Winner of the Lincoln Prize. “Oakes brilliantly succeeds in [clarifying] the aims of the war with a wholly new perspective.”—David Brion Davis, New York Review of Books
Read alsoThe Institutions of American Democracy: The Press
American democracy is built on its institutions. The Congress, the presidency, and the judiciary, in particular, undergird the rights and responsibilities of every citizen. The free press, for example, protected by the First Amendment, allows for the dissent so necessary in a democracy. How has this institution changed since the nations founding?…
By summer 1861 the federal government invoked military authority to begin freeing slaves, immediately and without slaveholder compensation, as they fled to Union lines in the disloyal South. In the loyal Border States the Republicans tried coaxing officials into gradual abolition with promises of compensation and the colonization abroad of freed blacks. James Oakes shows that Lincoln’s landmark 1863 proclamation marked neither the beginning nor the end of emancipation: it triggered a more aggressive phase of military emancipation, sending Union soldiers onto plantations to entice slaves away and enlist the men in the army. But slavery proved deeply entrenched, with slaveholders determined to re-enslave freedmen left behind the shifting Union lines. Lincoln feared that the war could end in Union victory with slavery still intact. The Thirteenth Amendment that so succinctly abolished slavery was no formality: it was the final act in a saga of immense war, social upheaval, and determined political leadership.
Fresh and compelling, this magisterial history offers a new understanding of the death of slavery and the rebirth of a nation.