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

4.31  ·  Rating Details ·  195 Ratings  ·  31 Reviews
A powerful history of emancipation that reshapes our understanding of Lincoln, the Civil War, and the end of American slavery.

Freedom National is a groundbreaking history of emancipation that joins the political initiatives of Lincoln and the Republicans in Congress with the courageous actions of Union soldiers and runaway slaves in the South. It shatters the widespread co
Hardcover, 596 pages
Published December 10th 2012 by W. W. Norton Company
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Jan 05, 2013 Jerome rated it it was amazing
Shelves: civil-war, favorites
An impressive and exhaustive study of the course of emancipation in the US. Well-written and interesting, the book never gets dull or bogs down in any way.

Compelling and dramatic, Oakes shows how central slavery was to the civil war, even at the very start. The vast majority of the causes of the civil war related to slavery; without slavery, there likely would have been no civil war.

Oakes aims to show that the destruction of slavery was far from being an inevitable or simple process, and does a
Margaret Sankey
Mar 01, 2013 Margaret Sankey rated it really liked it
The slave powers were right--the abolitionists were out to get them, willing to spend entire careers grappling with the soul sucking reality that the Constitution specifically allowed slavery by committing to using state laws to strip the profitability and ease of slavery away from the north and west and quarantine it, while waiting for the day the south was sufficiently provoked to create a situation in which the military seizure of slaves would be a recognized tool of warfare and accomplish th ...more
Thomas Walsh
What a stunning historical work! I knew slavery was difficult for all founding fathers to digest (most of them owned slaves!) but I never knew how difficult it was to pose the banishment of slavery in Lincoln's time. Yes, I saw the film, where they argued slavery and then needed troops. But this work looks back to the 1840s when, after the Abolition Movement, to be anti-slavery was akin to treason. I don't thing the black readers among us will lift Lincoln too high after this work: they were not ...more
Oct 13, 2014 Samuel rated it liked it
Civil War historiography has continually been concerned with identifying the causes of the war and the motivations of nineteenth century America’s warring belligerents. Whether one considers southern historians writing in the first third of the twentieth century that slavery was barely a footnote to the Civil War’s main struggle between states’ rights and federal authority or later scholars influenced by the new social history in the 1960s and 70s that sought to restore the agency and role of Af ...more
May 03, 2014 Allen rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I've been blogging about the Civil War daily for almost four years now, and my view of the causes of the war was pretty standard, I think. The South, especially the early-seceding cotton states, precipitated the war because of an exaggerated fear that Lincoln's Republican administration would attack slavery where it existed, while the Republicans themselves only intended to confine the spread of slavery to the territories, but fought to preserve the Union. Certainly this view is substantiated by ...more
Feb 06, 2015 Ben rated it it was amazing
Argues against four things: Lincoln was the "Great Emancipator" (Emerson) who had to wait until public opinion caught up with his abolitionism. Lincoln was the "Reluctant Emancipator" (Greeley), who wanted above all else to preserve the union, even half slave and half free until circumstances made that impossible. The Republican Party was largely moderate and was bitterly divided by the extreme abolitionists. The war was about the Union until 1863, when it became about slavery.

In fact, argues O
Brandon Abraham
Jul 29, 2015 Brandon Abraham rated it it was amazing
Oakes avoids overemphasizing prewar abolitionism, thereby bringing a clear focus on how a wartime policy of pressuring the secessionists with military emancipation embodied in the First and Second Confiscation Acts eventually led to both the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment. This analysis is critical, as it allows readers to understand exactly how Lincoln and congressional Republicans were able to mold and shape wartime policy toward slavery in order to restore the Union, a ...more
Colleen Browne
Jan 03, 2013 Colleen Browne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Masterful! Oakes has done the "network" for all those who have failed to do it in the past. He presents the history of the destruction of slavery with a short summary of the history of abolitionism in the country, to Butlers emancipation order through to the Emancipation, to the 13th Amendment. This book should be required reading for all students of 19th Century American history. The writing is lucid and there is never a dull moment. If I could award this book more than the five stars, I would ...more
Roger Bridges
Mar 11, 2013 Roger Bridges rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the best discussion of the Emancipation Proclamation I have seen
Robert Owen
In “Freedom National” James Oakes outlines the legal reasoning that evolved in the antebellum North to justify the end of human bondage and how adoption of that reasoning united and mobilized a fractious political constituency into forming the Republican Party under whose banner Abraham Lincoln became the 16th President of the United States. In so doing, Oakes puts to rest the notion that the American Civil War was fought for any reason other than ending slavery.

Due to the subtle suggestion tha
Jul 28, 2016 Noah rated it it was amazing
This is the best book I have ever read about the political history of the Civil War era. I would even go so far as to recommend it as a companion to Eric Foner's classic Reconstruction. It takes the myths about the abolition of slavery in the United States, turns them inside out, and then turns them inside out again. After reading this book, one can no longer claim, with any intellectual honest at least, that the US Civil War was fought over anything but the slavery and its continuation and expa ...more
Jan 02, 2013 Karen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
eedom National is an exhaustive study of the destruction of slavery in the United States. Author James Oakes traces the development and application of a constitutional theory of abolition that originated in Europe and England and eventually became mainstream Republican thought. Mr. Oakes then shows how this theory guided the anti-slavery actions of Republicans from the civil war to ratification of the thirteenth amendment.

Mr. Oakes presents an argument originally developed by abolitionists that
Feb 02, 2016 Don rated it really liked it
This is an excellent book, peeling back layer upon layer of the "nothing we could have done about it" myth, and replacing it with historical accounts that clarify the end of slavery.

Look: History is messy. But for the past 100 years, historians have worked hard to convince us that "The Issue" that forced the Civil War is more complicated than we can really comprehend. We have been convinced that the Civil War couldn't have simply been about slavery. We have heard it was about "states' rights" (w
Sep 10, 2014 Philip rated it it was amazing
Slavery is an ugly blot on America’s claim to exceptionalism. To many abolitionists it was simply a moral disgrace and should be swept away.
But there were Constitutional impediments which made this inconceivable.
The Constitution granted states the right to make laws that were not otherwise forbidden by it.
Property rights and states’ rights were so revered in political thought of the early Republic that very few believed the Federal government could end slavery by law.

The U.S. Constitution does
Mar 15, 2014 Mark rated it really liked it
While dipping a bit into academic language sometimes (perhaps unavoidably), 'Freedom National' is a levelheaded and at times startling story of the course of slavery's destruction during the American Civil War. While Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was an important step in the process, it is usually taken out of context; indeed, the Proclamation was actually a necessary part of the Second Confiscation Act passed by Congress the previous summer, and as such contained part of the language of t ...more
Jun 21, 2016 Martin rated it liked it
A comprehensive political history of the rise and eventual triumph of anti-slavery politics in the United States. What I learned: the extent to which re-enslavement was a real possibility -- at least in the minds of both slavery supporters and opponents -- as both the election of 1864 and end of the war approached. That is one reason why the Thirteenth Amendment was deemed necessary by Lincoln and the Republicans. Also, the inadequacy of state abolition and military emancipation drove Republican ...more
Stephen Graham
Sep 14, 2013 Stephen Graham rated it it was amazing
A good, concise look at the politics and practice of emancipation in the Civil War. Oakes is very firm about ending with only a hint of what was coming, covering just enough time for the final ratification of the 13th Amendment but otherwise not discussing the post-war issues. He works hard to counter the usual narrative of the Emancipation Proclamation, to the extent that I think he over emphasized the operation of the First and Second Confiscation Acts. It's a good corrective to place more emp ...more
Mar 20, 2013 Jay rated it it was amazing
Excellent. Professor Oakes traces the little-understood (quite surprising in light of the thousands of books and articles written on the subject) arc of emancipation. What's new, is a discussion of all of the successful efforts made by Lincoln and the Republican Party (emancipation was not the single act of a single man, Oakes convincingly argues) prior to the President's Proclamation of January 1, 1863. There is no reluctant or tardy reformer here. Oakes presents Lincoln as a committed and dedi ...more
Feb 18, 2014 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, southern-us
Well written and very readable look at the destruction of slavery during the civil war. Good background on the constitutional arguments in favor of and in opposition to abolition. The author presents a convincing case that the traditional view that abolitionism was solely the position a few radicals and that it only became a war goal when it became a military necessity is false.

The only reason I give it four stars rather than five is that I think it becomes repetitive in places. But other than
Patricrk patrick
Apr 14, 2013 Patricrk patrick rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A political history of how the important anti-slave legislation came about and the Constitutional limits that required it to be done certain ways. Very Interesting. Delaware congressmen led the fight for pro-slavery forces through out the war as Delaware with only 2000 slaves never pulled out of the union but never abolished slavery on its own either. It was only with the ratification of the 13th amendment that slaves were finally freed in Delaware and Kentucky.
Stuart Cole
Dec 25, 2016 Stuart Cole rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A clear and interesting discussion of the how slavery was ended in the United States. The analysis of emancipation through military intervention, revision of state law and the Thirteenth Amendment is meticulously documented and rigorously detailed. I'm not sure whether the argument that Lincoln set out to abolish slavery from the outset is proven - there seems to be an implication that his approach was more pragmatic and opportunistic.
Bob Groendyke
Apr 13, 2013 Bob Groendyke rated it liked it
Read this after seeing the movie Lincoln. It fills out the history of anti-slavery policy in the US. The Emancipation Proclamation didn't just pop up out of nowhere, and Lincoln shouldn't get most of the credit, he was part of a group (Republicans) shaping policies and laws. The passage of 13th Amendment as portrayed in the movie wasn't the first time the amendment was voted on, it had been defeated earlier.
Jul 03, 2015 Sasha rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: history teachers and really smart people
Recommended to Sasha by: my history teacher
Shelves: for-school
Although it was definitely not a book for just any old casual reader, Professor Oakes' insight into the death of slavery is really quite interesting. While many historians either paint Lincoln as a hero or a villain, Oakes' prefers to acknowledge all circumstances that led to his behavior. Luckily, I had the good fortune to attend a lecture and a Q&A session over this book given by Oakes, but I believe this book could still hold enough interest in a truly passionate reader's mind.
David Longo
Nov 03, 2015 David Longo rated it it was amazing
James Oakes' "Freedom National" is a very informative book about the last years of slavery in the United States. It's a tremendous piece of history, but it's extremely technical. A history teacher, Civil War buff or Lincolnfile will appreciate it above all others. Other than that, it's a tough read yet still worth the long hours one will have to invest in it in order to complete its 500 detailed pages.
David Bird
Nov 30, 2015 David Bird rated it liked it
This was a remarkably interesting topic and thesis, but most repetitve book I think I have ever read. The same content would have fit in 350 or so pages, and I would have given it 5 stars.

Most important to me was the concentration on Congress, and on Army administrative efforts. The emphasis on self-emancipation is also key.
Apr 24, 2013 Mark rated it it was amazing
A major revision of Republican anti-slavery policy during the Civil War. It describes Republicans as attacking slavery to save the Union almost from the very commencement of the conflict with two complementary policies: immediate military emancipation in he seceded states and pressure on the loyal border states to coerce them to enact gradual abolition. If you haven't read it, you should.
Dec 19, 2014 Bill added it
A massive account of the destruction of slavery in the United States in the 1860's. The book subverts the idea that Lincoln and The Republicans were reluctant emancipators. Well written and provocative but a tad repetitive in places. 3.45 Martinie glasses.
Jun 05, 2013 Yasmin rated it liked it
A very detailed book about the cause of the American civil war being the result of slavery. Simply giving them freedom was not enough.
Ian Divertie
Mar 22, 2015 Ian Divertie rated it really liked it
So many of us need to read these books today. There is a whole gaggle of them on my list, this one would do, any of them would do. You need to read at least one of them.
Sep 23, 2014 Rebekkah rated it really liked it
Oakes makes some interesting claims regarding Lincoln, emancipation, and the destruction of slavery. Good read.
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James Oakes is the author of several acclaimed books on slavery and the Civil War. His most recent book, Freedom National, won the Lincoln Prize and was a long-list selection for the National Book Award. He lives in New York City.
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