The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

by Eric Foner

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“A masterwork [by] the preeminent historian of the Civil War era.”—Boston Globe

Selected as a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times Book Review, this landmark work gives us a definitive account of Lincoln's lifelong engagement with the nation's critical issue: American slavery. A master historian, Eric Foner draws Lincoln and the broader history of the period into perfect balance. We see Lincoln, a pragmatic politician grounded in principle, deftly navigating the dynamic politics of antislavery, secession, and civil war. Lincoln's greatness emerges from his capacity for moral and political growth.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393080827
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 09/26/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 303,626
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Eric Foner is the pre-eminent historian of the Civil War era. His teaching and scholarship have shaped our understanding of that pivotal period. His books have garnered every major award, including the Pulitzer Prize for The Fiery Trial, his study of Lincoln and American slavery. The DeWitt Clinton Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University, he also writes frequently for the Nation and other major periodicals. He lives in New York City.

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"[A] searching portrait." —-Publishers Weekly

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The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Make no mistake - the Fiery Trial is an engaging, well written work that makes a familiar subject exciting to read about. But upon finishing it I couldn't escape a feeling of let-down from everything that was promised. The author uses his prologue and opening chapter to make a bold and energizing pledge: he plans to give a frank examination of Abraham Lincoln's racial views and lifelong struggle around the issue of slavery. Shedding a century of egalitarian hagiography and explicitly avoiding excessive commentary on what others have interpreted into Lincoln's familiar words and actions, he instead proposes a "warts and all" dive into what quickly becomes a very complex subject matter. He takes up Lincoln in all his faults - his denunciation of racial egalitarianism in the 1858 Senate campaign, his slow and hesitant course of emancipation, his reluctance to take an early stance on civil rights, and his embrace of a scheme to deport the ex slaves to Liberia and Panama. These are not subject matters that many Lincoln biographers enjoy touching, even where they must for history's sake, because they are thorny. They don't fit the Lincoln ideal we all come to know as school children. But Foner makes no bones about his intent to touch them, and boldly so. But that's where the book loses its traction. For all the bravado of its introduction Foner simply fails to deliver. It only takes a few chapters for him to revert right back to the standard old line of an "evolving" Lincoln who starts out as an unrepentant (albeit slavery-hating) racist and experiences a miraculous conversion over the next four years through a harrowing little event called the Civil War, all wrapped up in a bow in the end. By the last page, we've gone from Lincoln the flawed and racist sinner to Lincoln the redeemed (and redeemer) in a plodding, successive, but must of all absolutely certain and positive evolution towards modern notions of justice and fairness and equality. It's all nice and pleasant sounding when done, except that Foner bends the facts to get there. For example, Lincoln's conversion to black voting rights was VERY passive and slight at its most generous reading. And Lincoln's vision of Reconstruction was a hugely deferential & conciliatory program that probably would have ended up much closer to Andrew Johnson than Benjamin Wade. Contra the author, Lincoln also never really gave up colonizing the slaves in Africa - he clung to the program to his dying day. There's plenty of evidence of this (see Lerone Bennett's work, which is admittedly biased and bomb-throwing but the underlying research is there, at least on these points). But Foner chooses mostly to ignore it and ends up with the pretty picture of Lincoln we all think we "know" and most of us certainly expect, even if it isn't a very realistic one. You should still read the book - it starts with a refreshing premise that needs to be stated, and asks questions that many other authors don't. But for all that promise, it ends on a sputter that's little different than any other example of the thousands of run-of-the-mill "Lincoln the Great Emancipator" biographies you can find in any book store.
James_Durney More than 1 year ago
We see Abraham Lincoln as "The Great Emancipator", who ended slavery in the United States of America. Lincoln's words describe and inspire us, remaining as current as the day they were spoke. We see Lincoln not as the man but as the larger than life occupant of the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln's 1860 nomination is not because he is or is thought to be "The Great Emancipator". Lincoln is a moderate on slavery and race, acceptable to both wings of the party. Abraham Lincoln's and Americans journey to emancipation is the subject of this excellent book. America faces serious divisions over slavery but very few over race. The wish to end slavery often did not include what to do with the former slaves. Northern states, with few slaves, accepted gradual emancipation and managed to tolerate their Black population. In the majority of Northern states Blacks could not vote, could not serve on a jury nor could they testify against a White person. Some Northern states essentially ban Blacks. In many more states, they are under server restrictions and required to post bonds to insure good conduct. Garrison said that Illinois is essentially a "slave state" due to the restrictive laws on Blacks. This is a book about race relations more than about slavery. The majority agreed that slavery is "bad" but cannot see a reasonable exit. Gradual Emancipation is an acceptable answer. Slaves born after a set date become free when they become n years old. The current slaves either remain slaves or become free after n years. This pushes the race problem away, leaving it for another generation to deal with. Immediate Emancipation ends slavery but has few answers to the race question. Colonization is a popular answer. Questions on transporting four million people to Africa or some other location is not answered. Nor is the question of how many Blacks voluntary will leave the United States. Black rights are the major problem. To avoid full citizenship, "rights" are subdivided into acceptable and unacceptable units. Natural rights, not being enslaved, being allowed to seek work and being secure in your person are acceptable because they enshrined in The Declaration of Independence. Political rights, being able to vote, serve on a jury or testify in court are questionable. The majority of Northern States say no to these rights. A few liberals accept "more intelligent Negros" as possible candidates for political rights. Social rights, being able to mix with whites as equals are not considered. Lincoln spends a good deal of his time answering Democratic attacks in this area. This is a history of Lincoln's journey from Wig to Republican, from gradual to immediate emancipation from colonization to political rights. America move along with Lincoln, one sometimes ahead of the other but both leading and encouraging the other. It is not an easy journey nor is it a quick one. Eric Forner is an excellent author and historian. This well-written book is informative and easy read. Forner is careful to maintain a balanced approach and never descends into bashing, Lincoln, America or the South. This should be a classic book on Lincoln and required reading.
billiecat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
We tend to think of Lincoln as the "Great Emancipator," single-handedly breaking the chains of millions of slaves. Of course it was nothing like that. This book shows how Lincoln evolved into this role, and how much he was pushed, pulled and prodded both by abolitionists and by the recalcitrance of slave-owners, into his policy on slavery. What I find so compelling about this book is how it places Lincoln in context as a politician and a 19th century man. The book is about Lincoln and his personal struggle with slavery, but it shows that struggle as part of the national scene, and how Lincoln both formed and was formed by that larger struggle. Well written, well documented, compelling and a worthy winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
jrpalin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lincoln is shown to be quite complicated in this very complete history of his attitude and actions towards slavery in America. Civil War enthusiasts will most likely enjoy the book's thorough treatment of the sixteenth president, but casual readers of history might be turned off by the book's level of detail. On one hand, the book demonstrates that relative to dominant opinion during his lifetime, Lincoln could be viewed as a true progressive. Yet, the author (Eric Foner, Columbia University) documents that Lincoln believed in constitutional protection for slavery, hoped for colonization for blacks rather than American citizenship and equality, and wasn't above telling racist jokes. Foner makes clear that Lincoln's views were certainly shaped to some extent by 19th-century political realities, which also perhaps slowed and limited Lincoln's ability to act on his natural anti-slavery tendencies. In the end, however, this fact remains: Lincoln the politician, by virtue of navigating to the presidency and by tactfully negotiating among demands from northeast radicals, Union military, his Cabinet, other valued opinions, popular sentiment, and his own beliefs, did more than any other to affect significant racial change in the developing America. The book reaffirms that all great presidents, and perhaps most great figures, must be judged in their totality. Certainly, from a civil rights perspective, Lincoln was a flawed person. Yet, Lincoln is a civil rights hero.
Schmerguls on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Since this book won the Pulitzer Prize for history this year and also the Bancroft Prize, I felt I had to read it. It is the 51st such Pulitzer winner I have read and the 33rd such Bancroft winner I have read. It is an excellent study of Lincoln's attitude to slavery, and shows his growth from the attitude common in his day to the role he attained as the Emancipator. I found the book eloquent and at time poignant, especially when echoing Lincoln's oratory on the subject while President. Linclon's Second Inaugural speech is surely one of the greatest speeches ever given. This book well deserves the prizes it has won
nbmars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Writing in the New York Times Book Review about this book, David S. Reynolds asked ¿Do we need yet another book on Lincoln¿.?¿ To summarize his answer, it is: yes, if the author is Eric Foner. I absolutely agree with that assessment.Foner is a first-rate historian and an expert on this period in history. His book on Reconstruction (Reconstruction: America¿s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877) is considered the standard, and is mesmerizing. For The Fiery Trial, Foner narrows his historical lenses to get to the heart of the controversy over Lincoln¿s stand on slavery: was he pulled along by northern radicals, or did he step out in front of them? Was his endless procrastination intentional for political reasons? Was he, in the final analysis, a racist?Before the Civil War, Foner contends, Lincoln expressed racial views typical of northerners of his time. That is, while he didn¿t believe in the institution of slavery, neither did he desire to associate with blacks. As he told a delegation of five black men invited to the White House in 1862:"... there is an unwillingness on the part of our people, harsh as it may be, for you free colored people to remain with us¿. I do not propose to discuss this, but to present it as a fact with which we have to deal. I cannot alter it if I would¿. It is better for us both, therefore, to be separated."Like Henry Clay, his political idol, Lincoln was in favor of colonization, i.e., sending blacks to live in ¿their native land¿ of Africa. (Although almost all blacks at this time were actually born in America, they were not considered to be ¿Americans¿ but rather, were thought of as aliens best situated elsewhere.)It took Lincoln a very long time to stop pushing for colonization. It was not until the middle of the Civil War that he finally gave up the idea. Foner explains that the evolution of Lincoln¿s thought on this matter occurred in part because by this time he had encountered quite a few intelligent blacks who disabused him of his prejudices; in part because of the valuable and courageous service of blacks on behalf of the Union in the Northern Army (some 200,000 by the war¿s end); and in part because blacks themselves had no interest in signing up for any colonization plan.Lincoln was also greatly influenced by some of the ¿radical republicans¿ in Congress, including Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, who in many ways is also a hero of this story.And indeed, this change in thinking by Lincoln demonstrates the core of why Foner considers Lincoln great: his capacity and willingness to change. As Foner emphasizes, on issue after issue, Lincoln came to occupy positions formulated by the abolitionists but previously rejected by him; his openness, and compassion, and intelligence allowed him to grow with the job and attain greatness.One explanation for why it took Lincoln so long to gravitate to the positions of the abolitionists was his belief in the sacredness of the law as the most important embodiment of the experiment of democracy in which America was engaged. Thus he always believed that - while he personally abhorred the institution - slavery was a matter for the states to address (unless of course a constitutional amendment altered that process). His objections to slavery all through the period prior to his presidential election only applied to new territories. Further, when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, it only applied to those states over which he could legitimately exercise war powers. Therefore, contrary to myth, not all slaves were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation; bondage in the north and in the border states was left undisturbed.Another factor was Lincoln's strategy for keeping the Union together and winning the war: as Commander-in-Chief, he was loathe to take any action that could drive the border states into the Confederacy. He also was careful not to alienate racist northern sold
Othemts on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Every year on or around Lincoln's Birthday I read a book about Abraham Lincoln, and this year I read this study about Lincoln's evolving views on slavery. Some people consider him the great emancipator while others think he was racist and never freed a slave. Both views have an aspect of truth. Foner shows that Lincoln was anti-slavery from early in his life but did not think freed black persons were equal or capable of living alongside white Americans. Until late in his Presidency he held true to a plan of colonization and resettlement of freed blacks in Africa or Latin America. Yet, even these views were modified over time as during his Presidency he was actually exposed to meeting and respecting black individuals on a regular basis. It's an interesting look at how a mind changes and how the country changes as Lincoln was often just a step ahead of popular opinion.
wildbill on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
enjoyed reading this book very much. It is well written and covers an interesting topic. Eric Foner knows the subject matter very well and the end of slavery in America is an uplifting story. Lincoln was able to bring to life the promise contained in the words of the Declaration of Independence. In contrast to the brutality of slavery and the war that ended it there was a real change for the good in the relationships between blacks and whites in America.( Unfortunately much that has come from this beginning has been very ugly.)Lincoln always maintained that he was naturally anti-slavery. Despite this he married into a family that owned slaves and included someone who was in the slave trade. There is no evidence of his anti-slavery feelings in his career as an attorney. It was only in the 1850's when he joined the Republican party that he showed his opposition to slavery.About one-third of the way through the book the House Divided speech is discussed. This speech brought Lincoln to the attention of Frederick Douglass and elevated his status in the Republican Party. Foner points out that Lincoln chose his words carefully in writing this speech. He opposed the extension of slavery without advocating abolitionism. Using the words of the Declaration of Independence Lincoln said the Negro had an equal right to the fruits of their labor which was denied by slavery.The Lincoln-Douglas debates made Lincoln a well known politician in the Northwest. Douglas was an able opponent who made Lincoln formulate responses to tough questions. In 1860 a speech at Cooper Union put Lincoln on the national stage. Lincoln worked very hard preparing his speech. The theme was that the Founding Fathers wanted to see control of the expansion of slavery leading to it's end. Lincoln wrote a scholarly speech to counter his image as an ignorant Westerner. The speech was immediately popular and was a factor in Lincoln getting the Republican nomination for President.Lincoln had served one term in Congress from 1846 to 1848. In 1854 His political career was dead in the water. As a Republican Lincoln attracted attention with his anti-slavery attitude without alarming voters. Seward and Salmon Chase were considered more radical on slavery than Lincoln.At the beginning of the Civil War Lincoln's attitude toward slavery was tempered by political necessities. In 1861 Lincoln was focused on keeping the border states in the Union. If Kentucky and Maryland seceded the South was likely to win the war. In 1861 and early 1862 Lincoln was promoting compensated emancipation and colonization as the way to end slavery. Generals John C. Fremont and David Hunter ordered immediate emancipation for slaves in areas under their control. Lincoln rescinded these proclamations.In the fall of 1862 Lincoln announced the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation and changed the focus of the war to ending slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation announced January 1, 1863 also provided for the enlistment of black soldiers in the Union army. Foner has a map which shows that contrary to what I thought there were some slaves freed by the Proclamation. Emancipation grew stronger with a provision that the families of blacks enlisted in the Union army would be freed. At the same time blacks in the army were guaranteed equal pay. As the war ended Lincoln began pushing for the right to vote for certain blacks.Lincoln lead the country from compensated emancipation in 1862 to Senate passage of a constitutional amendment ending slavery in April of 1864. The lack of cooperation from conservatives forced Lincoln to more radical measures to achieve emancipation. The war created a revolutionary situation and Lincoln's leadership provided the direction for changes the country has not yet caught up with. Prior to Sherman's capture of Atlanta Lincoln felt certain that he was going to lose the election of 1864. In the face of defeat he maintained his policy of emancipation. In his Second Inaugural Address Lincoln
rivkat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
History of Lincoln¿s relationship with slavery and to some extent with African-Americans. Lincoln never had much use for slavery, but he also began with very little use for African-Americans and supported colonization for a while as a solution to the slave problem. This changed over the course of the war. Foner emphasizes the extent to which the slaves liberated themselves, changing the facts on the ground and forcing the North to recognize that people who¿d been slaves were not going to go away when slavery did.
fig82 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very interesting book. The author conducts a thorough examination of Lincolns personal views and political policy positions on issues involving race and slavery. It's a journey that takes a look at how his views may have been initially formulated - and how/why his views and policy changed over time. Foner is an excellent writer - you can almost feel the personal struggle Lincoln goes through as he strives to keep the Union alive - which was clearly his initial goal of the war. We see Lincoln having to deal with intense political opposition, cognizant of having to appease public opinion to a degree- all the while actively running a Civil War that starts out horribly wrong for the Union. We also see his imperfections - such as his desire to "colonize" African-American slaves back to Africa or South America. But ultimately Lincoln issues the emancipation proclamation, delivers his Gettysburg address, and starts the talk of reconstruction.
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ChrisElOH More than 1 year ago
The Kindle edition of this book is $9.88. Why so much more for the Nook edition?
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Do not like
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Abadam hamlicon is amazing and so cool I so remmond this book