Book Review: The Radical and the Republican by James Oakes


This year for my annual tradition of reading a book about Abraham Lincoln for Lincoln Day, I read The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics (2006) by James Oakes. This is an excellent dual biography tracing their parrallel lives in the fight against slavery. Oakes does a great job at describing the huge chasm between antislavery politics (Lincoln’s way) and abolitionism (Douglass), the former accepting slavery as Constitutionally protected but endeavoring to stop it’s spread (and thus hasten it’s demise) while the latter sought to go beyond politics and completely eliminate slavery and racism. Oakes also shows how Lincoln and Douglass brought the two together as Lincoln would become an emancipator while Douglass increasingly became involved in Republican politics.

Interestingly, the two men only met three times, each meeting detailed in the book. These meetings and correspondence engendered a friendship that irrevocably changed each of the men. The insight given to these meetings and thoughts Lincoln and Douglass had for another are tilted towards Douglass since he outlived Lincoln and had the opportunity to write and reflect on their relationship. I enjoyed reading this book and found it a valuable for its insights into these two great American leaders of the 19th-century.

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