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Lincoln and the Abolitionists

Lincoln and the Abolitionists

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Stanley Harrold


Hardcover (Other formats: E-book)
168 pages, 5 x 8, 10 illustrations

Concise Lincoln Library


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About the Book

Winner, ISHS Best of Illinois History Award, 2019

Abraham Lincoln has often been called the “Great Emancipator.” But he was not among those Americans who, decades before the Civil War, favored immediate emancipation of all slaves inside the United States. Those who did were the abolitionists—the men and women who sought freedom and equal rights for all African Americans. Stanley Harrold traces how, despite Lincoln’s political distance from abolitionists, they influenced his evolving political orientation before and during the Civil War.
While explaining how the abolitionist movement evolved, Harrold also clarifies Lincoln’s connections with and his separation from this often fiery group. For most of his life Lincoln regarded abolitionists as dangerous fanatics. Like many northerners during his time, Lincoln sought compromise with the white South regarding slavery, opposed abolitionist radicalism, and doubted that free black people could have a positive role in America. Yet, during the 1840s and 1850s, conservative northern Democrats as well as slaveholders branded Lincoln an abolitionist because of his sympathy toward black people and opposition to the expansion of slavery.
Lincoln’s election to the presidency and the onslaught of the Civil War led to a transformation of his relationship with abolitionists. Lincoln’s original priority as president had been to preserve the Union, not to destroy slavery. Nevertheless many factors—including contacts with abolitionists—led Lincoln to favor ending slavery. After Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and raised black troops, many, though not all, abolitionists came to view him more favorably.
Providing insight into the stressful, evolving relationship between Lincoln and the abolitionists, and also into the complexities of northern politics, society, and culture during the Civil War era, this concise volume illuminates a central concern in Lincoln’s life and presidency.


Stanley Harrold is a professor of history at South Carolina State University. He is the author of a number of books, the most recent being Border War: Fighting over Slavery before the Civil War. He is also a coauthor with Darlene Clark Hine and William C. Hine of The African-American Odyssey.


" Lincoln and the Abolitionists is deeply researched, and Stanley Harrold has constructed a succinct, informative starting point for anyone interested in his topic."—Journal of the Illinois Historical Society

"With the clear, concise prose and careful eye for detail that have been trademarks of his long and distinguished career, Harrold skillfully narrates how Lincoln's views concerning abolitionism and antislavery politics developed from the conservative positions he adopted from his hero Henry Clay (gradual emancipation coupled with colonization), to the more liberal and expansive positions put forth by William Lloyd Garrison (immediate emancipation with basic rights of citizenship)."—Erik J. Chaput, The Journal of Southern History

"This sharp and rapid survey by one of the foremost scholars of American abolitionism provides an illuminating review of Lincoln’s on-again, off-again relationship with the persistent and demanding band of writers and activists who worked to end slavery and protect the rights of black Americans."—Martin P. Johnson, H-Net

“Here, at last, is a thorough and readable analysis of the at times fraught relationship between a conservative, ambitious politician and the abolitionists who pushed him to adopt their radical agenda of emancipation and equality. In the end they got their way, but even then they remained deeply ambivalent about the politician and his methods. Notwithstanding their different agendas, together, Harrold shows, they managed to change the course of U.S. history.”—Richard Blackett, author of Making Freedom: The Underground Railroad and the Politics of Slavery
“Clearly and lucidly written, this book by one of the foremost historians of abolition authoritatively explores the complex relationship among Lincoln, abolitionists, and Radical Republicans. As Stanley Harrold carefully argues, abolitionists and radicals provoked Lincoln to inhabit higher ground when it came to emancipation and black rights. It is ideal for a broad audience as well as classroom usage.”—Manisha Sinha, author of The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition
“In his excellent Lincoln and the Abolitionists, Harrold identifies a reciprocal relationship between Lincoln and the abolitionists that contributes toward our understanding of the dynamics of emancipation. This is a welcome addition to the scholarship on Lincoln and racial reformers and to the Concise Lincoln Library.”John David Smith, author of Lincoln and the U.S. Colored Troops