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Fehrenbacher ranges from sharp-eyed analyses of the deal-making behind the "proslavery clauses" of the constitution, to colorful accounts of partisan debates in Congress and heated confrontations with Great Britain (for instance, over slaves taken off American ships and freed in British ports). He shows us that the Constitution itself was more or less neutral on the issue of slavery and that, in the antebellum period, the idea that the Constitution protected slavery was hotly debated (many Northerners would concede only that slavery was protected by state law, not by federal law). Nevertheless, he also reveals that US policy--whether in foreign courts, on the high seas, in federal territories, or even in the District of Columbia--was consistently proslavery. The book concludes with a brilliant portrait of Lincoln. Fehrenbacher makes clear why Lincoln's election was such a shock to the South and shows how Lincoln's approach to emancipation, which seems exceedingly cautious by modern standards, quickly evolved into a "Republican revolution" that ended the anomaly of the United States as a "slaveholding republic."
The last and perhaps most important book by a Pulitzer-Prize winning historian, The Slaveholding Republic illuminates one of the most enduring issues in our nation's history.
"The Slaveholding Republic not only advances our knowledge of the critical relationships of slavery to the American government, placing it in perspective and explaining its meaning, but it also helps frame contemporary debates over the perennial question about the relative power of the nation and the locality. One could hardly ask for more."--Ira Berlin, The Washington Post
"A fitting complement to Don Fehrenbacher's prize-winning book, The Dred Scott Case. With his hallmark of careful research and precise language, Fehrenbacher convincingly shows how domination of the federal government by slaveholding interests shaped a Constitution that was originally neutral toward slavery into a bulwark of the peculiar institution. The election of Lincoln in 1860 brought this domination to an end, causing the South to create a new slaveholding republic that plunged the nation in war."--James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom
"The portrait of Lincoln presented here is particularly interesting, effectively contradicting the revisionist view that he was, at best, a lukewarm opponenet of slavery." --Jay Freeman, Booklist
"Engagingly written, thoughtfully conceived, and filled with flashes of insight. Here is a compelling contribution to the ongoing debate about the nation's ends and means, its better angels, and its fundamental law."--Phillip Shaw Paludan, author of "A People's Contest": The Union and the Civil War
"A major historian addresses a major theme in the late Don Fehrenbacher's The Slaveholding Republic. Rigorously based on the original sources, this book accurately and soberly relates the shameful story of how the federal government treated human beings as property."--Daniel Walker Howe, Rhodes Professor of American History, Oxford University
"Don Fehrenbacher has left us a splendid monument to a life lived well in history. The culmination of a half-century of his scholarship, this book vindicates the United States Constitution and its framers from the opprobrium of establishing slavery. The Slaveholding Republic flows with Fehrenbacher's luminous thought and his fair, judicious judgments. What a magnificent testament it is."--William M. Wiecek, Syracuse University School of Law