Redeeming the Great Emancipator

Allen C. Guelzo. Harvard Univ, $22.95 (206p) ISBN 978-0-674-28611-5
Guelzo (Gettysburg: The Last Invasion), a professor of the Civil War era at Gettysburg College, argues that understanding why Lincoln still merits the title of Great Emancipator is essential to healthy race relations in the U.S., explaining his rationale with three lectures he gave at Harvard in 2012. He begins with a review of the significance of emancipation, and the evidence, which he finds compelling, that Lincoln was deeply committed to ending slavery. Guelzo carefully parses and contextualizes Lincoln’s statements and personality, noting that the “problem with our apprehension of Lincoln’s antislavery is that he seems to have gone about it in what we would regard as a bafflingly obtuse fashion.” For example, Lincoln did not view slavery as primarily a racial issue, but as a political and economic one. Guelzo responds to critics of Lincoln’s lack of racial empathy by noting that the president was “the wrong man for expressions of empathy on almost any subject.” Addressing the controversy surrounding demands for reparations for descendants of slaves, Guelzo also illustrates his conviction that students of history must not allow simplicity to crowd out complexity, pointing out the issues that make identifying the affected class a challenge. Guelzo’s exploration of Lincoln’s reputation is both accessible and thought provoking. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/07/2015
Release date: 02/01/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
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