- Lincoln and the Abolitionistsby Stanley Harrold
The editors of the Southern Illinois University Press series on Abraham Lincoln have assembled an impressive array of historians to write short volumes focusing on varying aspects of the life of the "Great Emancipator" and the Civil War era. To cover the all-important ground of Lincoln's complex relationship with abolitionists, the editors wisely selected Stanley Harrold, one of the leading authorities on the most important reform movement in early America. According to Harrold, the relationship between Lincoln and the abolitionists centered on the latter's efforts to "push" the president "toward their goal" of universal and immediate emancipation (p. 75). As Harrold notes, many abolitionists had a conflicted relationship of "admiration and doubt" with Lincoln during the Civil War years (p. 93).
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 [End Page 694]emancipation with basic rights of citizenship). However, Lincoln's rise to political power, as Harrold notes, was inextricably tied to partisan maneuvering and an unwavering conception of party loyalty, something that, more often than not, led Lincoln to shy away from the radical fringe of the American political order. Lincoln was not immune to the use of race-baiting in the political arena, as Harrold makes clear in a discussion of Lincoln's attacks on Martin Van Buren in 1840. During the war, however, abolitionist arguments began to influence Lincoln.
The book does not shed much new light on Lincoln's political career, but Harrold's account of the positions espoused by the numerous factions within the abolitionist movement and how various individuals reacted to Lincoln's speeches and policy positions will be of interest to even the most veteran student. Whereas some writers fall into the trap of painting abolitionists as a monolithic group, Harrold provides details on four distinct wings of the movement, bringing into his narrative a wide cast of characters. Included in the discussion are the colorful and outspoken Parker Pillsbury and Stephen S. Foster, who never let up in their criticism of Lincoln, along with the prolific author and editor William Goodell. Harrold's treatment of abolitionists Ichabod Codding, Zebina Eastman, and Owen Lovejoy, the founders of the Republican Party in Illinois, will be of interest to scholars. The same is true of the efforts of Radical Republicans in early 1862 to bring leading abolitionists to the nation's capital to take part in a lecture series at the Smithsonian Institution.
The final third of the book covers Lincoln's years in the Executive Mansion and the reactions of abolitionists to his policies and stated positions. One notable omission here, however, is a discussion of Lincoln's interactions with the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. In the end, in the wake of his tragic assassination, the majority of abolitionists found much to admire in Lincoln. In a speech at City Hall in Providence, Rhode Island, on June 1, 1865, Garrison heaped praise on Lincoln, the politician who had steered the ship of state through the complex waters of antislavery politics. Harrold's book captures this story well.