The Fiery Trial

The Fiery Trial       by Eric Foner

FieryTrial

I had great expectations when I began to read this Pulitzer prize-winning documentary which focuses on Lincoln’s gradual decision to announce the Emancipation Proclamation. I was disappointed that Lincoln’s personality doesn’t come through. Although the book details how Lincoln’s thinking on the issue gradually evolves and changes, I didn’t see his emotions or get a sense of knowing him or “being there.”

I was interested to learn that Lincoln did not envision a multi-racial America but intended for freed slaves to form colonies in Liberia or in Central America. Many black abolitionists opposed this idea and Frederick Douglass declared that “No one idea has given rise to more oppression and persecution to the colored people of this country than that which makes African, not America, their home.”

Lincoln eventually abandons this idea. Universal suffrage was another issue over which he was troubled. Emancipating the slaves was morally right and Lincoln believed the framers of the Constitution intended that all men were equal. Early on, Lincoln insisted that all the black troops that fought for the Union be given voting rights. This is not to say that Lincoln advocated voting rights for all black Americans.

Foner tells us that, though originally hesitant to employ black regiments, he was so impressed with their valor and success that “his sense of blacks’ relationship to the nation began to change.” Had Lincoln lived longer, he must have come to support giving the vote to all men.

I found much I hadn’t known before in Foner’s book. The greatness of Lincoln lies partly in his ability to listen to other people’s arguments, to evaluate  and to be willing to change his own thinking.

Although this book provides much detail about events and documents Lincoln’s shifting ideas, I found it a slow read. I wanted to hear more about Lincoln’s own heart, personal life  and inner struggle.

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