Book review: The Radical and the Republican by James Oakes
JamesOakes is one of the most experienced historical politics writers ofthe modern day. In his book “The Radical and the Republican”, hewrote about the convergent personalities and attitudes of two greatAmerican figures, Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglas. They both haddifferent standpoints regarding some of the major issues that wereaffecting the American society during their time, specificallyslavery and the freedom of the Blacks. Despite the fact that theAmerican ideology regarding these matters was quite controversialduring the time, Lincoln and Douglas created perhaps two centers ofschool-of-thought that other politicians and leaders during the timederived from. The author, while developing the theme of the book,traced and intersected the professional lives of the two men, pickingout differences in their ideologies and how the same shaped theoutcome of the debate in the long run. This book review looks at howtwo of American history’s great men from a similar background endup with a similar mission, despite initial differences in ideology.
Fromthe earlier stages of the book, Oakes describes the greatness of thetwo men. “Lincoln and Douglas were different men, both had grown upin poverty, they were largely self-taught, in a century of theself-made man both came to see their own lives as exemplary.”(Oakes 90). The reason for summing up the heroic growth of the twomen from humble and challenging backgrounds is to present an image ofgreatness to the audience of the book. This is necessary for thepurpose of judging the opinions and actions of the two men whileassessing their contribution to the American society. While Lincolncould have been thought to have an upper hand at achieving hisambitions, he shared the same challenges as Douglass did, which isperhaps the reason why their opinions were valued at almost equalmeasures. However, Lincoln’s opinions were largely shaped by hispolitical tendencies since he was young, while Douglass’ opinionswere shaped by his life as a reformer.
To demonstrate the initial differences in ideology between the twomen, the author uses the American Constitution as the point ofdiversion in thought between them. Busch asserts that theConstitution was one of the key determinants of the society’sfuture during this time (11). Douglass and Lincoln’s views weredivided about the constitution. Douglass’ initial opinion about theconstitution were negative, as he considered it as a pro-slaverytool. However, Lincoln maintained a positive opinion about itthroughout. The author explains that Lincoln thought that theposition of the constitution on slavery was compromised by thedifferent interpretations. According to him, the constitution“recognized slavery, but only out of necessity and only threetimes,” (Oakes 62). Fast forwarding to the status of slavery afterthe civil rights movement, the author rightly captured the feelingsof the founding fathers about the role of the constitution inpromoting liberation of the people. Perhaps this is the reason whyLincoln’s views about the constitution were well balanced.According to the author, Lincoln accepted the concessions that hadbeen made during the time, it did not necessarily mean that he lovedthem. By fronting this argument, the author stamps his authority inthe knowledge of freedom politics and the journey that the Americanleaders guided the nation through time.
Oakes demonstrated the differences that the two men had in terms ofpersonal and handling of political matters. By using excerpts oftheir histories, other historical authors show that the idea ofcolonization, personality and handling of reconstruction were some ofthe main contentious issues that divided the two men’s opinions(Harrison 49). Oakes uses the same ideas to demonstrate two differentbut almost equally great men, whose opinion counted, regardless ofthe standpoint that they took. History and politics readers are mostlikely to be attracted by an author’s book that investigates allsides without prejudice, and this is what the Oakes did. In theadvanced stages of the book, Oakes captures the turning point of therelationship between Lincoln and Douglass, which is the height of theassertion of the book’s theme. With the recognition of the factthat the Union could not win the war, “Lincoln was fairly certainthat slaves already freed could not be re-enslaved, but he could notbe sure about the millions still on firms and plantations across theSouth” (Oakes 230). This realization is what made Douglass changehis opinions about Lincoln, as he now became assured that the latterwas committed to abolishing slavery and recognizing the freedom ofthe Black people.
The Radical and the Republican is perhaps one of the best books thatcaptures the background story of one of the greatest President andone of the greatest free-thinkers that America has had. To historicalliterature, the book adds to the plethora of information that helpshistory scholars to defend their interpretations by using concretefacts. The evidence that the author uses is relevant and retractable,hence making the arguments valid. For instance, the use of theconstitution to explain the standpoints of the two great Americans isconcrete and justifiable. This book is recommended to history readerswho are more into facts than mere interpretations of people andevents.
Busch, Elizabeth K. CivicEducation and the Future of American Citizenship.Lexington, KY, University Press of Kentucky, 2013. Print.
Harrison, Lowell H. Lincolnof Kentucky. Lexington,KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2000. Internet resource.
Oakes, James. Theradical and the republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, andthe triumph of antislavery politics.WW Norton & Company, 2011. Print.