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

James Oakes, Author
James Oakes. Norton, $27.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-393-06531-2
Reviewed on: 10/08/2012
Release date: 12/01/2012
Open Ebook - 384 pages - 978-0-393-08971-4
Paperback - 595 pages - 978-0-393-34775-3
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Eliminating slavery proved harder “than anyone first imagined,” writes Oakes (The Radical and the Republican), professor of history at the CUNY Graduate Center, in this richly satisfying account. Ironically, the Constitution was “one of the most formidable obstacles to abolition—”enlightenment economics taught that slavery would eventually disappear, so the Founding Fathers felt little was lost in placating southern states by writing protections into the document. As deferent to the Constitution as their opponents, Republicans never supported abolishing slavery where it was legal, and though Lincoln maintained “that he would take no stance that went against his party,” Southern states saw the election of 1860 as a harbinger of abolition. It was, however, a slow process: by war’s end a mere 15% of four million slaves were free. Congressman James Wilson remarked, “slavery was a ‘condemned’ but ‘unexecuted culprit.’ ” Only with the 1865 ratification of the 13th Amendment were all slaves freed, “everywhere, for all future time.” Both a refreshing take on a moment in history and a primer on the political process, Oakes’s study is thoroughly absorbing. Maps & illus. (Dec.)
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