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Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America
Allen C. Guelzo
Simon & Schuster, 2004
352 pp., $26.00
by Lucas E. Morel
The Lonely Emancipator
"White skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President." Thus spake Toni Morrison, the first black American Nobel laureate for literature—and she wasn't talking about Abraham Lincoln. Back in the day, she and most black Americans might have spoken of Lincoln this way, with his portrait holding a place of honor in their homes. But decades of historical debunking, revisionist interpretation, and multicultural accommodations have made doubting "Lincoln the Emancipator" both an academic reflex and an increasingly commonplace opinion.
Allen C. Guelzo will have none of this. The Grace F. Kea Professor of American History at Eastern College and co-winner of the Lincoln Prize for his marvelous 1999 biography, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President, seeks to shore up Lincoln's reputation by writing a magisterial account of how Lincoln's emancipation moment became America's emancipation moment. The candid reader of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation must conclude that while various individuals, organizations, and institutions set the stage for the liberation of four million black Americans, Abraham Lincoln proved to be abolition's indispensable man.
Guelzo argues that Lincoln deserves the title "Great Emancipator" not just because he freed and enlisted slaves as part of the Union war effort, but also because of his steadfast concern that whatever was done for the enslaved black be done with lasting results. Prior to the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865, which was inconceivable before the Civil War, Lincoln thought the surest road to emancipation was for states to adopt gradual, compensated emancipation programs. But despite repeated appeals to the so-called "border" slave states throughout his presidency, which included financial incentives from the federal government, he was rebuffed. So by July of 1862, he drafted a federal alternative that he hoped would pass constitutional muster.
Guelzo's argument is summed up by his book's seemingly innocuous title. It was Lincoln's ...