Cover: Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory, from Harvard University PressCover: Emancipating Lincoln in HARDCOVER

Emancipating Lincoln

The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory

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Product Details


$27.00 • £19.95 • €24.50

ISBN 9780674064409

Publication: February 2012


256 pages

5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches

29 halftones

The Nathan I. Huggins Lectures


Lincoln published a preliminary proclamation on September 22, 1862, warning Confederate states of his intention to issue a final edict on January 1… Holzer argue[s] persuasively that the progression of events during that critical autumn of the war were full of contingencies and that the final outcome was by no means certain… Provide[s] detailed and careful renderings of these events and of Lincoln’s intellectual journey.—James M. McPherson, The New York Review of Books

Holzer’s book brilliantly and quite convincingly aims to restore Lincoln’s place as a courageous American civil rights pioneer by considering the 16th president’s actions, attitudes, and the Emancipation Proclamation itself within the political, military, and racial context of the time… In putting Lincoln’s greatest achievement in historical context, Holzer has done the Emancipator, and historical scholarship in general, a valuable service.—Chuck Leddy, The Boston Globe

Perhaps Holzer’s most outstanding recent work is Emancipating Lincoln. Compact and precise—just 172 pages of text and 23 pages of notes—the book is a model of lucid historical writing. There is probably no important document in our country’s history that even Civil War students know so little about than the Emancipation Proclamation.—Allen Barra, The Daily Beast

Emancipating Lincoln is a long-overdue contextual analysis of Lincoln’s evolving emancipation program and its place in historical memory. Holzer, an authority on Lincoln…pinpoints when, why and how the president moved toward freeing the slaves.—John David Smith, The Charlotte Observer

What emerges from Holzer’s research is a portrait of Lincoln as a man of vision who was adept at manipulating the news media. He was also discreet, even with his friends (both political and personal)… Holzer describes Lincoln’s care in selecting the proper words, the right timing and the right context to effect the enactment of the proclamation. The portrait that emerges is one of a leader able to build consensus during the development of an important policy and in the middle of a war.—Michael L. Ramsey, The Roanoke Times

Crucial insights into Lincoln’s dodgy and downright dissembling strategy in formulating and promulgating the Proclamation during the darkest months of the Civil War are brightly illuminated by Harold Holzer on the eve of the document’s 150th anniversary. Holzer, a Lincoln scholar and vice president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, puts the fine points on the limited declaration, and embellishes the effect it produced through an excursion into the iconography, art and memorials depicting ‘The Great Emancipator.’ …In fusing the politics and the ‘art’ of the Proclamation, Holzer adds handsomely to the Lincoln canon with this modest but highly insightful work.—Jonathan E. Lazarus, The Star-Ledger [Newark, NJ]

Holzer’s tripartite narrative deals first with the historical context of the Proclamation, laying out Lincoln’s exquisitely difficult political, legal, moral and martial calculations as he gradually widened his circle of confidants, labored to manipulate public opinion and slyly prepared the nation for his momentous decision. He spent months refining the announcement released after Antietam and steadfastly signed the promised executive order. The author then moves to a discussion of the Proclamation’s rhetorical deficiencies (Richard Hofstadter said it contained ‘all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading’), explains why our most eloquent president wrote so uncharacteristically and points us to contemporaneous speeches and letters for the ‘poetic accompaniment’ to what was, after all, preeminently a legal document. Finally, Holzer turns to the iconography surrounding Lincoln and emancipation, tracing images from the early kneeling-slave, peculiarly disconcerting to modern audiences, on through to treatments by contemporary artists such as Rauschenberg, Basquiat and Kara Walker. This visual evidence effectively underscores his larger point about our troublesome, still evolving understanding of the Proclamation’s place in our history. A fine introduction to what promises in 2013 to become a nationwide discussion.Kirkus Reviews

In this readable and revealing book, renowned Lincoln scholar Holzer investigates the process whereby Lincoln drafted, vetted, and presented the Emancipation Proclamation and also the ways people have come to understand and use the proclamation for myriad purposes. Especially important is Holzer’s demonstration that Lincoln wrapped the proclamation’s revolutionary promise in ‘leaden’ legal language to ensure its Constitutionality and its palatability to loyal slaveholders, Northerners, and others still uneasy with the prospect of ending slavery. Also instructive is Holzer’s examination of the Lincoln image as the ‘Great Emancipator’ and the kneeling slave motif in picture, sculpture, and imagination, which images have contrasted with the more contested ones of Lincoln in print. The result is a book that through close textual analysis and attention to historical context gives the Emancipation Proclamation its due and shows Lincoln as a deft politician and prose master who understood how to fit the language to the moment and thereby realize a promise for all time. Highly recommended for anyone wanting to learn about how freedom came to be.—Randall M. Miller, Library Journal (starred review)

Tracing the history of the iconography of Lincoln and the Proclamation, Holzer deftly leads readers through American racial politics from the Civil War to the election of President Obama… Images of the Proclamation and political cartoons shed light on the text and its reception in 1863.Publishers Weekly

As the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation approaches, Harold Holzer has given us a splendid book that provides essential historical framing for the document, its reception, and the trajectory of Abraham Lincoln’s reputation as the Great Emancipator. A most enjoyable and informative read.—Gary W. Gallagher, author of The Confederate War and The Union War

A succinct, readable, and essential guide to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University

With a refreshing blend of analytical rigor and common sense, Harold Holzer places the Emancipation Proclamation in the context of its own time and circumstances, showing how Lincoln prepared public opinion for this controversial act, grounded it in his legal powers as commander in chief, and promoted its growing acceptance with eloquent paeans to freedom as a goal of the Civil War. This is a welcome new study of the Proclamation.—James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom and Abraham Lincoln

Holzer uncovers a complex, imperfect man who was guided by practical considerations as he struggled to both preserve and perfect the Union. A welcome, balanced, and necessary addition to Lincoln scholarship.—Edna Greene Medford, Howard University