I was given a copy of this book by HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.
Today's post is on Lincoln and the Abolitionists: John Quincy Adams, Slavery, and the Civil War by Fred Kaplan. It is 352 pages long and is published by HarperCollins. The cover is white with pictures of the different people that are discussed in this book on it. The intended reader is someone who is interested in American history and the people behind the myths. There is mild foul language, no sex, and violence in this book. There Be Spoilers Ahead.
From the dust jacket- The acclaimed biographer, with a thought-provoking exploration of how Abraham Lincoln’s and John Quincy Adams’ experiences with slavery and race shaped their differing viewpoints, provides both perceptive insights into these two great presidents and a revealing perspective on race relations in modern America.
Lincoln, who in afterlife became mythologized as the Great Emancipator, was shaped by the values of the white America into which he was born. While he viewed slavery as a moral crime abhorrent to American principles, he disapproved of anti-slavery activists. Until the last year of his life, he advocated "voluntary deportation," concerned that free blacks in a white society would result in centuries of conflict. In 1861, he had reluctantly taken the nation to war to save it. While this devastating struggle would preserve the Union, it would also abolish slavery—creating the biracial democracy Lincoln feared. John Quincy Adams, forty years earlier, was convinced that only a civil war would end slavery and preserve the Union. An antislavery activist, he had concluded that a multiracial America was inevitable.
Lincoln and the Abolitionists, a frank look at Lincoln, "warts and all," provides an in-depth look at how these two presidents came to see the issues of slavery and race, and how that understanding shaped their perspectives. In a far-reaching historical narrative, Fred Kaplan offers a nuanced appreciation of both these great men and the events that have characterized race relations in America for more than a century—a legacy that continues to haunt us all.
The book has a colorful supporting cast from the relatively obscure Dorcas Allen, Moses Parsons, Violet Parsons, Theophilus Parsons, Phoebe Adams, John King, Charles Fenton Mercer, Phillip Doddridge, David Walker, Usher F. Linder, and H. Ford Douglas to Elijah Lovejoy, Francis Scott Key, William Channing, Wendell Phillips, and Rufus King. The cast includes Hannibal Hamlin, Lincoln’s first vice president, and James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson, the two presidents on either side of Lincoln. And it includes Abigail Adams, John Adams, Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and Frederick Douglass, who hold honored places in the American historical memory.
The subject of this book is slavery and racism, the paradox of Lincoln, our greatest president, as an antislavery moralist who believed in an exclusively white America; and Adams, our most brilliant statesman, as an antislavery activist who had no doubt that the United States would become a multiracial nation. It is as much about the present as the past.
Review- Another interesting yet hard read from Kaplan. In this book I learned a lot of abolitionists, more about John Q. Adams, and a little about Lincoln. Lincoln is not the real focus of this book and that does not hurt it all, surprisingly. His policies are talked about and why he was not an abolitionist was discussed but he is not the real focus of this book. Abolitionism is the real focus of this book and what it meant in its time. Why so many Americans were afraid of abolitionists and of abolition itself was explained over the course of the narrative. But Kaplan does get bogged down in the details. He wants to give as complete a picture as possible and the book does suffer for that in parts. The Civil War itself is talked in only sixty pages of this almost 400 page book and the notes are excellent if you want to do more personal research. A solid if exhausting read.
I give this book a Three out of Five stars.