An insightful look at the sometimes uneasy collaboration, between the agitator and the emancipator, to end slavery and win the Civil War.
Had Lincoln died in 1857, the undistinguished, one-term ex-congressman and prairie lawyer would have been barely a footnote to history. Not so Frederick Douglass. By then, Douglass’s escape from slavery, his autobiography and his extensive lecturing had made him an international figure, perhaps the era’s foremost abolitionist. Amidst threats of Southern secession, Douglass declined to support Lincoln’s 1860 presidential bid, calling him “an excellent slave hound.” Douglass presciently assessed the contours of the coming Civil War (during which he met Lincoln three times) and saw how the “inexorable logic of events” would propel most of his activist agenda. Though slow to emancipate, reluctant to employ black troops and unwilling to make any firm commitment to giving the black man voting rights, Lincoln followed through on all, sometimes with Douglass’s advice and help. By 1864, Lincoln regarded Douglass as perhaps “the most meritorious man in the United States.” Understanding if not approving of Lincoln’s political high-wire act and recognizing that neither emancipation nor military victory was ever preordained, Douglass came to view the president as “swift, zealous, radical, and determined.” The Kendricks (Sarah’s Long Walk: The Free Blacks of Boston and How Their Struggle for Equality Changed America, 2004) beautifully assess the political and moral, and often conflicting, agendas of each man, but they excel, particularly in their treatment of Douglass, at personalizing one of the history’s most unlikely and effective political alliances. Along with James Oakes’s estimable The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics (2007), the Kendricks testify to the increasing interest in and historical imperative for linking in the popular imagination these two intensely private, entirely self-made men.
A wise and sensitive appreciation of the intersecting careers of two giants of American history.