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

The Fiery Trial by Eric Foner
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's review
May 21, 2012

really liked it

Great study of Lincoln focusing almost entirely on his changing attitude toward what to do about slavery. I think the book works because Lincoln acts as a good representative of what was probably a very common, conservative strain of antislavery in the North. Lincoln didn't grow up owning slaves, because his family moved to Indiana, then Illinois from Kentucky when he was a child. He had friends who owned slaves, and his wife's family owned slaves, but Lincoln didn't really like slavery and assumed that it would die out in time. His idol was Henry Clay, who gave tons of speeches praising the colonization of freed slaves in Africa, and who claimed that slavery would die out if Americans embraced this practice of sending freed blacks to Africa. Apparently, it took forever for Lincoln to free himself of this colonization idea...he was still bringing it up in White House cabinet meetings when pretty much every other northerner had given up on it.
It is easy for us today to think that the Emancipation Proclamation was a no-brainer, but Foner does a great job getting into the detail of the painstaking process it took to get Lincoln there. We forget about all the political and legal wrangling that was going on at the time. Because Lincoln won re-election, it is easy to forget that he could have lost, and had he lost, what might have happened to emancipation? Foner also reminds the reader just how incredible it is that this guy, a nobody small timer from Illinois with one term in Congress to his credit, managed to turn himself into the Republican standard bearer in the late 1850s.
I would think that a wide audience would like this book, even if you don't read many history books, this should give you a lot to think about.

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