“Cruel, merciful; peace-loving, a fighter; despising Negroes and letting them fight and vote; protecting slavery and freeing slaves.” Abraham Lincoln was, W. E. B. Du Bois declared, “big enough to be inconsistent.” Big enough, indeed, for every generation to have its own Lincoln—unifier or emancipator, egalitarian or racist. In an effort to reconcile these views, and to offer a more complex and nuanced account of a figure so central to American history, this book focuses on the most controversial aspect of Lincoln’s thought and politics—his attitudes and actions regarding slavery and race. Drawing attention to the limitations of Lincoln’s judgment and policies without denying his magnitude, the book provides the most comprehensive and even-handed account available of Lincoln’s contradictory treatment of black Americans in matters of slavery in the South and basic civil rights in the North.
George Fredrickson shows how Lincoln’s antislavery convictions, however genuine and strong, were held in check by an equally strong commitment to the rights of the states and the limitations of federal power. He explores how Lincoln’s beliefs about racial equality in civil rights, stirred and strengthened by the African American contribution to the northern war effort, were countered by his conservative constitutional philosophy, which left this matter to the states. The Lincoln who emerges from these pages is far more comprehensible and credible in his inconsistencies, and in the abiding beliefs and evolving principles from which they arose. Deeply principled but nonetheless flawed, all-too-human yet undeniably heroic, he is a Lincoln for all generations.
Like all of Fredrickson's work, Big Enough to Be Inconsistent is marked by meticulous scholarship and a fair-minded evaluation of differing interpretations and pieces of evidence. It is balanced and insightful throughout.
Fredrickson wades into a controversial arena: was Lincoln a heroic emancipator or a racist who didn't care about slaves at all?...This brief book will be widely discussed by historians and will provide nonacademic readers a lucid introduction to some of the most heated debates about the 16th president.
With graceful and efficient expertise, Fredrickson deconstructs our rigid castings of Lincoln as either savior or racist. This exceptional book has that rare ability to make the less informed feel wise and the wise feel all the more discerning and learned.
Offers a lucid analysis of scholarship on that topic over recent decades. Lincoln has been depicted as everything from a pragmatic racist to a prudential abolitionist.
The cottage industry of books on Abraham Lincoln represents both a process of national hagiography and the impulse to deconstruct the myth of Honest Abe, the Great Emancipator. George Fredrickson, pioneer of the comparative method of historical study, aims in this slim book for a middle ground between those who hold to a vision of Lincoln as a saintly anti-slavery advocate (albeit one who bided his time, waiting for the perfect political moment to champion emancipation) and those who argue that Lincoln was, as many of his statements seem to indicate, a racist...This book, through its engagement with the complicated tensions around race at the time of the Civil War, also offers a valuable insight into the continuing history of racism and the racial divide in American today. The legacy of slavery and segregation still characterizes our society, occasionally dominating headlines but far more frequently remaining a ubiquitous subtext in private conversations and national discourse. The noble goal of Fredrickson's career was bringing such tension, and its ugly, tangled history, to the surface, so that we, his readers, can continue to repair our divided house.
For more than thirty years George Frederickson was a leading historian of race relations and racial ideologies in the United States and other multiracial societies...Frederickson's thorough research, original insights, common-sense interpretations, and lucid prose made him a historian's historian as well as a writer who reached a broad audience with several of his books...Big Enough to Be Inconsistent focuses more on Lincoln's own racial attitudes than on his policies toward slavery.
- 168 pages
- 4-3/8 x 7-1/8 inches
- Harvard University Press
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