"What Shall We Do with the Negro?": Lincoln, White Racism, and Civil War America [NOOK Book]


Throughout the Civil War, newspaper headlines and stories repeatedly asked some
variation of the question posed by the New York Times in 1862, "What shall we do with the
negro?" The future status of African Americans was a pressing issue for those in both the North
and in the South. Consulting a broad range...

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Throughout the Civil War, newspaper headlines and stories repeatedly asked some
variation of the question posed by the New York Times in 1862, "What shall we do with the
negro?" The future status of African Americans was a pressing issue for those in both the North
and in the South. Consulting a broad range of contemporary newspapers, magazines, books, army
records, government documents, publications of citizens’ organizations, letters, diaries, and
other sources, Paul D. Escott examines the attitudes and actions of Northerners and Southerners
regarding the future of African Americans after the end of slavery. "What Shall We Do with the
Negro?" demonstrates how historians together with our larger national popular culture have
wrenched the history of this period from its context in order to portray key figures as heroes or
exemplars of national virtue.

Escott gives especial critical attention to Abraham
Lincoln. Since the civil rights movement, many popular books have treated Lincoln as an icon, a
mythical leader with thoroughly modern views on all aspects of race. But, focusing on
Lincoln’s policies rather than attempting to divine Lincoln’s intentions from his often
ambiguous or cryptic statements, Escott reveals a president who placed a higher priority on reunion
than on emancipation, who showed an enduring respect for states’ rights, who assumed that the
social status of African Americans would change very slowly in freedom, and who offered major
incentives to white Southerners at the expense of the interests of blacks.Escott’s approach
reveals the depth of slavery’s influence on society and the pervasiveness of assumptions of
white supremacy. "What Shall We Do with the Negro?" serves as a corrective in offering a
more realistic, more nuanced, and less celebratory approach to understanding this crucial period in
American history.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Award-winning historian Escott takes up the persistence of racism in 19th-century America by arguing that Abraham Lincoln especially has been miscast in American memory as an unduly enlightened thinker on matters of racial equality, when in fact he was conflicted at best and complicit too often in the common racial attitudes of his day. In his most assertive sections, Escott argues that, as President, Lincoln had an "overriding devotion to reunion," as well as doubts about changing American racial attitudes and fears of losing political support by endorsing more than emancipation, all of which led to a minimalist policy on race, rights, and proposed reconstruction. At the same time, Escott continues, the Confederacy paradoxically was forced by need to propose arming and freeing some slaves to win independence, preserve slavery, and ensure white men's rule. In sum, Escott insists that events rather than philosophy or principles directed, even dictated, much of American policy on slavery and freedom, and racism remained embedded in American life. A forceful, necessary corrective to much of the recent literature and highly recommended for university and large public libraries.
—Randall M. Miller

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813930466
  • Publisher: University of Virginia Press
  • Publication date: 3/3/2009
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 328
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Paul D. Escott is Reynolds Professor of History at Wake Forest University and the
author of After Secession and Slavery Remembered, winner of the Mayflower Cup.

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Table of Contents


Prologue: First Declarations 1

Pt. 1 Northern Developments

1 The North Confronts the Question 29

2 War's Proving Ground 65

3 Amnesty, Apprenticeship, and the Freedmen's Future 94

4 Politics, Emancipation, and Black Rights 119

Pt. 2 Southern Developments

5 Slavery, War, and the Slaveholder's Mind 145

6 Heresy, Dogma, and the Confederate Debate 171

Pt. 3 Confluence

7 The Hampton Roads Conference 201

8 1865 and Beyond 226

App A Brief, Additional Note on a Vast Historiography 247

Notes 251

Bibliography 277

Index 293

Illustration gallery follows page 142

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