"The Fiery Trial" delves deeply into Lincoln's views on slavery, and traces his attitudes as they evolve from his early years right up through his last speech as President. As it is often assumed that Lincoln was an abolitionist, this book shows clearly that he was not. In fact, his views on African Americans would shock most Americans today. But Foner also clearly shows that Lincoln was a man of growth and he was not afraid to change his views as reality presented itself. The book will surprise most of us whose history of the Civil War goes no further than what we've learned in grade school. For example, the famous Emancipation Proclamation surprisingly did not free all the slaves in the Union at once. Those in the border states who had not seceded from the Union (as well as some isolated places elsewhere) got to keep their slaves. It was only late in the War that Lincoln realized this would not work and advocated for an amendment to end slavery completely. For anyone interested in Civil War history, this book is a must in understanding the complicated role slavery played in the Civil War and Lincoln's thoughts. "The Fiery Trial," however, is written as a popular history book. It is not written in the fashionable narrative style that so many authors use today. It is well written and well-researched, but it will not flow like a novel, if that is what you are looking for. However, it is extremely informative and well worth the effort of reading. I would definitely recommend if you have an interest in American history and race relations. I think this book should be essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the unique history that has brought the United States to where it is today.
Lydia Maria Child, the abolitionist and women's rights advocate, wrote of Lincoln shortly before his death, "with all his deficiencies, it must be admitted that he has grown continuously; and considering how slavery had weakened and perverted the moral sense of the whole country, it was great good luck to have the people elect a man who was willing to grow."
This, in a sense, is the essence of what made Lincoln great - his capacity for growth, his willingness to change, his open-mindedness. Lincoln was as much a product of his era as any man and he shared many of his countrymen's prejudices concerning the slaves. Was he a racist? As we would understand the term today, almost certainly. He was not born an abolitionist. Whilst he may have believed slavery a moral wrong and believed every man entitled to his freedom, he did not consider African-Americans the social equal of whites. He did not share many of the views of the Radical Republicans and did not set out at the beginning of his presidency to preside over the break-up of slavery.
And yet Lincoln freed the slaves. Lincoln has come down through history as the Great Emancipator. And it is to the endless fortune of America that 'cometh the hour, cometh the man'. In this masterful book, Eric Foner charts the evolution of Lincoln's beliefs regarding slavery and the slaves - from his early talks on the evils of slavery, tempered with the insistence that the slave was not his social or political equal, through to the Emancipation Proclamation and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, granting freedom now and forever to the slaves.
This is a deserved Pulitzer winner, blowing away the cobwebs of myth and legend that have accumulated around Lincoln's presidency, showing his beliefs and prejudices in a honest light. Lincoln was no saint, but he comes across as a better man for that, a man with the capacity to recognise his own shortcomings and rise above them, for the enduring benefit of his country.
“Fiery Trial” is the tale of Abraham Lincoln’s evolving stand on slavery. Beginning as a young man who knew few, if any, Negroes, Lincoln passed through the phase of opposing the extension of slavery to favoring its abolition with emigration to eventual openness to the admission of Freed Negroes to American society.
Lincoln’s development occurred in the body politic in which he lived. That body affected Lincoln and was shaped by him. Author Eric Foner delves into evidence of the reasons for the positions Lincoln adopted along the way. He studies how the Central Illinois incubator of Lincoln’s career shaped his early views, both from the air he breathed and votes he sought. He explores the origins of the premise that whites and blacks could not coexist in one country and how that premise made emigration of freedmen a necessary part of any emancipation scheme. He goes on to explore how the shifting winds of the war blew emigration off the table and deprived the south of its real chance of emerging from the War with its peculiar institution intact. Lincoln’s agonizing over the legality of the Emancipation Proclamation is shown as reflecting uncertain future of slavery in a post-war nation.
I think that this book does an excellent job in depicting the multiple facets that made slavery and its eradication such a complicated dilemma for the men who struggled with it. Foner’s writing style holds the readers interest through the anecdotal stories and in depth analysis. “The Fiery Trial” is an aid in understanding this core issue of our great national schism.