Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865

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Overview

The consensus view of the Civil War—that it was first and foremost a war to restore the Union, and an antislavery war only later when it became necessary for Union victory—dies here. James Oakes’s groundbreaking history shows how deftly Lincoln and congressional Republicans pursued antislavery throughout the war, pragmatic in policy but steadfast on principle.

In the disloyal South the federal government quickly began freeing slaves, immediately and without slaveholder ...

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Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865

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Overview

The consensus view of the Civil War—that it was first and foremost a war to restore the Union, and an antislavery war only later when it became necessary for Union victory—dies here. James Oakes’s groundbreaking history shows how deftly Lincoln and congressional Republicans pursued antislavery throughout the war, pragmatic in policy but steadfast on principle.

In the disloyal South the federal government quickly began freeing slaves, immediately and without slaveholder compensation, as they fled to Union lines. In the loyal Border States the Republicans tried coaxing officials into abolishing slavery gradually with promises of compensation. As the devastating war continued with slavery still entrenched, Republicans embraced a more aggressive military emancipation, triggered by the Emancipation Proclamation. Finally it took a constitutional amendment on abolition to achieve the Union’s primary goal in the war. Here, in a magisterial history, are the intertwined stories of emancipation and the Civil War.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Howell Raines
Was Lincoln really a "Reluctant Emancipator," as Greeley and many historians since his day have insisted?…In Freedom National, historian James Oakes answers that question eloquently and, in the judgment of this amateur student of the Civil War, fully. Oakes argues that Lincoln, from the moment of his inauguration, began using every political and military means at his disposal to wipe out slavery forever…[Oakes's] argument that emancipation was a process, not the result of a single document, produces some helpful distinctions and benchmarks.
Publishers Weekly
Eliminating slavery proved harder “than anyone first imagined,” writes Oakes (The Radical and the Republican), professor of history at the CUNY Graduate Center, in this richly satisfying account. Ironically, the Constitution was “one of the most formidable obstacles to abolition—”enlightenment economics taught that slavery would eventually disappear, so the Founding Fathers felt little was lost in placating southern states by writing protections into the document. As deferent to the Constitution as their opponents, Republicans never supported abolishing slavery where it was legal, and though Lincoln maintained “that he would take no stance that went against his party,” Southern states saw the election of 1860 as a harbinger of abolition. It was, however, a slow process: by war’s end a mere 15% of four million slaves were free. Congressman James Wilson remarked, “slavery was a ‘condemned’ but ‘unexecuted culprit.’” Only with the 1865 ratification of the 13th Amendment were all slaves freed, “everywhere, for all future time.” Both a refreshing take on a moment in history and a primer on the political process, Oakes’s study is thoroughly absorbing. Maps & illus. (Dec.)
Library Journal
Lincoln Prize-winner Oakes argues that the Civil War was fought not to preserve the Union (the standard line) but primarily to end slavery; he also chronicles the immediate consequences of emancipation. See David Von Drehle's just-published Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Year for a different approach to the subject.
Kirkus Reviews
A finely argued book about how the destruction of slavery involved much more than Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Oakes (History/CUNY Graduate Center; The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics, 2007, etc.) returns to the notion that slavery, rather than states' rights or "an outbreak of hysteria, irrationality and paranoia," was truly the origin of the Civil War. In order to challenge the Constitutional consensus on slavery, the anti-slavery activists had to appeal to the broad principles of "natural law," to which the Framers had implicitly referred. Also, opponents of slavery had to make the convincing argument that slaves were in fact not property, using the Somersett case in England as a legal benchmark. In addition to the Emancipation Proclamation, Oakes reveals the many smaller but significant victories for the opponents of slavery--e.g., New York's 1799 emancipation law and John Quincy Adams' eloquent defense of the slave ship Amistad's rebels before the Supreme Court. Proponents of the Liberty Party asserted that slavery was not a national institution, but peculiar to certain states and suitable to be "cordoned off," thus underscoring the importance of the border states during the Civil War as "containment" of the slave contagion; on the other hand, freedom, they believed, was national and not able to be restricted locally. Oakes wades through extremely nuanced arguments that evolved over time in the North and South, in Congress, in the military and in the mind of Lincoln. However, only 13 percent of the 4 million slaves living in the South were freed by the end of the war, prompting the necessity for a 13th Amendment to ensure Southern tractability. A useful contribution to the literature about slavery and the Civil War.
Eric Foner
“This remarkable book offers the best account ever written of the complex historical process known as emancipation. The story is dramatic and compelling, and no one interested in the American Civil War or the fate of slavery can afford to ignore it.”
James M. McPherson
“The bestaccount we have of the process of emancipation and the ultimate abolition of slavery, on the ground in the South and in the halls of power at Washington. It also makes clear that from the beginning, nearly all participants recognized that the central issue of the war was slavery and that its likely outcome was a new birth of freedom.”
Robert I. Girardi - Washington Independent Review of Books
“A masterful piece of scholarship.... A must-read book for anyone seeking a greater understanding of the complicated and politically charged nature of emancipation.”
Walter Russell Mead - Foreign Affairs
““[A] brilliant new look at the destruction of slavery during the American Civil War.”
Howell Raines - Washington Post
“Was Lincoln really a ‘Reluctant Emancipator’? Freedom National answers that question eloquently and fully. Oakes argues that Lincoln, from the moment of his inauguration, began using every political and military means at his disposal to wipe out slavery forever.”
Glenn Altschuler - Florida Courier
““[This] myth-busting account of one of the most pivotal moments in our history is penetrating and persuasive.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393065312
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/10/2012
  • Pages: 608
  • Sales rank: 508,028
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.80 (d)

Meet the Author

James Oakes is the Graduate School Humanities Professor and Professor of History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He and his family live in New York City.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 1, 2013

    Excelllent

    Well written accounting of how Northern/Abolitionist legislators took advantage of succession/Civil War to quickly end slavery in the U.S. forever. Read in conjunction with "Dark Bargain" by Lawrence Goldstone which outlines how slavery was accepted in the Constitution in 1787 and "Fall of the House of Dixie" by Bruce Levine which shows how the disloyal slave states brought the end of slavery on themselves by suceeding from the Union. All three books provide great insight in the origin, operation and end of slavery in the U.S. They make for really great historical reading. I say this as someone who is generally more interested in military history than government, but found all three fascinating.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2014

    Amazing

    A mindblowing history of the legal aspects of abolition.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2014

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2012

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews

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