Cover image for Freedom national : the destruction of slavery in the United States, 1861-1865
Freedom national : the destruction of slavery in the United States, 1861-1865
Oakes, James.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton & Co., 2013.
Physical Description:
xxiv, 595 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 21 cm
Traces the history of emancipation and its impact on the Civil War, discussing how Lincoln and the Republicans fought primarily for freeing slaves throughout the war, not just as a secondary objective in an effort to restore the country.
"Ultimate extinction" -- "Disunion is abolition" -- "Fulfillment of the prophecies" -- August 8, 1861 : emancipation begins -- The Border States -- "Self-emancipation" -- "By the act of Congress they are clearly free" -- "A cordon of freedom" -- The "preliminary" proclamation -- The Emancipation Proclamation -- "The system yet lives" -- "Our fathers were mistaken" -- Was freedom enough?

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E453 .O13 2013 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E453 .O13 2013 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
E453 .O13 2013 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E453 .O13 2013 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Freedom National is a groundbreaking history of emancipation that joins the political initiatives of Lincoln and the Republicans in Congress with the courageous actions of Union soldiers and runaway slaves in the South. It shatters the widespread conviction that the Civil War was first and foremost a war to restore the Union and only gradually, when it became a military necessity, a war to end slavery. These two aims--"Liberty and Union, one and inseparable"--were intertwined in Republican policy from the very start of the war.

By summer 1861 the federal government invoked military authority to begin freeing slaves, immediately and without slaveholder compensation, as they fled to Union lines in the disloyal South. In the loyal Border States the Republicans tried coaxing officials into gradual abolition with promises of compensation and the colonization abroad of freed blacks. James Oakes shows that Lincoln's landmark 1863 proclamation marked neither the beginning nor the end of emancipation: it triggered a more aggressive phase of military emancipation, sending Union soldiers onto plantations to entice slaves away and enlist the men in the army. But slavery proved deeply entrenched, with slaveholders determined to re-enslave freedmen left behind the shifting Union lines. Lincoln feared that the war could end in Union victory with slavery still intact. The Thirteenth Amendment that so succinctly abolished slavery was no formality: it was the final act in a saga of immense war, social upheaval, and determined political leadership.

Fresh and compelling, this magisterial history offers a new understanding of the death of slavery and the rebirth of a nation.

Author Notes

James Oakes is the author of several acclaimed books on slavery and the Civil War. His history of emancipation, Freedom National, won the Lincoln Prize and was longlisted for the National Book Award. He is Distinguished Professor of History and Graduate School Humanities Professor at the Graduate Center, CUNY.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Long before the Civil War, the age of emancipation was marked by antislavery movements throughout the Caribbean empire and the British ban on slavery. Historian Oakes details how the U.S., despite its heritage of freedom, was much slower to adopt a national ideal of freedom, drudging through a long, painful, and very complicated process that did not necessarily have to lead to the Thirteenth Amendment. The greatest obstacle to antislavery efforts was the constitutional protection of slavery in states where it existed. Fervent debates about how to end slavery included directives to isolate the South, offer incentives and compensation, or exercise the military option that meant immediate emancipation and no compensation. Oakes examines the history of the antislavery movement, slave resistance, Lincoln's political machinations, the Republican Party, the Civil War, and the revisionist history of the intent of the political players in the 1800s as seen through more modern perspectives. This is an absorbing look at the complex process of emancipation and the forces behind the incentives and threats and the war that eventually led to the end of slavery in the U.S.--Bush, Vanessa Copyright 2010 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Eliminating slavery proved harder "than anyone first imagined," writes Oakes (The Radical and the Republican), professor of history at the CUNY Graduate Center, in this richly satisfying account. Ironically, the Constitution was "one of the most formidable obstacles to abolition-"enlightenment economics taught that slavery would eventually disappear, so the Founding Fathers felt little was lost in placating southern states by writing protections into the document. As deferent to the Constitution as their opponents, Republicans never supported abolishing slavery where it was legal, and though Lincoln maintained "that he would take no stance that went against his party," Southern states saw the election of 1860 as a harbinger of abolition. It was, however, a slow process: by war's end a mere 15% of four million slaves were free. Congressman James Wilson remarked, "slavery was a `condemned' but `unexecuted culprit.' " Only with the 1865 ratification of the 13th Amendment were all slaves freed, "everywhere, for all future time." Both a refreshing take on a moment in history and a primer on the political process, Oakes's study is thoroughly absorbing. Maps & illus. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Lincoln Prize-winner Oakes argues that the Civil War was fought not to preserve the Union (the standard line) but primarily to end slavery; he also chronicles the immediate consequences of emancipation. See David Von Drehle's just-published Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Year for a different approach to the subject. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Oakes (Graduate Center, CUNY) has written the definitive study of the Republican Party and emancipation during the Civil War. Taking issue with scholarship that posits the reluctance of many Republicans (including Abraham Lincoln) to push for complete and effective emancipation--thus rendering freedom the exclusive province of African Americans and "radicals"--Oakes instead emphasizes the essential unity of the Republicans on slavery and emancipation. Moderate and radical Republicans were committed to emancipation as a war aim from 1861 forward; their differences were over timing and tone rather than substance. The only Northerners trying to avoid slavery and emancipation were Democrats, who never effectively exercised national power during the war. Analyzing emancipation as it progressed from a military measure (confiscation) to an explicitly avowed war aim (the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation) to final constitutional implementation (the 13th Amendment), Oakes crafts a detailed, vigorously argued, convincing narrative of how emancipation became a settled (if not uncontested) fact. It is difficult to do justice to Oakes's masterful study in a brief review; wide research, exceptional prose, and deft argumentation combine in this important work. Required reading for any student of the Civil War era. Summing Up: Essential. All readers/libraries. K. M. Gannon Grand View University