Caroline's Reviews > The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

The Fiery Trial by Eric Foner
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Oct 10, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: american-civil-war, american-history
Read from June 16 to 19, 2014

Lydia Maria Child, the abolitionist and women's rights advocate, wrote of Lincoln shortly before his death, "with all his deficiencies, it must be admitted that he has grown continuously; and considering how slavery had weakened and perverted the moral sense of the whole country, it was great good luck to have the people elect a man who was willing to grow."

This, in a sense, is the essence of what made Lincoln great - his capacity for growth, his willingness to change, his open-mindedness. Lincoln was as much a product of his era as any man and he shared many of his countrymen's prejudices concerning the slaves. Was he a racist? As we would understand the term today, almost certainly. He was not born an abolitionist. Whilst he may have believed slavery a moral wrong and believed every man entitled to his freedom, he did not consider African-Americans the social equal of whites. He did not share many of the views of the Radical Republicans and did not set out at the beginning of his presidency to preside over the break-up of slavery.

And yet Lincoln freed the slaves. Lincoln has come down through history as the Great Emancipator. And it is to the endless fortune of America that 'cometh the hour, cometh the man'. In this masterful book, Eric Foner charts the evolution of Lincoln's beliefs regarding slavery and the slaves - from his early talks on the evils of slavery, tempered with the insistence that the slave was not his social or political equal, through to the Emancipation Proclamation and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, granting freedom now and forever to the slaves.

This is a deserved Pulitzer winner, blowing away the cobwebs of myth and legend that have accumulated around Lincoln's presidency, showing his beliefs and prejudices in a honest light. Lincoln was no saint, but he comes across as a better man for that, a man with the capacity to recognise his own shortcomings and rise above them, for the enduring benefit of his country.
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