the dynamic politics of antislavery, secession, and civil war. Lincoln's greatness emerges from his capacity for moral and political growth.

Editorial Reviews

David S. Reynolds
Do we need yet another book on Lincoln…Well, yes, we do—if the book is by so richly informed a commentator as Eric Foner…[he] tackles what would seem to be an obvious topic, Lincoln and slavery, and manages to cast new light on it…Because of his broad-ranging knowledge of the 19th century, Foner is able to provide the most thorough and judicious account of Lincoln's attitudes toward slavery that we have to date…More cogently than any previous historian, Foner examines the political events that shaped Lincoln and ultimately brought out his true greatness.
—The New York Times
Fred Kaplan
The value of Eric Foner's The Fiery Trial lies in its comprehensive review of mostly familiar material; in its sensible evaluation of the full range of information already available about Abraham Lincoln and slavery; and in the deft thoroughness of its scholarship. The Fiery Trial does well what has already been done before "but ne'er so well expressed."
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
A mixture of visionary progressivism and repugnant racism, Abraham Lincoln’s attitude toward slavery is the most troubling aspect of his public life, one that gets a probing assessment in this study. Columbia historian and Bancroft Prize winner Foner (Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men) traces the complexities of Lincoln’s evolving ideas about slavery and African-Americans: while he detested slavery, he also publicly rejected political and social equality for blacks, dragged his feet (critics charged) on emancipating slaves and accepting black recruits into the Union army, and floated schemes for “colonizing” freedmen overseas almost to war’s end. Foner situates this record within a lucid, nuanced discussion of the era’s turbulent racial politics; in his account Lincoln is a canny operator, cautiously navigating the racist attitudes of Northern whites, prodded--and sometimes willing to be prodded--by abolitionists and racial egalitarians pressing faster reforms. But as Foner tells it, Lincoln also embodies a society-wide transformation in consciousness, as the war’s upheavals and the dynamic new roles played by African-Americans made previously unthinkable claims of freedom and equality seem inevitable. Lincoln is no paragon in Foner’s searching portrait, but something more essential--a politician with an open mind and a restless conscience. 16 pages of illus., 3 maps. (Oct.)
David W. Blight - San Francisco Chronicle
“Moving and rewarding. . . . A master historian at work.”
James M. McPherson - New York Review of Books
“No one else has written about [Lincoln's] trajectory of change with such balance, fairness, depth of analysis, and lucid precision of language.”
David S. Reynolds - The New York Times Book Review
“Do we need another book on Lincoln? Yes, we do—if the book is by so richly informed a commentator as Eric Foner.”
David Brion Davis
“While many thousands of books deal with Lincoln and slavery, Eric Foner has written the definitive account of this crucial subject, illuminating in a highly original and profound way the interactions of race, slavery, public opinion, politics, and Lincoln's own character that led to the wholly improbable uncompensated emancipation of some four million slaves. Even seasoned historians will acquire fresh and new perspectives from reading The Fiery Trial.”
From the Publisher
"[A] searching portrait." —Publishers Weekly
The 2011 Pulitzer Prize Committee
“A well orchestrated examination of Lincoln’s changing views of slavery, bringing unforeseeable twists and a fresh sense of improbability to a familiar story.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Moving and rewarding. . . . A master historian at work.”— David W. Blight
New York Review of Books
“No one else has written about [Lincoln's] trajectory of change with such balance, fairness, depth of analysis, and lucid precision of language.”— James M. McPherson
The New York Times Book Review
“Do we need another book on Lincoln? Yes, we do—if the book is by so richly informed a commentator as Eric Foner.”— David S. Reynolds
Library Journal
★ 01/01/2015
Foner's nuanced account contends that Lincoln unwaveringly opposed slavery throughout his life and moved in a consistent, calculated antislavery direction during his presidency. Race emerged as a focal point when it became necessary to convey how enlisting African Americans was vital to saving the Union. (LJ 8/10)
Kirkus Reviews

Renowned scholar Foner (History/Columbia Univ.; Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction,2005, etc.) adroitly traces how personal conviction and force of circumstance guided Abraham Lincoln toward the radical step of emancipation.

The author's observation that Lincoln was slow "to begin to glimpse the possibility of racial equality in America" will come as no surprise to academics, but this impressionist portrait of the president vividly details an unexpected aspect of this famous life—how Lincoln pursued his destiny within the larger antislavery movement, a broad-based network of pressure groups that encompassed everything from abolitionists, who insisted on social and political equality, to racists, who loathed the presence of blacks as a social and economic threat. In the 1850s, Lincoln re-entered politics by identifying containment of the "peculiar institution's" westward expansion as "the lowest common denominator of antislavery sentiment." Foner is particularly impressive in explaining the hesitations, backward steps and trial balloons—including placating slaveholding border states and proposing colonizing blacks outside the United States—that preceded his embrace of emancipation.While many key events in the legendary career are examined—e.g., the debates with Stephen A. Douglas—other formerly unnoticed aspects appear in unexpected bold relief—e.g., a thriving Illinois legal practice in which only 34 cases out of 5,000 involved African-Americans. Lincoln's assassination left unanswered how he would have integrated freed slaves into American society. But Foner's summary of his qualities—"intellectually curious, willing to listen to criticism, attuned to the currents of northern public opinion, and desirous of getting along with Congress"—leaves little doubt that he would have managed Reconstruction better than his haplessly stubborn successor, Andrew Johnson.

Look elsewhere for an understanding of the president as person, but linger here for an indispensable analysis of Lincoln navigating through the treacherous political currents of his times.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393080827
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
09/26/2011
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
448
Sales rank:
194,404
File size:
2 MB

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From the Publisher
"[A] searching portrait." —-Publishers Weekly

Meet the Author

Eric Foner is the preeminent historian of his generation, highly respected by historians of every stripe—whether they specialize in political history or social history. His books have won the top awards in the profession, and he has been president of both major history organizations: the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians. He has worked on every detail of Give Me Liberty!, which displays all of his trademark strengths as a scholar, teacher, and writer. A specialist on the Civil War/Reconstruction period, he regularly teaches the nineteenth-century survey at Columbia University, where he is DeWitt Clinton Professor of History. In 2011, Foner's The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery won the Pulitzer Prize in History, the Bancroft Prize, and the Lincoln Prize.

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The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Make no mistake - the Fiery Trial is an engaging, well written work that makes a familiar subject exciting to read about. But upon finishing it I couldn't escape a feeling of let-down from everything that was promised. The author uses his prologue and opening chapter to make a bold and energizing pledge: he plans to give a frank examination of Abraham Lincoln's racial views and lifelong struggle around the issue of slavery. Shedding a century of egalitarian hagiography and explicitly avoiding excessive commentary on what others have interpreted into Lincoln's familiar words and actions, he instead proposes a "warts and all" dive into what quickly becomes a very complex subject matter. He takes up Lincoln in all his faults - his denunciation of racial egalitarianism in the 1858 Senate campaign, his slow and hesitant course of emancipation, his reluctance to take an early stance on civil rights, and his embrace of a scheme to deport the ex slaves to Liberia and Panama. These are not subject matters that many Lincoln biographers enjoy touching, even where they must for history's sake, because they are thorny. They don't fit the Lincoln ideal we all come to know as school children. But Foner makes no bones about his intent to touch them, and boldly so. But that's where the book loses its traction. For all the bravado of its introduction Foner simply fails to deliver. It only takes a few chapters for him to revert right back to the standard old line of an "evolving" Lincoln who starts out as an unrepentant (albeit slavery-hating) racist and experiences a miraculous conversion over the next four years through a harrowing little event called the Civil War, all wrapped up in a bow in the end. By the last page, we've gone from Lincoln the flawed and racist sinner to Lincoln the redeemed (and redeemer) in a plodding, successive, but must of all absolutely certain and positive evolution towards modern notions of justice and fairness and equality. It's all nice and pleasant sounding when done, except that Foner bends the facts to get there. For example, Lincoln's conversion to black voting rights was VERY passive and slight at its most generous reading. And Lincoln's vision of Reconstruction was a hugely deferential & conciliatory program that probably would have ended up much closer to Andrew Johnson than Benjamin Wade. Contra the author, Lincoln also never really gave up colonizing the slaves in Africa - he clung to the program to his dying day. There's plenty of evidence of this (see Lerone Bennett's work, which is admittedly biased and bomb-throwing but the underlying research is there, at least on these points). But Foner chooses mostly to ignore it and ends up with the pretty picture of Lincoln we all think we "know" and most of us certainly expect, even if it isn't a very realistic one. You should still read the book - it starts with a refreshing premise that needs to be stated, and asks questions that many other authors don't. But for all that promise, it ends on a sputter that's little different than any other example of the thousands of run-of-the-mill "Lincoln the Great Emancipator" biographies you can find in any book store.
James_Durney More than 1 year ago
We see Abraham Lincoln as "The Great Emancipator", who ended slavery in the United States of America. Lincoln's words describe and inspire us, remaining as current as the day they were spoke. We see Lincoln not as the man but as the larger than life occupant of the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln's 1860 nomination is not because he is or is thought to be "The Great Emancipator". Lincoln is a moderate on slavery and race, acceptable to both wings of the party. Abraham Lincoln's and Americans journey to emancipation is the subject of this excellent book. America faces serious divisions over slavery but very few over race. The wish to end slavery often did not include what to do with the former slaves. Northern states, with few slaves, accepted gradual emancipation and managed to tolerate their Black population. In the majority of Northern states Blacks could not vote, could not serve on a jury nor could they testify against a White person. Some Northern states essentially ban Blacks. In many more states, they are under server restrictions and required to post bonds to insure good conduct. Garrison said that Illinois is essentially a "slave state" due to the restrictive laws on Blacks. This is a book about race relations more than about slavery. The majority agreed that slavery is "bad" but cannot see a reasonable exit. Gradual Emancipation is an acceptable answer. Slaves born after a set date become free when they become n years old. The current slaves either remain slaves or become free after n years. This pushes the race problem away, leaving it for another generation to deal with. Immediate Emancipation ends slavery but has few answers to the race question. Colonization is a popular answer. Questions on transporting four million people to Africa or some other location is not answered. Nor is the question of how many Blacks voluntary will leave the United States. Black rights are the major problem. To avoid full citizenship, "rights" are subdivided into acceptable and unacceptable units. Natural rights, not being enslaved, being allowed to seek work and being secure in your person are acceptable because they enshrined in The Declaration of Independence. Political rights, being able to vote, serve on a jury or testify in court are questionable. The majority of Northern States say no to these rights. A few liberals accept "more intelligent Negros" as possible candidates for political rights. Social rights, being able to mix with whites as equals are not considered. Lincoln spends a good deal of his time answering Democratic attacks in this area. This is a history of Lincoln's journey from Wig to Republican, from gradual to immediate emancipation from colonization to political rights. America move along with Lincoln, one sometimes ahead of the other but both leading and encouraging the other. It is not an easy journey nor is it a quick one. Eric Forner is an excellent author and historian. This well-written book is informative and easy read. Forner is careful to maintain a balanced approach and never descends into bashing, Lincoln, America or the South. This should be a classic book on Lincoln and required reading.
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ChrisElOH More than 1 year ago
The Kindle edition of this book is $9.88. Why so much more for the Nook edition?
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Do not like
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Abadam hamlicon is amazing and so cool I so remmond this book