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

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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 co 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. 8 pages illustrations


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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 co 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. 8 pages illustrations

30 review for Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jerome

    An impressive and exhaustive study of the course of emancipation in the US. Well-written and interesting, the book never gets dull or bogs down in any way. Compelling and dramatic, Oakes shows how central slavery was to the civil war, even at the very start. The vast majority of the causes of the civil war related to slavery; without slavery, there likely would have been no civil war. Oakes aims to show that the destruction of slavery was far from being an inevitable or simple process, and does a An impressive and exhaustive study of the course of emancipation in the US. Well-written and interesting, the book never gets dull or bogs down in any way. Compelling and dramatic, Oakes shows how central slavery was to the civil war, even at the very start. The vast majority of the causes of the civil war related to slavery; without slavery, there likely would have been no civil war. Oakes aims to show that the destruction of slavery was far from being an inevitable or simple process, and does an admirable job in supporting this thesis. Lincoln is central to the story, and Oakes shows how much he wrestled with the issue of slavery during the war. Lincoln despised slavery and he despised having to wage war. he wanted to end the war quickly and at the same time destroy slavery but knew that balancing these two objectives would be difficult. Oakes is at his best when closely analyzing the texts of official edicts, teasing out the nuanced difference between bills as they moved through committees and the subtle meanings of military proclamations as commanders implemented them across the South. These close readings allow him to argue that there was no shift in Republican consensus from a war for Union to a war for emancipation. The publicly stated purpose of the war was always to restore the Union, but Republicans had always also seen the war as an opportunity to implement policies they hoped would end human bondage in the United States. Oakes supplies creative accounts of events that seem to cut against such an interpretation, glosses that will strike many readers as novel and perhaps controversial. The Corwin amendment to the constitution, which if passed would have forever prohibited federal interference in slavery in the states, was superfluous in this telling, because it did nothing to stop the principle of “freedom national” and gave no additional support to slavery. Its prohibition was against the active abolition of slavery in the states, an act that Republicans already believed unconstitutional. Their plans for ending slavery would strangle it without recourse to such blunt means. Thus the substantial Republican vote for the Corwin amendment said nothing about their commitment to destroying slavery in the American South. Oakes argues that Abraham Lincoln was spouting “nonsense” during the Second Inaugural address, when he stated that neither the North nor South “anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease” since, according to Oakes, he intended to destroy slavery in the war and, with his allies in Congress, had the means to do so. The president’s claim not to have controlled events was a “famously misleading” bit of mythmaking. Republicans had the end of slavery in mind all along and were firmly in control of the process. When put together, interpretations such as these make for a remarkably coherent account of the end of slavery, one that may make the process and Republicans’ intentions seem more coherent than they actually were. The story of how Union army officers dealt with the issue is also included. Many of them grappled with the issue of slavery as well. Many of them showed great courage; when slaves escaped north to Union Army camps, their masters followed them, but many Union soldiers forcibly removed them from camp. Republicans argued that the aim of destroying slavery in the southern states during the course of the war was a perfectly legitimate strategy, believing, correctly, that slavery was the main cause of the war. By destroying slavery, the South had little to fight for and would eventually cave in. Oakes also explores many of the legal conflicts that slavery produced. Many insightful ways to look at the issue are exposed here, such as the argument that slavery was not an assertion of property rights but an assault on property rights, a form of theft, in which the individual’s inalienable claim of ownership to his or her self was forcibly violated. Abolition, then, was not the denial of property rights but the restoration of them. Oakes also argues, convincingly, that the southern secession was illegal to begin with. All of the constitutional controversies leading to the civil war resulted from things that were not very explicit or clear, forcing them to be resolved by majority opinion. The Confederacy didn’t just remove itself from a government it didn’t like, it removed itself from a government that was rightfully and constitutionally elected to be the legitimate government, thus making any arguments and justifications for secession baseless and preposterous. In all, a superb book that I’d recommend to anybody.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    The slave powers were right--the abolitionists were out to get them, willing to spend entire careers grappling with the soul sucking reality that the Constitution specifically allowed slavery by committing to using state laws to strip the profitability and ease of slavery away from the north and west and quarantine it, while waiting for the day the south was sufficiently provoked to create a situation in which the military seizure of slaves would be a recognized tool of warfare and accomplish th The slave powers were right--the abolitionists were out to get them, willing to spend entire careers grappling with the soul sucking reality that the Constitution specifically allowed slavery by committing to using state laws to strip the profitability and ease of slavery away from the north and west and quarantine it, while waiting for the day the south was sufficiently provoked to create a situation in which the military seizure of slaves would be a recognized tool of warfare and accomplish their goals by whatever means. Oakes is writing the best kind of history here--showing available documents in a frame that makes you slap your head and think, of course , including Lincoln's first inaugural address, whose familiar words ring quite differently to me after this. This chronicles the work of small-town Ohio lawyers who tried to defend runaways against slave catchers and had to see them dragged away into anonymous slavery, the brilliant chain of thought from the British Somerset case to free soil, and the steady beat of resistance that translated into action. About halfway, Oakes starts to deal with the results of a generation of people steeped in slavery controversy making decisions in the field--moral and of military pragmatism, that started to drive policy (not returning escaped slaves, even in border states, actively freeing women and children of no military use, harassing slave owners who tried to get them back). Most of all, this is the story of principled people who were willing to grind away at a problem pragmatically and accept the corrosive effect of that compromising for the greater goal, and that is a message of enormous resonance.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

    A very, very detailed account of the rise and fall of slavery in America. The author tells the often poignant struggle black Americans made to become legal citizens rather than a form of property protected under the Constitution. The narrative seemed to flow very well and the only excuse I have for not finishing this book sooner was the number of new titles I added to my TBR pile(s) over the holidays. A very good starting point for anyone just beginning their personal Civil War odyssey.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Noah

    This is the best book I have ever read about the political history of the Civil War era. I would even go so far as to recommend it as a companion to Eric Foner's classic Reconstruction. It takes the myths about the abolition of slavery in the United States, turns them inside out, and then turns them inside out again. After reading this book, one can no longer claim, with any intellectual honest at least, that the US Civil War was fought over anything but the slavery and its continuation and expa This is the best book I have ever read about the political history of the Civil War era. I would even go so far as to recommend it as a companion to Eric Foner's classic Reconstruction. It takes the myths about the abolition of slavery in the United States, turns them inside out, and then turns them inside out again. After reading this book, one can no longer claim, with any intellectual honest at least, that the US Civil War was fought over anything but the slavery and its continuation and expansion. The book moves in a linear fashion, detailing the progressive evolution from the early political abolition movement of the eighteen thirties and forties through the movement's absorption by the Liberal Republican Party and the radical shift from the idea of gradual emancipation to military emancipation. Oakes brilliantly shows how there never was one form of emancipation, no utopian ideal, but a pragmatic and fluid confluence of events and contingencies that forced the hands and changed the minds of conservatives and moderates and emboldened liberals and radicals to even greater action. The author pays particular attention to the interplay between the Radical Republican Congress of the early Civil War years and President Lincoln, who comes out looking less like "Father Abraham" and more like a Machiavellian (albeit morally principled) practitioner of abolitionist realpolitik. The Congress of the era was an example of political compromise without compromising moral principles, and the myth of the reluctant Republican emancipators is finally put to rest. Particular attention is paid to how military events on the ground impacted not only policy itself but the implementation and interpretation of policy. In this treatment, the actions of individual slaves running to Union lines, risking their lives, and spreading word through the "slave telegraph" that was the oral pipeline of information about what was going on in real time on the ground, are just as important as the decisions made by powerful military figures like Gen. Benjamin Butler. Butler started out as Democrat skeptical of abolition politics but ended as the man who engineered the system of military emancipation that would drive the government of the US towards eventual political emancipation of all slaves in rebel held territory. The story is one not of inevitable progression from slavery to anti-slavery, but a pragmatic, and often painstaking intellectual and legal crusade for a coherent and, most important of all, actionable policy for the destruction of the "peculiar institution" that most in the North had come to realize was the central cause of the Civil War. The long chapter on The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation (the document and laws that laid the legal and moral groundwork for the eventual final proclamation in '63) and the Proclamation itself are worth reading on their own, and could easily have been published as their own monograph. Gone forever is Lincoln the sage who waited patiently for the public to catch up to his point of view. In it's place is a much more nuanced and complex story of a leader who had to find a way to take the raw emotion and political will of a population hungry for true political and social reform and turn it into a policy that could not only survive the war, but the challenges in courts that were not at all guaranteed to be sympathetic to the abolitionist ethos. Oakes makes clear that while the Proclamation was no dictate from heaven sent to banish slavery from the world, neither was an ineffectual political ploy. The document had real effect, and drove Union policy in profound and practical ways, making a war that was started over slavery but about preserving the Union into a war to destroy slavery as the only way to preserve the Union. Oakes makes clear that much of what happened politically, culturally, militarily, and legally is very difficult for us to understand out of context a century and a half after the events took place. We live in an America created by the Civil War, much more so than by the Revolutionary War, and it is often hard to look at the world through the eyes of people who saw the outcome as anything but assured. The book hints at a profound, even radical thesis, that perhaps what happened during the Civil War was less a sectarian conflict than a true Revolution: the overthrowing of one political ruling class (the slave aristocrats who had an electoral stranglehold on the Congress and the Presidency) in favor of another, not yet truly democratic, but certainly more representative class. The Civil War was, at least after the Proclamation, a war of extermination; not of a people, but of a system, of a class, of a way of life that we predicated on the assumption that some men are meant to serve as fodder for the enrichment of others. This Revolution was, and is, incomplete, but Freedom National makes clear throughout that this period in US history was a turning point onto a path that could lead to a "more perfect union". I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in US History broadly, and the political and social history of slavery and abolition in particular. You cannot read this book without coming to a new understanding of the United States as a society. It is an invaluable story, and one that everyone should be familiar with

  5. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Stieb

    A fairly long but very interesting book that reframes (at least for me) the relationship between slavery and unionism in the Civil War. The focus of the book is on how the Republicans and Lincoln employed the doctrine of freedom national almost from the start of the Civil War to steadily weaken slavery in almost every place it existed. The legal theory of freedom national said that the Constitution did not recognize property in man, only that persons could be held in service. Slavery could be le A fairly long but very interesting book that reframes (at least for me) the relationship between slavery and unionism in the Civil War. The focus of the book is on how the Republicans and Lincoln employed the doctrine of freedom national almost from the start of the Civil War to steadily weaken slavery in almost every place it existed. The legal theory of freedom national said that the Constitution did not recognize property in man, only that persons could be held in service. Slavery could be legally protected in states and localities, but the federal gov't owed it no specific protection and could actually act against slavery outside of the slave states. A good example of this would be regulating the slave trade on the high seas (including the coastal slave trade) or refusing to aid in the return of escaped slaves who made it to non-slave states. For the Slave Power, These ideas lay at the heart of the "federal consensus," or the idea that the GOP could attack slavery everywhere where the federal gov't writ applied and contain it to the existing slave states in the hope that it would die out in time. When the CW started, Lincoln and the GOP drew on the Freedom National Doctrine and the idea of military emancipation in passing the First and Second Confiscation Acts and a variety of smaller things I had never heard before, like the Militia Act. Initially the main policy was that slaves who entered Union lines would be considered contraband of war if their masters were disloyal, but this was kind of a legal fudge or loophole that allowed tens of thousands to escape. In Oakes' telling the Emancipation Proclamation was more of a culmination of a progressive policy of undermining slavery as opposed to a dramatic break. He clearly shows that the EP was incredibly significant in terms of making the Union armies forces of liberation as they invaded the south and allowed the recruiting of hundreds of thousands of black men. Lastly, I finally get why the 13th amendment was necessary: only a fraction of the total number of slaves were literally freed by these previous acts, and none of these acts permanently barred the states from restoring slavery, which they clearly planned on doing if at all possible. The 13th amendment was needed to put the dagger in the heart of slavery once and for all. This book is definitive, meaning that it is very detailed but also engrossing. Oakes is a very clear writer who skillfully walks you through the sometimes complicated events and legal ideas of the story. Overall, he puts the nail in the coffin of 2 falsehoods: 1. That Lincoln was somehow the reluctant emancipator. In reality, he moved steadily but not hastily, using federal powers in almost every way he could to attack slavery while balancing that objective with the border state problem and the obstruction of the Democrats in Congress. Lincoln can only be considered reluctant if you wanted him to just plunge forward without any consideration of the practical consequences or legal grounding of his actions. 2. That the federal gov't fought mainly to preserve the union and only saw the destruction of slavery as a means to that end. In reality, these objectives were always intertwined mainly because the GOP and Lincoln believed slavery was the root cause of the war and that the country could never be whole nor just if slavery survived the war. This book is long and detailed but accessible, and Oakes guides the non-expert through with clear and engaging writing.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tom Walsh

    What a stunning historical work! I knew slavery was difficult for all founding fathers to digest (most of them owned slaves!) but I never knew how difficult it was to pose the banishment of slavery in Lincoln's time. Yes, I saw the film, where they argued slavery and then needed troops. But this work looks back to the 1840s when, after the Abolition Movement, to be anti-slavery was akin to treason. I don't thing the black readers among us will lift Lincoln too high after this work: they were not What a stunning historical work! I knew slavery was difficult for all founding fathers to digest (most of them owned slaves!) but I never knew how difficult it was to pose the banishment of slavery in Lincoln's time. Yes, I saw the film, where they argued slavery and then needed troops. But this work looks back to the 1840s when, after the Abolition Movement, to be anti-slavery was akin to treason. I don't thing the black readers among us will lift Lincoln too high after this work: they were not that much on his mind until he needed their support. Thank God for Martin Luther King and his parting of the seas!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Allen

    I've been blogging about the Civil War daily for almost four years now, and my view of the causes of the war was pretty standard, I think. The South, especially the early-seceding cotton states, precipitated the war because of an exaggerated fear that Lincoln's Republican administration would attack slavery where it existed, while the Republicans themselves only intended to confine the spread of slavery to the territories, but fought to preserve the Union. Certainly this view is substantiated by I've been blogging about the Civil War daily for almost four years now, and my view of the causes of the war was pretty standard, I think. The South, especially the early-seceding cotton states, precipitated the war because of an exaggerated fear that Lincoln's Republican administration would attack slavery where it existed, while the Republicans themselves only intended to confine the spread of slavery to the territories, but fought to preserve the Union. Certainly this view is substantiated by the public pronouncements of both sides (see the Declarations of the Causes of Secession, for instance, and various speeches by Lincoln). However, this book makes a cogent argument for a rather different view. Oakes uses original sources to show that the Republicans viewed containment as a path to the eventual abolition of slavery, and more important, that they viewed civil war even at the beginning as an opportunity to abolish slavery in a constitutional manner. In peacetime, the constitution kept them from freeing slaves in the states; in war, military necessity could be invoked to abolish slavery on a much faster timetable than they had previously hoped for. The book is well-argued and researched, and I think it adds a new and worthwhile perspective to civil war studies. By the way, I actually got this book in WhisperSync format, so I have it both on the Kindle and as an Audible audiobook. I like this feature - you can listen to the book in the car, and then when you pick up the Kindle, it takes you to where you left off listening.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    Argues against four things: Lincoln was the "Great Emancipator" (Emerson) who had to wait until public opinion caught up with his abolitionism. Lincoln was the "Reluctant Emancipator" (Greeley), who wanted above all else to preserve the union, even half slave and half free until circumstances made that impossible. The Republican Party was largely moderate and was bitterly divided by the extreme abolitionists. The war was about the Union until 1863, when it became about slavery. In fact, argues O Argues against four things: Lincoln was the "Great Emancipator" (Emerson) who had to wait until public opinion caught up with his abolitionism. Lincoln was the "Reluctant Emancipator" (Greeley), who wanted above all else to preserve the union, even half slave and half free until circumstances made that impossible. The Republican Party was largely moderate and was bitterly divided by the extreme abolitionists. The war was about the Union until 1863, when it became about slavery. In fact, argues Oakes, the war was always about Slavery (and the union), and the republican party, rather than being divided over abolition, differed only "in style, not in substance." All Republicans wanted to end slavery. The difficulty was in how to do it constitutionally. This is where the idea (Seward) of "Freedom National" comes in. For the Northern Republicans, Freedom was National, slavery was local. Thus, while the individual states might see a slave as property, the federal government saw them as "persons held in service." Nevertheless, only two constitutional avenues existed through which to destroy slavery: gradual emancipation accomplished by constructing a "cordon of freedom" that would strangle slavery, and military emancipation.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Samuel

    Civil War historiography has continually been concerned with identifying the causes of the war and the motivations of nineteenth century America’s warring belligerents. Whether one considers southern historians writing in the first third of the twentieth century that slavery was barely a footnote to the Civil War’s main struggle between states’ rights and federal authority or later scholars influenced by the new social history in the 1960s and 70s that sought to restore the agency and role of Af Civil War historiography has continually been concerned with identifying the causes of the war and the motivations of nineteenth century America’s warring belligerents. Whether one considers southern historians writing in the first third of the twentieth century that slavery was barely a footnote to the Civil War’s main struggle between states’ rights and federal authority or later scholars influenced by the new social history in the 1960s and 70s that sought to restore the agency and role of African-Americans in determining the outcome of the Civil War and Emancipation, the historiography of the Civil War continually evokes passionate revisions and contentious reinterpretations of nineteenth century sources to try and understand the fundamental question: why was the Civil War fought? Gary W. Gallagher, offers up his interpretation on the Civil War most succinctly in two books: one concerned with the Confederacy’s motivations for fighting the Civil War and the other focused on the Union’s motivations. Both his books converge on a common conclusion that each side had ideological patriotism that led many soldiers to battle in defense of a new nation in the case of the Confederacy and in preservation of the old nation in the case of the Union. While Gallagher assembles fairly convincing source-based arguments to support his main claims, other scholars, including James Oakes, have written books that argue almost directly against his claims looking at fairly similar sources. This contention in modern day scholarship demonstrates the Civil War’s social and political complexity. While scholars attempt to simplify the event by identifying a primal motivation and cause, it seems more wise to admit its complexity and allow for multiple converging causes: some explicit and others more implicit.� In The Union War, Gallagher argues that most loyal citizens “embraced emancipation as a tool to punish slaveholders, weaken Confederacy, and protect the Union from future internal strife.” In doing so, Gallagher attempts to restore emancipation—which in the second half of the twentieth century has often been read back into history as the main objective northern society had in Civil War—to a secondary position in service to the primary, explicit justification for northern troops to fight the rebelling southern troops: to preserve the Union. This Union-centric view of the Civil War focuses on explicit political rhetoric of northern Republicans and Democrats, which though important, sometimes neglects the fact that politicians will often say what needs to be said publicly to accomplish other hidden agendas. At one point, Gallagher acknowledges that the Republican Party jettisoned their party name in favor of the “Union Party” in 1864 as a move away from its antislavery associations. But rather than interpret this political stunt in its manipulative complexity he concludes that it proves his point of “the power of Union as a rallying cry.” This critique of over-commitment to and oversimplification of his main argument applies to Gallagher’s earlier book The Confederate War as well. While Gallagher successfully produces political and militaristic rhetoric to show that the Confederacy possessed “a sense of national community,” he does seem to overemphasize this point at the expense of acknowledging other knowable motivations for Confederate soldiers to go to war: for their individual property, families, and states for example. The relatively less troubled and more convincing aspect of Gallagher’s work in both books is his probing the agency of the oft-neglected “pawns” of military history: the everyday soldiers of the Civil War. Political and military leaders become the great historical figures that seem to accomplish more than the average man, but Gallagher reminds his readers that the “humblest soldier who carried a musket is entitled to as much credit for the results of the war as those who were in command.” While this might be slightly hyperbolic, it does move the conversation into a more human and democratic understanding of war. Soldiers, even those conscripted (though admittedly less so), have agency to fight or flee. There may indeed be social and cultural pressures of influence, but ultimately common soldiers make history with their actions. While soldiers’ reasons for fighting were as complex and diverse as the leaders’ reasons (black soldiers for example have their basic freedom on the line), Gallagher does produce a good amount of sources and evidences to demonstrate that many Confederate soldiers did indeed explicitly fight to secure the future of a new nation while many Union soldiers explicitly stated their belief and justification for military action as a patriotic commitment to preserving the Union. In opposition to Gary Gallagher’s simplistic Union-centric explanation for why the federal government went to war with the seceded states, James Oakes emphatically states that the Republican party and the policies of the United States government before, during, and immediately after the Civil War were consistently and primarily committed to the destruction of slavery throughout all of the United States. While scholars such as Gallagher can point to Republican rhetoric stating that the preservation of the Union was the prime rallying call for the North’s participation in the Civil War, Oakes argues that other sources reveal that the Republican party worked towards the complete abolition of slavery throughout the war. From his perspective, Union preservation was a politically safe way to present the Republican cause for abolishing slavery to a nation (speaking just of the non-seceding northern states) divided on the issue of slavery. In fact, Oakes explicitly says that it was because of northern Democrats (and to a lesser degree some moderate Republicans) that the President and radical Republicans in the Congress had to explicitly justify going to war with the South to preserve the Union “as it was”—with slavery intact—when implicitly the war was being waged to eradicate the institution of slavery throughout the entire nation. While there are some problems with Oakes’ agenda and execution, he does demonstrate that preservation of the Union was indeed the common ground for the northern states explicitly but that the Republicans in power viewed the national destruction of slavery as an integral part in preserving the Union. Both Gallagher and Oakes have their weak points in attempting to support their overarching argument. If Gallagher can be criticized for oversimplification at times, then Oakes can be found guilty of mixing up interpretation with declaration. For example, Gallagher is so committed to emphasizing the importance and power of the idea of Union, that he seems to ascribe the “intensity of emotion” it evokes to the cause of war. While this may be true, it does not explain why slavery, which also could be described as evoking “an intensity of emotion,” does not figure into his construction of the causes of war. Oakes, on the other hand, seems to put words in Lincoln’s mouth with his declaration that Lincoln “understood that to destroy slavery, the Union had to win the war, and he came to believe that the black troops would help make that happen.” While this is an interesting point, it is more speculative and interpretive; Oakes claims to understand what Lincoln understood without a clear source trail. As written in declarative form, it misrepresents his analysis as fact. In spite of these moments of oversimplification and slight misrepresentation, the overall arguments of the two authors are exhaustively discussed and supported by a fairly diverse set of sources. In conclusion, Gallagher is right to emphasize that the preservation of the Union was the consistently held, unifying justification for going to war against the south in the northern states, but he may have gone a bit too far in dismissing the influential if less explicit agenda Republicans had in dismantling slavery throughout the United States. He does this chiefly in response to the fact that historians and teachers of history have perhaps gotten a little sloppy in reducing the Civil War to an event that could have only been ended by the emancipation of slaves. Slavery was indeed the central issue of the Civil War, but because of its divisive nature even among northern Republicans and Democrats, the actions taken by the federal government could not move forward in a united way on the issue of slavery alone. It could, and did, more successfully unite the northern states against punishing the southern rebels for seceding and forcefully restoring them to the Union. With the benefit of writing afterwards, Oakes’ work is more useful than Gallagher’s in explaining the process by which Republicans united and mobilized the northern states to go to war while they strategically working out a way to abolish slavery in the process. Gallagher’s work is successful in checking presentism and the problem of reading history backwards—preservation of the Union is consistently and fairly genuinely the united voice of the northern society—but he seems to have a more superficial and surface-level reading of the sources in comparison to Oakes. Oakes is able to acknowledge the overt political patriotism for the Union identified by Gallagher and still explain how the Republican agenda for freeing the slaves occurred simultaneously (though perhaps not as neatly as he argues). In considering the merits of these two authors’ arguments, however, it is not an either-or scenario; there are multiple voices, multiple motivations spoken and unspoken, and multiple sources that cannot be reduced to a single, united perspective revealing the primary cause of the Civil War. Both works offer valuable insights to the contentious terrain of Civil War historiography.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Robert Owen

    In “Freedom National” James Oakes outlines the legal reasoning that evolved in the antebellum North to justify the end of human bondage and how adoption of that reasoning united and mobilized a fractious political constituency into forming the Republican Party under whose banner Abraham Lincoln became the 16th President of the United States. In so doing, Oakes puts to rest the notion that the American Civil War was fought for any reason other than ending slavery. Due to the subtle suggestion tha In “Freedom National” James Oakes outlines the legal reasoning that evolved in the antebellum North to justify the end of human bondage and how adoption of that reasoning united and mobilized a fractious political constituency into forming the Republican Party under whose banner Abraham Lincoln became the 16th President of the United States. In so doing, Oakes puts to rest the notion that the American Civil War was fought for any reason other than ending slavery. Due to the subtle suggestion that a desire to end slavery somehow necessarily implies some claim of moral superiority on the part of the liberator, the question of the Civil War’s purpose has always been controversial. On the surface it is difficult to reconcile the many Northern manifestations of hostility towards blacks with a presumption of moral superiority over the South. Oaks undertakes a survey of the complex set of motivations that inclined the North, sometimes in spite of itself, towards an anti-slavery ethos – an ethos that rejected human bondage while, at the same time, placing no obligation on it to embrace its African victims. While slavery, of course, was morally reprehensible, in the Northern mind it was seen by most as merely being distasteful. However, when to this distaste was also added the countless reasons why slavery was bad for the North from various economic, social and status perspectives, the case against slavery became compelling while a willingness to embrace slaves themselves became, at best, optional. As slavery was tolerated by the Constitution, ending it by means that did not necessitate destruction of the union required activists and politicians (primarily in the North) to thread a fascinating legal needle with theories that evolved slowly in the decades preceding the Civil War. The lynchpin of this reasoning held that while the Constitution allowed slavery (specifically, a claim to service in persons) where it was sanctioned by local law, it did not hold slavery itself to be the law of the land so much as it held local governance to be supreme over the federal governance – as clearly articulated in the Declaration of Independence, the natural state of “persons” was freedom, and while some localities may choose to claim a constitutionally protected right to the lifetime service of certain of those “persons”, the Constitution itself defaulted to freedom wherever slavery was not affirmed by local statute. Under this theory, the right of a slaveholder to his “property” did not extend beyond the boundaries of the state where it was allowed by state law. As it was generally believed that slavery needed to expand into new territories in order to survive, one means of ending slavery in a manner consistent with the Constitution was to limit it to those states where it existed and to prohibit it in new states that should be formed as the nation expanded westward across North America. A slave, this theory held, was not the same species of unambiguously protected property as was, say, a chair or a cow but rather, existed only in the right of a slaveholder to the slave’s labor in states where such arrangements were specifically sanctioned. Under the 1773 English common law principal of the Summerset doctrine, the natural condition of persons was freedom, and whenever a slave was moved to a jurisdiction where a right to a slave’s labor was not guaranteed by local law, the “person” automatically became free. Moreover, the Northwest Ordinances of 1787 (and ratified by congress in its first session in 1789) established congress’s right to limit slavery in new territories, thus ensuring that to the extent the Federal legislature chose to exercise its prerogative, slavery could never be established by the law of states created from Territories which should come into the union in the future. The fundamental right claimed by the Federal government to proscribe a particular species of property in new states versus the claim of slaveholding states to own human beings became the animating tension American history in the first half of the 19th century. For reasons of economic survival, slaveholding states needed slavery to expand into new territories, whereas northerners, for reasons often having little or nothing to do with a moral aversion to human bondage, wished to see it limited. Every time that new territory was added to American holdings, this tension reemerged as bitter and divisive controversies. The Missouri Compromise, the status of territories annexed through the Mexican War and the related Wilmot Proviso, the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas Nebraska Act worked as emotionally charged wounds inflicted by one section of the country on another in ways that served to undermine national cohesion and promote sectional contempt. With this as background, Oakes makes the compelling case that the ascendancy of the Republican Party – a party formed from various coalitions intent on killing slavery by limiting its expansion – and the election of Abraham Lincoln provided the final stress event that plunged the nation into war. So was slavery the cause of the Civil War? While indeed it was, the history of the Republican Party and the issues that inspired its formation make it clear that slavery was, for most Republicans, scarcely a moral crusade fought for strictly abolitionist reasons. To be sure, it is safe to say that the majority of the party elites (including Lincoln) found slavery distasteful, yet their willingness to engage nuanced legal arguments that appeared to radical slavery-hating abolitionists as little more than vile sophistry speaks to the tepid nature of their purely anti-slavery views. The goal of the Republicans was to end slavery for social, economic and, if at all, moral reasons while preserving the union – a goal that was only achievable by scrupulous adherence to the Constitution and, ultimately, nominal legal respect for the property rights of the slaveholding south. It was this desire to preserve the constitutional basis for the Union that explains the evolution of war strategy as the conflict progressed. For all of their professed political aims, the prompt succession of the South following Lincoln’s election shocked Republicans. While the demise of slavery clearly represented a cornerstone of the Republican political creed, the containment strategy had always been designed to ensure that slavery’s death was gradual, compensated and, at the end, capped off with the voluntary migration of blacks anywhere in the world that wasn’t the United States….the last thing Republicans wanted or anticipated was the dissolution of the Union. However, the exigencies of war slowly inclined Lincoln and congress to embrace increasingly aggressive anti-slavery tactics that were, at least in the Republican view, afforded to them under war powers within – always within – the Constitution. As Northern troops took territory in the South they were beset by slaves seeking their liberty. Recognizing that the slave labor was being used to fortify Southern military emplacements and, at least for many Northern officers and men, unwilling out of moral conviction or sectional spite to return the slaves to their rebellious masters, Congress passed the First Confiscation Act – a war powers measure that actuated the emancipation of slaves owned by rebel masters who managed to escape to Northern lines. When, however, John Fremont, the commander of the Western Military department authorized a general emancipation for all slaves within his authority, Lincoln made it clear that under the Constitution war powers were the exclusive prerogative of the chief executive and congress by overriding him. As the war progressed, the Second Confiscation Act expanded upon the First by liberating all slaves, regardless of their masters’ loyalty, who made it to Northern lines. Lincoln’s now famous Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves within rebel held territories (but not in loyal slave states), was issued within the context of this series of constitutionally sanctioned war powers abridgements of otherwise inviolable property rights. The point is that at no time did anyone ever say (although, to be sure, many certainly believed) that the slaves should be freed because slavery was contrary to American values and morally wrong. Had Lincoln been inclined to try (which he certainly wasn’t), Northern support for the war would have evaporated overnight. However, when emancipation of millions of slaves was authorized as discrete war measures designed to weaken and humiliate the enemy, Northerners were inclined to grudgingly accept it as a necessary, if unsettling, exigency of war. The final step – the abolition of slavery through constitutional amendment – only won the necessary congressional support when framed as a means of permanently denying the South any constitutional argument for holding slaves, and thus, forever removing from their grasp the tool of bitter controversy that had led to the war. In “Freedom National” Oakes reminds us that history should never be reduced to sound-bites. The moral, political and economic forces motivating both the North and the South were incredibly complex and moved in ways that utterly defy the contemporary inclination to reduce the Civil War to a simple-minded parable of good versus evil. “Freedom National” is a compelling read, and contributed significantly to my understanding of America’s complex political and racial history.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Glen Stott

    I have read many books, fictional and nonfiction, about he Civil War, including the three Volume “The Civil War, a Narrative” by Shelby Foote. None of them is anything like “Freedom National;” it’s like it’s and entirely different war. Oaks’ primary focus is on the political and cultural war that was being waged regarding the future of slavery. All the other books concentrate on the various battles and military strategies, medical situations, military politics. etc. In this 500-page book, Oaks m I have read many books, fictional and nonfiction, about he Civil War, including the three Volume “The Civil War, a Narrative” by Shelby Foote. None of them is anything like “Freedom National;” it’s like it’s and entirely different war. Oaks’ primary focus is on the political and cultural war that was being waged regarding the future of slavery. All the other books concentrate on the various battles and military strategies, medical situations, military politics. etc. In this 500-page book, Oaks mentions probably less than 10 battles, and they are just mentioned. I learned so much about what was really going on in the battle to free slaves, it is amazing. In the other books, almost always the Emancipation Proclamation is mentioned. I knew Lincoln did it and that it only covered states that had seceded. I never understood why he neglected all the slaves in the border states. I thought it was the first move to actually free slaves and that it did actually made them free – all that had to happen was for the Union Army to force the Confederate states to comply. In truth, it was arguably only a temporary fix at best. The title of the book comes from a popular argument from way before the Civil War. “National Freedom, Sectional Slavery.” The Constitution was based upon the glowing words of the Declaration of Independence. All men are created equal and they have unalienable rights. However, the States were very suspicious of a too powerful central government. States viewed themselves of having absolute power of local issues. The Tenth Amendment clarified that separation. The Constitution was not given authority over slavery, which was a local, or sectional, issue. Hence, freedom was a national issue, but slavery was a sectional issue. The Federal Government had no authority to make a ruling against slavery, and, in fact, the Constitution has clauses that intended to protect States in their handling of slavery problems. However, the notes and journals of the framers of the constitution point out that they were careful not to use the word “slavery” in the text. Instead, it talks about entitlements to services; this could be interpreted to slaves, but also it would apply to apprenticeships. These notes and other basic communications at the time indicated that most people felt slavery was on the way out of its own accord. Many studies were beginning to show that forced labor was inefficient. Workers were reluctant workers and had more health problems than paid free laborers. The sacrifices made to slavery in order to bring all the states together seemed not so great as slavery was thought to be temporary. Since the Constitution did not get the Federal government power to abolish slavery, abolitionist had other ideas they were constantly working on. The first was to circle the slave states with free states where paid labor of free men would be more successful and would therefore choke off the economy of plantations who didn’t advance. Abolitionists realized this would be painfully slow process, some estimated a hundred years, partly because Slave States had outsized political power. However, Lincoln’s election came with significant abolitionist gains in Republican Congressmen. The South realized that with Lincoln as President and a strong Republican Congress, abolitionists would be able increase the pressure. The slave States began to secede from the union to protect slavery. Abolitionists also realized that The Constitution accepted international war policies. This opened the second option. One war policy was that, in war, the military could free slaves as a strategy to defeat the enemy. Once the South attacked fort Sumter, this door was available. However, it was complicated, and implementation was sporadic. From early in the war, slaves began to run away, seeking help in the Union lines. There, they were generally emancipated but that was only for slaves who had run away, and Union Forces were forbidden to entice them to run away. It wasn’t until Jan 1, 1863 that Lincoln’s proclamation, which said slaves were free even if they didn’t run away and the army could actively entice them, came into existence. Since the US was not at war with border States, there was as persuasive argument that they couldn’t be militarily emancipated. One problem with military emancipation; there was an argument that once the war was over freed slaved could be reclaimed by former owners. The first couple of hundred pages, Oaks is extremely repetitive; he quotes and otherwise shows many different people giving the same arguments and explanations. It seemed the whole thing was going to amount to a pile of antidotal duplication. I was beginning to knock stars off my rating as I yawned my way through. Then I realized, there has been a lot of revisionist history going on about the war being only about restoring the union and was not about slavery at all. Leading up to and during the war, Northern Democrats spouted this all the time because they wanted the war to end without disrupting the slavery culture of the South. Some Republicans, including Lincoln himself made public statements that the war was about restoring the union. That was public, but behind the scenes, it was all about slavery. They couldn’t say that in public, because the war would be unconstitutional under that premise. It would be the federal government tromping on the Tenth Amendment. Restoring the Union was the Constitutional purpose of the war, but there is no doubt the war would also end slavery. It appears to me that Oaks’ repetition is useful to show how wide spread the notion of fighting to free slaves was during those times. So, I am back at five stars. It is an extremely informative book about things going on behind the military battles. It shows the intense poliotical war that created the foundation to free slaves with the 13th Amendment. Started 2018.05.27 - finished 2018.06.16

  12. 4 out of 5

    Don

    This is an excellent book, peeling back layer upon layer of the "nothing we could have done about it" myth, and replacing it with historical accounts that clarify the end of slavery. Look: History is messy. But for the past 100 years, historians have worked hard to convince us that "The Issue" that forced the Civil War is more complicated than we can really comprehend. We have been convinced that the Civil War couldn't have simply been about slavery. We have heard it was about "states' rights" (w This is an excellent book, peeling back layer upon layer of the "nothing we could have done about it" myth, and replacing it with historical accounts that clarify the end of slavery. Look: History is messy. But for the past 100 years, historians have worked hard to convince us that "The Issue" that forced the Civil War is more complicated than we can really comprehend. We have been convinced that the Civil War couldn't have simply been about slavery. We have heard it was about "states' rights" (which is purely a Lost Cause justification), or about "the Union, the Union, the Union" (which requires a deep, synchronic understanding of the mind of Joe Citizen in the trenches). Moreover, Lincoln's quotations have been taken out of context so often, it is easy to suggest that he didn't care about getting rid of slavery, which is preposterous but widely disseminated. The bottom line is that slavery WAS the cause of the war, preserving the Union was the purpose, and emancipation was the inevitable result (as long as the North prevailed). So to read Professor Oakes is to bring it back to the heart of the thing. It was about slavery. After the U.S. had endured nearly a century of Slave Power in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, the then-new Republican Party and its long-term ideas of abolition brought the issue to front and center stage. Essentially, the party -- and Abe the standard-bearer -- was giving the South a choice: lose slavery gradually via a succession of policies that would indirectly assault the "peculiar institution," or take the all-or-nothing secession gamble; see if you can get away with it. The South chose to rip the scab off, but nobody had ANY clue about just how painful and damaging it would be for both sides. Sure, there were Union Democrats and Joe Citizens who never accepted that the war and emancipation were inextricably paired, but the policymakers consistently tightened the link, anyway. Once the government of the United States finally had the people in place to limit slavery, the conflict could not be avoided ... And the war came. Oakes explains the causes and the drumbeat of the war expertly, stemming from William Seward's position that the Declaration and Constitution all along had created a country of "Freedom National, Slavery Sectional." I have never seen this more clearly expressed, with research that Oakes wields as a club to fend off the unconvinced. Had the book been more tightly edited and not been bogged down with so much repetition, Freedom National would have received the elusive 5th Borst Star ... But it is still a marvelous book that prompted me to adjust my view of history.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Harry Miller

    It is perhaps regrettable that this book was necessary, but Dr. Oakes believed he had no choice but to write it, for "a number of intellectual shifts have obscured [the anti-slavery motivation of the Union cause] to the point where the claim that the Republicans intended to destroy slavery is more likely to be greeted with disbelief than assent." (xv) Oakes argues that Republicans before and during the Civil War were united in an effort to destroy slavery. They were neither "reluctant" nor "belat It is perhaps regrettable that this book was necessary, but Dr. Oakes believed he had no choice but to write it, for "a number of intellectual shifts have obscured [the anti-slavery motivation of the Union cause] to the point where the claim that the Republicans intended to destroy slavery is more likely to be greeted with disbelief than assent." (xv) Oakes argues that Republicans before and during the Civil War were united in an effort to destroy slavery. They were neither "reluctant" nor "belated" abolitionists but began moving to eradicate slavery as soon as the war began. What's fascinating about Freedom National is its focus on the philosophical and especially the legal underpinnings of abolition. The Republicans' hatred of slavery was balanced by their love for the Constitution; they would not overthrow one form of tyranny (slavery) at the risk of compromising the Constitution and thus bringing about another form of it. They believed that the Constitution did not recognize the right of property in man and that therefore freedom was national. Slavery was merely local, as some state governments insisted on the right of property in man. Republican strategy was to use Congressional authority to ban slavery in places where the national government was sovereign, in the territories, in DC, and in treaties, as well as to invoke the doctrine of military emancipation and to rely on the "friction and abrasion" of war to compel the states to abolish slavery for themselves. It may seem uninspiring that slavery was done away with in such a lawyerly way, but Oakes introduces concepts such as natural law and the Somerset principle, which Republicans believed were embedded in the Constitution, rendering it an instrument of freedom. Oakes shows that our legal tradition is infused with freedom, which is extremely inspiring. As much as Freedom National is focused on the law, it also shows (perhaps between the lines) how important a role was played by the people in the abolition of slavery. It was ordinary people who voted Republican in 1860 and 1864, who abolished slavery in West Virginia, Maryland, and Missouri, and who, as Union soldiers, drove off most masters who came to their camps to retrieve their slaves. Freedom National is essential reading for any student of freedom.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    While dipping a bit into academic language sometimes (perhaps unavoidably), 'Freedom National' is a levelheaded and at times startling story of the course of slavery's destruction during the American Civil War. While Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was an important step in the process, it is usually taken out of context; indeed, the Proclamation was actually a necessary part of the Second Confiscation Act passed by Congress the previous summer, and as such contained part of the language of t While dipping a bit into academic language sometimes (perhaps unavoidably), 'Freedom National' is a levelheaded and at times startling story of the course of slavery's destruction during the American Civil War. While Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was an important step in the process, it is usually taken out of context; indeed, the Proclamation was actually a necessary part of the Second Confiscation Act passed by Congress the previous summer, and as such contained part of the language of the Act. Oakes describes and explains the entire process, from the legislative and judicial actions, through to implementation by the military, the federal government, and by what would today be called 'non-governmental organizations), as well as by the slaves themselves and the reactions of the slave state politicians both inside and outside the Confederacy. The book in some ways reinforces (though far more comprehensively) the message sent by the recent Spielberg movie on Lincoln; the Emancipation Proclamation was a necessary step along the way, but it was far from either the first move or the final one, and that the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery was the true death-knell of the 'peculiar institution,' even more so than Union armies marching through the South-- which may have emancipated up to 15% of the Confederacy's slaves at most, despite all efforts. Not light reading, but very important and very eye-opening, even for those familiar with the subject.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Brandon Abraham

    Oakes avoids overemphasizing prewar abolitionism, thereby bringing a clear focus on how a wartime policy of pressuring the secessionists with military emancipation embodied in the First and Second Confiscation Acts eventually led to both the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment. This analysis is critical, as it allows readers to understand exactly how Lincoln and congressional Republicans were able to mold and shape wartime policy toward slavery in order to restore the Union, a Oakes avoids overemphasizing prewar abolitionism, thereby bringing a clear focus on how a wartime policy of pressuring the secessionists with military emancipation embodied in the First and Second Confiscation Acts eventually led to both the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment. This analysis is critical, as it allows readers to understand exactly how Lincoln and congressional Republicans were able to mold and shape wartime policy toward slavery in order to restore the Union, and, in so doing, to transform Northern public opinion from supporting limited emancipation due to the exigencies of war to a general emancipation permanently abolishing slavery in the United States.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Colleen Browne

    Masterful! Oakes has done the "network" for all those who have failed to do it in the past. He presents the history of the destruction of slavery with a short summary of the history of abolitionism in the country, to Butlers emancipation order through to the Emancipation, to the 13th Amendment. This book should be required reading for all students of 19th Century American history. The writing is lucid and there is never a dull moment. If I could award this book more than the five stars, I would Masterful! Oakes has done the "network" for all those who have failed to do it in the past. He presents the history of the destruction of slavery with a short summary of the history of abolitionism in the country, to Butlers emancipation order through to the Emancipation, to the 13th Amendment. This book should be required reading for all students of 19th Century American history. The writing is lucid and there is never a dull moment. If I could award this book more than the five stars, I would do it. I have now added this book to my list of must read volumes on the Civil War.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Roger Bridges

    This is the best discussion of the Emancipation Proclamation I have seen

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dale

    A Review of the Audiobook Published by Gildan Media, LLC in 2012 Read by Sean Pratt Duration: 18 hours, 54 minutes Unabridged James Oakes takes a unique look at the Civil War in this history - through the lens of the anti-slavery movement. I have read more than 200 Civil War histories and almost all of them cover this part of the story - but, just in bits and pieces. Oakes looks at the anti-slavery movement from its roots in the Revolutionary War era and moves forward with the different Abolitionist a A Review of the Audiobook Published by Gildan Media, LLC in 2012 Read by Sean Pratt Duration: 18 hours, 54 minutes Unabridged James Oakes takes a unique look at the Civil War in this history - through the lens of the anti-slavery movement. I have read more than 200 Civil War histories and almost all of them cover this part of the story - but, just in bits and pieces. Oakes looks at the anti-slavery movement from its roots in the Revolutionary War era and moves forward with the different Abolitionist arguments until they finally stumbled upon the concept of "freedom national". The argument is over the standard, default setting of the slavery issue. Was slavery legal everywhere, except where it was specifically abolished, or was it illegal everywhere, except for where it was specifically made legal? Or, in shorthand - was it "freedom national" or "slavery national"? This book puts the lie to the idea that the Civil War was over taxes, tariffs or anything else but slavery. This book demonstrates that so much time, energy and effort was expended over how to deal with the slavery issue by both sides that, if it weren't the biggest question of the war, why was there so much constant uproar over it? Slavery was both the carrot and the stick in the Emancipation Proclamation. Slavery would be preserved if the areas in rebellion returned to the fold (the carrot), or it would be the slaves in those areas would be forever free and those slaves could be turned into Union soldiers to use against the Confederacy. Almost as soon as the war started, it became obvious that the Confederacy's slaves were both an asset and a liability. They were an asset because they were a built-in workforce that would keep the fields in production (and some factories) while the armies were in the field. But, they were a liability because their owners feared an uprising, they were mobile and if they fled to Union lines they could be an invaluable source of military intelligence. But, Lincoln faced a unique challenge that the Confederacy never faced - how ... Read more at: http://dwdsreviews.blogspot.com/2018/...

  19. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    The best thing about this book, which in my mind definitively proves the Civil War was one fought over slavery, is when Oakes makes the point that, whereas the Union's PURPOSE may have been to reunite the Union, the CAUSE of the war was due to increasingly untenable conflicts over the institution of slavery. The North elected a president whose goal was to strangle slavery to death in the South, so the South seceded in order to preserve their class and labor system, based around slavery, and the The best thing about this book, which in my mind definitively proves the Civil War was one fought over slavery, is when Oakes makes the point that, whereas the Union's PURPOSE may have been to reunite the Union, the CAUSE of the war was due to increasingly untenable conflicts over the institution of slavery. The North elected a president whose goal was to strangle slavery to death in the South, so the South seceded in order to preserve their class and labor system, based around slavery, and the political importance of its extension into the territories. Oakes gives a detailed but completely understandable and very legible account of the laws that went into forming slave policy in the Union, including critical constitutional debates over the meaning of property and the way war powers granted by the Constitution allowed the Union to confiscate property. He traces the evolution of emancipation laws into abolition laws and ultimately the Thirteenth Amendment, navigating the labyrinth of policy without losing the reader along the way. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested not only in the legal rode to abolition but in the immediate causes of the Civil War.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Justin Dillehay

    Gripping account of how slavery was abolished during the Civil War. Oakes argues that at least for the Republican Party, the shift from a war to preserve the Union to a war to destroy slavery is not as pronounced as the conventional view asserts. From the get-go, the Republicans saw slavery as the cause of the war, and destroying slavery as (though not the purpose of the war) a necessary means to ending the war and restoring the Union. (The Democrats fought them every step of the way.) Consequen Gripping account of how slavery was abolished during the Civil War. Oakes argues that at least for the Republican Party, the shift from a war to preserve the Union to a war to destroy slavery is not as pronounced as the conventional view asserts. From the get-go, the Republicans saw slavery as the cause of the war, and destroying slavery as (though not the purpose of the war) a necessary means to ending the war and restoring the Union. (The Democrats fought them every step of the way.) Consequently, Oakes argues that the South was not acting irrationally or out of paranoia when they seceded--they were simply taking Republicans at their word. The irrational part was simply that secession allowed the Republicans to accomplish much more quickly what would have taken much longer.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Zachariah

    Holy shit, I did it. My uncle have me a book and I actually read the thing. This was fantastic and well researched if a bit repetitive at times (especially the first 100 pages). The biggest shock was how much more Congress did than Lincoln. And the history of the Border States! I would have been much more interested in the Civil War if I knew Missouri was having it's own mini civil war at the same time.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bubba

    Just when you think there is nothing new to write about this period in history, a book like this comes along and proves you wrong. This book should be required reading in college classes covering this period.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Joel Foster

    A well-written, engaging account of the thinking behind the abolitionist movement and the gradual and concrete steps the federal legislature, the president and the military took to effect the freedom of enslaved Africans during the Civil War.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    eedom National is an exhaustive study of the destruction of slavery in the United States. Author James Oakes traces the development and application of a constitutional theory of abolition that originated in Europe and England and eventually became mainstream Republican thought. Mr. Oakes then shows how this theory guided the anti-slavery actions of Republicans from the civil war to ratification of the thirteenth amendment. Mr. Oakes presents an argument originally developed by abolitionists that eedom National is an exhaustive study of the destruction of slavery in the United States. Author James Oakes traces the development and application of a constitutional theory of abolition that originated in Europe and England and eventually became mainstream Republican thought. Mr. Oakes then shows how this theory guided the anti-slavery actions of Republicans from the civil war to ratification of the thirteenth amendment. Mr. Oakes presents an argument originally developed by abolitionists that since our constitution is based in natural law and since holding a property in man violates natural law, that chattel slavery -- the right of property in people -- is not natural and can only exist where legislation has been passed to create it. The constitution does not do so -- it only speaks of a servile status, of "persons held in service", not of a property in people. Because the constitution does not sanction slavery, it can only exist within states that passed legislation to specifically authorize it. Hence, freedom is national and slavery is only legal locally. Most history restates President Lincoln's promises not to interfere with slavery in the states where it existed and portrays the southern states as acting rashly, but the author shows that Republican policies, based on a constitutional theory of abolition, would have created a cordon around the slave states and was intended to bring about the eventual elimination of slavery. As the author notes, "Historians often treat (Southern) rhetoric as though it were a species of hysteria...when in fact all the secessionists did was take Republicans at their word". Like many people, I have always heard two conflicting views of the Emancipation Proclamation. One is that Lincoln's proclamation (issued on Jan 1, 1863 -- 150 years ago yesterday) freed all slaves. The other view is that the proclamation didn't actually free anybody. Mr. Oakes shows that both views are wrong. Emancipation actually began in 1861 when General Butler welcomed runaway slaves (as "contrabands") at Fort Monroe. In time, using the theory of military emancipation and with the consent of congress, slaves were being freed throughout the country. Enslaved people were not waiting for proclamations -- they were freeing themselves. The view that the proclamation did not free anyone may be technically true, but is cynical; the author shows how the proclamation put enormous pressure both on the border states and areas the union already occupied to eliminate slavery on their own. The author also shows that since emancipation was a military action, Lincoln and the Republicans were afraid that the south would try to enslave black people unless there was a constitutional ban. (Even though slavery was made illegal, the post war south was in fact able to re-implement defacto slavery. See Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II.) There is a mythical view of President Lincoln as "The Great Emancipator". Mr. Oakes takes nothing away from Lincoln and his cabinet but he does an excellent job of peeling back what I've heard called the "Lincolnification" of emancipation and the destruction of slavery. There were many people involved in ending slavery in the United States but today we hear very little about most of them: abolitionist constitutional theorists who set the stage by developing the legal arguments against slavery and in support of military emancipation; the US Army which took in thousands of runaway slaves (and their families) and put them to work for the union cause; the US Congress which passed the "Confiscation Acts" which promoted freedom and authorized the President to issue the Emancipation Proclamation; and many thousands of enslaved people who risked their lives to make for Union lines, who supplied the US Army with invaluable military intelligence and who personally fought for their freedom. Mr. Oakes has taken a "deep dive" into the destruction of slavery. This is not a book for the casual reader, but it is excellent if you are interested in mid-19th century US history. This is really a masterful work.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Philip

    Slavery is an ugly blot on America’s claim to exceptionalism. To many abolitionists it was simply a moral disgrace and should be swept away. But there were Constitutional impediments which made this inconceivable. The Constitution granted states the right to make laws that were not otherwise forbidden by it. Property rights and states’ rights were so revered in political thought of the early Republic that very few believed the Federal government could end slavery by law. The U.S. Constitution does Slavery is an ugly blot on America’s claim to exceptionalism. To many abolitionists it was simply a moral disgrace and should be swept away. But there were Constitutional impediments which made this inconceivable. The Constitution granted states the right to make laws that were not otherwise forbidden by it. Property rights and states’ rights were so revered in political thought of the early Republic that very few believed the Federal government could end slavery by law. The U.S. Constitution doesn't speak about "slaves" or "slavery" but about "persons held in servitude". This was deliberate. It was an attempt to avoid any recognition of slavery as a national institution. The Constitution allowed states to define property as they saw fit. And it was the definition of some persons as property that was the core of the problem. The Constitution promised to protect private property, even if that property were “slaves”. The early effort to end slavery before the Civil War was therefore essentially an effort to determine when a "slave" might fall under the authority of the U.S. Constitution and thus become a "free person". A mutiny on a slave ship at sea was such a case. Slavery was a state institution. Few at the time saw any chance of removing slavery from the states which sanctioned it. There was to be "no Federal interference" with state slavery. The attitude was "Freedom National, Slavery Sectional.” This book details the many efforts to contain slavery to the “slave states” with the expectation that it would die out because it could grow no further. The Civil War introduced the notion of “military emancipation” justified as confiscating an enemy’s resources. This complicated the relationship with the five “loyal” slave states (the Border States). Lincoln very likely resisted an “Emancipation Proclamation” until he felt a consensus had grown up that emancipation was essential to winning the war. This is a fascinating book, full of detail that rarely gets exposure.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jay

    Excellent. Professor Oakes traces the little-understood (quite surprising in light of the thousands of books and articles written on the subject) arc of emancipation. What's new, is a discussion of all of the successful efforts made by Lincoln and the Republican Party (emancipation was not the single act of a single man, Oakes convincingly argues) prior to the President's Proclamation of January 1, 1863. There is no reluctant or tardy reformer here. Oakes presents Lincoln as a committed and dedi Excellent. Professor Oakes traces the little-understood (quite surprising in light of the thousands of books and articles written on the subject) arc of emancipation. What's new, is a discussion of all of the successful efforts made by Lincoln and the Republican Party (emancipation was not the single act of a single man, Oakes convincingly argues) prior to the President's Proclamation of January 1, 1863. There is no reluctant or tardy reformer here. Oakes presents Lincoln as a committed and dedicated social reformer when he left Springfield for Washington...which is why the slaveholders took the South out of the Union before the Inauguration, sparking the Civil War.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Graham

    A good, concise look at the politics and practice of emancipation in the Civil War. Oakes is very firm about ending with only a hint of what was coming, covering just enough time for the final ratification of the 13th Amendment but otherwise not discussing the post-war issues. He works hard to counter the usual narrative of the Emancipation Proclamation, to the extent that I think he over emphasized the operation of the First and Second Confiscation Acts. It's a good corrective to place more emp A good, concise look at the politics and practice of emancipation in the Civil War. Oakes is very firm about ending with only a hint of what was coming, covering just enough time for the final ratification of the 13th Amendment but otherwise not discussing the post-war issues. He works hard to counter the usual narrative of the Emancipation Proclamation, to the extent that I think he over emphasized the operation of the First and Second Confiscation Acts. It's a good corrective to place more emphasis on them. But he could have stressed the limited number of slaves freed by them earlier in the narrative than he did.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Martin

    A comprehensive political history of the rise and eventual triumph of anti-slavery politics in the United States. What I learned: the extent to which re-enslavement was a real possibility -- at least in the minds of both slavery supporters and opponents -- as both the election of 1864 and end of the war approached. That is one reason why the Thirteenth Amendment was deemed necessary by Lincoln and the Republicans. Also, the inadequacy of state abolition and military emancipation drove Republican A comprehensive political history of the rise and eventual triumph of anti-slavery politics in the United States. What I learned: the extent to which re-enslavement was a real possibility -- at least in the minds of both slavery supporters and opponents -- as both the election of 1864 and end of the war approached. That is one reason why the Thirteenth Amendment was deemed necessary by Lincoln and the Republicans. Also, the inadequacy of state abolition and military emancipation drove Republicans to pass the Thirteenth Amendment by the slimmest of margins in the House with the indispensable support of a handful of Democrats, almost all of whom were lame ducks with little to lose.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Well written and very readable look at the destruction of slavery during the civil war. Good background on the constitutional arguments in favor of and in opposition to abolition. The author presents a convincing case that the traditional view that abolitionism was solely the position a few radicals and that it only became a war goal when it became a military necessity is false. The only reason I give it four stars rather than five is that I think it becomes repetitive in places. But other than Well written and very readable look at the destruction of slavery during the civil war. Good background on the constitutional arguments in favor of and in opposition to abolition. The author presents a convincing case that the traditional view that abolitionism was solely the position a few radicals and that it only became a war goal when it became a military necessity is false. The only reason I give it four stars rather than five is that I think it becomes repetitive in places. But other than that small complaint, I'd highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the civil war era.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Bob Groendyke

    Read this after seeing the movie Lincoln. It fills out the history of anti-slavery policy in the US. The Emancipation Proclamation didn't just pop up out of nowhere, and Lincoln shouldn't get most of the credit, he was part of a group (Republicans) shaping policies and laws. The passage of 13th Amendment as portrayed in the movie wasn't the first time the amendment was voted on, it had been defeated earlier.

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