Freedom National by James Oakes
The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865

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Winner of the Lincoln Prize. “Oakes brilliantly succeeds in [clarifying] the aims of the war with a wholly new perspective.”—David Brion Davis, New York Review of Books

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.


About James Oakes

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James Oakes is a Distinguished Professor of History and Graduate School Humanities Professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author of several acclaimed works on the South and the Civil War, including The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics, winner of the Lincoln Prize. He and his family live in New York City.
Published December 10, 2012 by W. W. Norton & Company. 641 pages
Genres: History, War, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

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Proponents of the Liberty Party asserted that slavery was not a national institution, but peculiar to certain states and suitable to be “cordoned off,” thus underscoring the importance of the border states during the Civil War as “containment” of the slave contagion;

Sep 23 2012 | Read Full Review of Freedom National: The Destruc...

Publishers Weekly

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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.

Oct 08 2012 | Read Full Review of Freedom National: The Destruc...

Washington Independent Review of Books

He is on the board of directors of the Illinois State Historical Society and has written or edited 10 books on the American Civil War, including The Military Memoirs of General John Pope, Campaigning with Uncle Billy, The Civil War Memoirs of Sgt.

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