The larger-than-life image Abraham Lincoln projects across the screen of American history owes much to his role as the Great Emancipator during the Civil War. Yet this noble aspect of Lincoln's identity is precisely the dimension that some historians have cast into doubt.Read more...
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The larger-than-life image Abraham Lincoln projects across the screen of American history owes much to his role as the Great Emancipator during the Civil War. Yet this noble aspect of Lincoln's identity is precisely the dimension that some historians have cast into doubt. In a vigorous defense of America's sixteenth president, award-winning historian and Lincoln scholar Allen Guelzo refutes accusations of Lincoln's racism and political opportunism, while candidly probing the follies of contemporary cynicism and the constraints of today's unexamined faith in the liberating powers of individual autonomy.
Redeeming the Great Emancipator enumerates Lincoln's anti-slavery credentials, showing that a deeply held belief in the God-given rights of all people steeled the president in his commitment to emancipation and his hope for racial reconciliation. Emancipation did not achieve complete freedom for American slaves, nor was Lincoln entirely above some of the racial prejudices of his time. Nevertheless, his conscience and moral convictions far outweighed political calculations in ultimately securing freedom for black Americans.
Guelzo clarifies the historical record concerning what the Emancipation Proclamation did and did not accomplish. As a policy it was imperfect, but it was far from ineffectual, as some accounts of African American self-emancipation imply. To achieve liberation required interdependence across barriers of race and status. If we fail to recognize our debt to the sacrifices and ingenuity of all the brave men and women of the past, Guelzo says, then we deny a precious part of the American and, indeed, the human community.
- ISBN-13: 9780674286115
- ISBN-10: 0674286111
- Publisher: Harvard University Press
- Publish Date: February 2016
- Page Count: 208
Series: Nathan I. Huggins Lectures
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-12-07
- Reviewer: Staff
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 Lincolns statements and personality, noting that the problem with our apprehension of Lincolns 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 Lincolns 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. Guelzos exploration of Lincolns reputation is both accessible and thought provoking. (Feb.)