Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery” as Want to Read:
The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

4.1  ·  Rating Details ·  3,493 Ratings  ·  211 Reviews
From a master historian, the story of Lincoln's—and the nation's—transformation through the crucible of slavery and emancipation.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the Bancroft Prize, and the Lincoln Prize

In this landmark work of deep scholarship and insight, Eric Foner gives us the definitive history of Lincoln and the end of slavery in America. Foner begins with Lincoln's you
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published October 4th 2010 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published September 29th 2010)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Fiery Trial, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Fiery Trial

The Killer Angels by Michael ShaaraGone with the Wind by Margaret MitchellBattle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPhersonCold Mountain by Charles FrazierThe Civil War by Shelby Foote
Best Civil War Books
79th out of 649 books — 733 voters
John Adams by David McCulloughTeam of Rivals by Doris Kearns GoodwinWashington by Ron ChernowTruman by David McCulloughThe Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
Best Presidential Biographies
41st out of 187 books — 320 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Clif Hostetler
Mar 12, 2011 Clif Hostetler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book is a study of American slavery and the political events that shaped Lincoln's attitude toward it. Conventional wisdom would indicate that Abraham Lincoln, known as the Great Emancipator, would also be an advocate of equal rights and racial integration. It turns out that the historical reality is a bit more complicated than that. The journey from the antebellum years, through the Civil War and into the Reconstruction era witnessed a long slow shift of public opinion in the midst of a wi ...more
Mar 17, 2011 Eric rated it really liked it
Antebellum America has a certain dystopian fascination. Colorblind civic nationality and a multiracial citizenry weren’t unfulfilled promises—they weren’t even promised. With his characteristic command of the era’s ideological texture, Foner transports readers of The Fiery Trial back to the 1850s, where some senators think the Declaration of Independence a subversive document. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court declares that blacks have no rights a white man is bound to respect. Northerners ...more
Frank Stein
May 08, 2012 Frank Stein rated it it was amazing

Much like before starting and loving Garry Wills's "Lincoln at Gettysburg," I stated before that I had permanently sworn off all future Lincoln books. Yet once again I couldn't resist, and again I was more than pleasantly surprised. I keep thinking there couldn't be anymore to say on the topic, and then someone goes and proves me wrong.

This book may seem even more redundant on first glance, because what else has defined Lincoln more than his battle against slavery? Strangely enough, though, no o
Robert Owen
“The Fiery Trial”, historian Eric Foner’s Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Abraham Lincoln, is a lucid, well written exploration of a man compelled by circumstances and his own natural inclinations to grow. In exploring Lincoln Foner adopts a minimalist approach that limits his narrative arc to the tight confines of Lincoln’s thinking on the issue of slavery and how this thinking evolved over his lifetime. Lincoln, whose life in Foner’s hands is stripped of all but it’s most essential element ...more
Nov 09, 2010 Donna rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Lincoln enthusiasts
When you've read 20 Lincoln biographies one has to ask why read another, but this book actually has a unifying principle different from the rest. Foner looks only at Lincoln's statements and evolving beliefs about slavery. While I've read many of the primary documents before, it is nice to have these particular ones gathered together so you can see the development of Lincoln's abolitionism--but more than that, his understanding of African Americans as "citizens" of this nation who deserved not o ...more
Matthew Linton
Jul 18, 2011 Matthew Linton rated it liked it
Of all the great historical figures in American history, few (if any) have had as much ink spilled analyzing their accomplishments as Abraham Lincoln. He has been psychologically cross-examined, his every political decision has been scrutinized, and his personal relationships have been discussed ad nauseum in an attempt to understand Lincoln and the choices he made as President of the United States during the Civil War. With so much scholarship to contend with it is puzzling that acclaimed Civil ...more
Aug 15, 2013 Jerome rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
In this helpful and informative volume, Foner does a great job dismantling many of the myths that make up Lincoln’s image as “The Great Emancipator.” His presentation is clear and straightforward.

As his views evolved regarding slavery (and perhaps race), Lincoln's actions revealed that he was indeed, as he once said, changed by events more than he changed them himself. At the same time, while Foner shows us that Abe was indeed no radical, in hindsight we see that his wartime decisions set the na
Mar 08, 2011 Ed rated it it was amazing
For some time I have been interested in attitudes towards slavery in the United States in the antebellum period. I've read about Southerners like Robert E. Lee, wondering how they could own slaves, not to mention fight for the right. Northerners, I thought, were either Democrats, who favored the South, or abolitionists, neither of which seemed that interesting. It hadn't occurred to me that Lincoln's attitudes towards slavery were not only of great importance, but also extremely interesting unti ...more
Apr 06, 2015 Gary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Politics is the art of the possible. A perfect piece of art is the one in which no item could be added or subtracted from the canvas without making the picture less perfect. The author of this book has made the development of Lincoln's understanding of slavery like a perfect painting.

Lincoln is always ready to grow and revise his understanding of the 'peculiar institution'. He realizes that he can't get too far ahead of the people or the politics without marginalizing his ultimate objectives. Fo
Oct 07, 2014 Alisa rated it it was amazing
Eric Foner's The Fiery Trial traces the development of Lincoln's attitudes towards slavery, emancipation, and civil rights from his time as a lawyer in Springfield, IL, to the end of his presidency. Historical documentation suggests that Lincoln was never comfortable with slavery--he believed each man should enjoy "the fruits of his labor." Lincoln did not initially ally himself with the radical abolitionists; he believed in gradual, compensated emancipation, and he also believed that the freed ...more
Count Jared
Mar 24, 2016 Count Jared rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Foner's prose is austere, busy, addressing politics, policy, culture both high and common in the same breath. Neither light reading, nor overflown; Prof Foner embraces the new school of historiography that asserts history does a student little good if it takes a graduate education in English to comprehend.

Perhaps too specific to Lincoln's perspective to necessary reading for students of US history, this volume nonetheless sheds bright and shadowless light on Lincoln's political process through t
I have heard some people claim that Abraham Lincoln was a racist. On hearing that, a person is immediately drawn to counter this statement with abject and absolute denial. After all, he freed the slaves! Once thinking, one must wonder why anyone would make such a radical claim about the most beloved of American Presidents. Foner takes a pretty honest look at Lincoln as he moved through his life and the development, consistently changing, from his beginning views of slavery to the days at the end ...more
Jun 09, 2014 Steve rated it liked it

Eric Foner’s “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery” was published in 2010 and received the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for history. It was also awarded both the Bancroft Prize and the Lincoln Prize. Foner is a respected historian of the Civil War and Reconstruction era, a prolific author and is the DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University.

In its preface, Foner states that the book is intended to be “both less and more than anothe
Mike Hankins
Nov 11, 2014 Mike Hankins rated it really liked it
Few figures have generated as much historiographical discussion as Abraham Lincoln. Despite this crowded field, Eric Foner's The Fiery Trial has added an important element to the study of “the great emancipator.” Much of the previous Lincoln historiography focuses on Lincoln as a man, on his life, or on his politics. Foner's quasi-biography does not attempt to retread this ground, but instead seeks to place Lincoln within a particular historical context and examine his relationship to the politi ...more
***Dave Hill
Apr 30, 2013 ***Dave Hill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those with an interest in American History, the Civil War, Black History, Labor History, Presidents
This is a fine, deeply interesting book about Abraham Lincoln's thoughts, writings, speeches, and actions on the subject of slavery and, by extension, the role of the black population in the United States.

While Lincoln is known to history as the Great Emancipator, and the leader of the Union in the Civil War to defeat free the slaves, the reality is much more complex. As with the American population as a whole, and even those people who belonged to the new Republican Party, Lincoln's attitudes o
Dennis Fischman
Feb 09, 2013 Dennis Fischman rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who saw the movie Lincoln and want to know more
Recommended to Dennis by: Nina Mayer
Shelves: nonfiction
By tracing the evolution of Lincoln's thinking about slavery, Foner shows us a lot about our country that we have forgotten. How many of us know or remember that tariffs (taxes on imports, meant to encourage the growth of home-grown industry) were a much bigger issue in the early 1800's than slavery? Or that opposition to slavery was once grounded in the desire to ensure an economy of capitalists employing free, white working men (which the slaveholders and the labor movement both denounced, wit ...more
David Johnson
Jun 12, 2012 David Johnson rated it it was amazing
Scholarly, insightful etc. I've always felt a person should be judged according to their times.*
President Lincoln like most whites in the 1860's was rather unabashedly racist by modern standards. However as the war progressed and more bercame known about the conditions of the slaves in the south and also as the northern black soldiers displayed bravery equal to whites Lincoln's views and goals changed. It was always a war to save the union, but became a war to end slavery and Lincoln deserves al
Josh Liller
My previous experience with Eric Foner consists of two assigned books for a university Civil War & Reconstruction class: Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War with a New Introductory Essay and A Short History of Reconstruction. I consider both insightful yet difficult to read.

With this book, Foner turns his scholarly skills to a historical analysis of Lincoln's views on slavery. Casual readers may be unaware just how much those views grew
Audrey Babkirk Wellons
Jun 15, 2012 Audrey Babkirk Wellons rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
While I really enjoyed this book, I'll admit it's probably not everyone's cup of tea. There is a lot about the inner workings of 19th-century American politics--you'll learn a great deal about radical abolitionists, Whigs, and the stances of early Republicans and Democrats (MUCH different from today).

The main thrust of the book involves deconstructing the myth of Lincoln as a moral beacon whose main mission in life was to eradicate slavery. The picture of Lincoln here is far more interesting, c
Apr 14, 2011 Jill rated it really liked it
For The Fiery Trial, Foner narrows his historical lenses to get to the heart of the controversy over Lincoln’s stand on slavery: was he pulled along by northern radicals, or did he step out in front of them? Was his endless procrastination intentional for political reasons? Was he, in the final analysis, a racist?

Eric Foner knows how to tell this history in the gripping manner it deserves, without any conjecturing, speculating, axe-grinding, tediousness or other practices that characterize lesse
Bob Miller
Apr 14, 2016 Bob Miller rated it it was amazing
Foner offers a cogent and powerful view of how Lincoln's views on slavery evolved as a man, a politician growing up in the midwest, and finally as a wartime commander in chief. The other strength of this book is how the author places that debate over slavery squarely within the context of nineteenth century American politics and culture.
Sep 01, 2014 Becky rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
"The Fiery Trial" is not a history of the civil war, or of slavery or abolition, nor is it a Lincoln biography. Foner mentions only the details of Lincoln's world, life events, politics and war events necessary to guide the reader through Lincoln's evolving perceptions and understanding of slavery,and as president, his growing realization of the urgent need to end it. Again, not a history of the civil war, but a clear telling of this very essential piece of history that is otherwise obscured in ...more
William Handel
Dec 05, 2015 William Handel rated it really liked it
I was recently treated to a one of those celebrated after-hours Great Debates regarding the essence of Abraham Lincoln’s slavery policy between two remarkably chalked up individuals. It was good fun and all, but, with the participating parties orbiting each other in binary (Claims one: Lincoln – a paragon of courage and virtue, well ahead of his time; claims the other: Lincoln – a cynical realist, using the question at hand as a political tool to exert force over the unruly South) and citations ...more
Jim Gallen
Feb 25, 2014 Jim Gallen rated it really liked it
“Fiery Trial” is the tale of Abraham Lincoln’s evolving stand on slavery. Beginning as a young man who knew few, if any, Negroes, Lincoln passed through the phase of opposing the extension of slavery to favoring its abolition with emigration to eventual openness to the admission of Freed Negroes to American society.

Lincoln’s development occurred in the body politic in which he lived. That body affected Lincoln and was shaped by him. Author Eric Foner delves into evidence of the reasons for the
Angela Platt
Mar 26, 2015 Angela Platt rated it it was amazing
A brilliant history of Lincoln's political career, emphasizing the acumen of Lincoln as he progressed politically and developed his anti-slavery views. Lincoln, who is well known for his emancipation proclamation, was actually a political moderate, whose anti-slavery views were grounded in his belief that all have the basic human right of liberty, according to the constitution...but likewise believed blacks were due neither social nor civil rights. He favoured colonization (sending them outside ...more
Oct 04, 2014 Alan rated it really liked it
I like to get my history in biographies, and this is definitely not a biography of Lincoln. its a very focused analysis of his dealing with the slavery issue from his youth until his death. I thought it was terrifically interesting, and new even if you hav read lots about Lincoln. His heart was not into abolitionism the very end (he was a long-time proponent until almost just before he issued the Proclamation)of encouraging the slaves to go to Liberia, (which would have worked out nicely for the ...more
Aug 19, 2011 Kate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't think there is a historian with a better understanding of the political context of the Civil War than Eric Foner. His analysis of Abraham Lincoln's evolving views of slavery, the abolitionist movement, emancipation and race relations makes for fascinating and informative reading. His graceful prose style is an added bonus.
James Kayler
Jun 05, 2015 James Kayler rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, read-2015
Not an easy read by a long shot but in light of the state of current racial attitudes this is a necessary and important book. We are still living through constitutional decisions and compromises dating back to the founding fathers.
Day Rusk
Aug 02, 2015 Day Rusk rated it it was amazing
The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery
By Eric Foner

It is safe to say that out of all the American Presidents to date, Abraham Lincoln, the countries sixteenth and first Republican president, is the most revered. Along with keeping the United States of America one by not allowing various Southern states to succeed from the Union, he is also The Great Emancipator, the President who freed the slaves, freeing America of its greatest sin, something the Founding Fathers failed to tackle
Brock Steger
Jun 02, 2014 Brock Steger rated it liked it
An extensive review of Lincoln's evolving views on slavery. Well-written and thorough, but not particularly exciting. No need to re-read.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Impending Crisis: America Before the Civil War, 1848-1861
  • Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865
  • Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory
  • Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President
  • This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War
  • John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights
  • "We are Lincoln Men": Abraham Lincoln and His Friends
  • A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration
  • What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War
  • 1861: The Civil War Awakening
  • The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832
  • A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War
  • Lincoln's Code: The Laws of War in American History
  • Lincoln's Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words
  • The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties
  • Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788
  • The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States
  • Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South
Eric Foner is DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, where he earned his B.A. and Ph.D. In his teaching and scholarship, Foner focuses on the Civil War and Reconstruction, slavery, and nineteenth-century America. His Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877, won the Bancroft, Parkman, and Los Angeles Times Book prizes and remains the standard history of the p ...more
More about Eric Foner...

Share This Book

“The problem is that we tend too often to read Lincoln's growth backward, as an unproblematic trajectory toward a predetermined end. This enables scholars to ignore or downplay aspects of Lincoln's beliefs with which they are uncomfortable.” 4 likes
“Alvan Stewart, a prolific writer and speaker against slavery from New York, developed the argument that the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, which barred depriving any person of “life, liberty, or property” without due process of law, made slavery unconstitutional. Slaves, said Stewart, should go to court and obtain writs of habeas corpus ordering their release from bondage.” 1 likes
More quotes…