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 conviction
that the Civil War was first and foremost a war to restore the Union and only
gradually, when it became a military necessity, a war to end slavery. These two
aims—“Liberty and Union, one and inseparable”—were intertwined in Republican
policy from the very start of the war.
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.
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