Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass in American Politics
“Throughout the mid to late 1800s, Frederick Douglass was a very prominent figure in American abolitionist and radical politics. He and Abraham Lincoln affected each other’s viewpoints and adapted to each other, forming a companionship and bettering each other. The story, The Radical and the Republican, by James Oakes, explores this in depth. The author of this story describes the views of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, going into great detail about how Lincoln affected Douglass’ views especially. I agree with the author James Oakes depicting these two prominent men in a way that describes Lincoln as a great statesman and an opportunist, willing to do anything necessary to achieve his goals of ending slavery and bringing the Union back together, and Douglass as a man who will not back down no matter what is in his way, fighting for equal rights and black suffrage, adapting over time. Oakes also depicts Lincoln as a black people’s President.
Turmoil and Racial Struggles
The time period in which the story takes place is one of political turmoil and racial violence. The Civil War also took place during this period. It saw the rise and fall of Stephen Douglas, a prominent senator who ran for President against Abraham Lincoln. The book also explores racism during this period and the radical abolitionist views of the time, mainly from Frederick Douglass and the Republican views on the equality of people who came to power during the period, such as Abraham Lincoln.
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His message is conveyed through the use of switching viewpoints between Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. This method of putting his point across is very effective in the cumulation of the ideas put out throughout the beginning of the story to emphasize the significance of the first meeting between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass in the White House in 1863. Ultimately, Oakes uses this to show how the two created a sort of political relationship between these men, even though Douglass initially was distrustful of Lincoln. These differing points of view on the same subjects became more and more similar throughout the story as Douglass and Lincoln affected each other more and more. It is very interesting to see this because it proves the author’s point of view on how they affected each other to become two heads to the same force, pushing ideas on equality that affected the United States’ social climate throughout the Civil War and Afterward.
Lincoln and Douglass: Opposing Backgrounds and Parallel Lives
While they were very different people, Oakes noted that they did have parallels, such as “Both had grown up in poverty” (90) and were both self-made men. He notes many differences as well, such as in the way they speak, with Douglass “roused listeners with passion” (90), referring to his booming voice, stories, and good looks, while Lincoln used his tactics such as “homely appearance, folksy stories, and self-deprecating humor” (90) to disarm his audience and impress them even more with his combination of “lawyerly precision and simple idealism” (90). This shows how different people they were at the beginning of their careers. Oakes uses this to emphasize the changes in the characters of Lincoln and Douglass and how they become more similar in their views towards the end of the book.
When the book began, Douglass, who began as a Garrisonian Abolitionist, came to the realization that he should not be denouncing the Constitution or calling for Northern succession. Oakes states that it was because of the Mexican-American War that caused the reawakening of Douglass’ interest in politics (16). In addition to this, it was also due to Gerrit Smith, who changed Douglass’ viewpoint towards the Constitution and that of his part to play as a reformer. Using his newfound ideas, Frederick began believing it should be in each and every American’s interests to use “his political as well as his moral power to overthrow slavery.” (20). As the book continued, he started to sound more like a supporter of Abraham Lincoln, giving speeches with the lines, “Liberty and slavery cannot dwell together forever in the same country.” (37).
At the same time, Lincoln was also fine-tuning his views on the abolition of slavery in the US. He came to the conclusion that the one possibility for americans to fight against people who supported having slaves was that they must “build an antislavery coalition, organize it into a mass political party, and take control of the state.” (106). However, Douglass was disappointed with what he believed to be the conservative views on racism and slavery that Lincoln had developed. In 1860, he even proclaimed that he would not vote for Lincoln.
Douglass’s transformation throughout the book is easily shown. Even though Lincoln and Douglass only met twice, Oakes believes that it was during these that Douglass’ transformation happened. After Lincoln died, his perspective shifted, too. After the Civil War, He shifted from being a radical to becoming “the leading voice of black America” and, afterward, into becoming a “loyal member of the Republican Party.” (172). On page 281, Oakes directly states, “Before the war, he was a radical first, increasingly committed to politics but always in the service of reform. After the war, he was a Republican, still committed to equal justice but always by means of party politics.” (281).
At the end of the book, it can be seen how Lincoln is viewed as the black man’s President and a great Statesman, with Oakes repeating how he was a statesman many times on pages 272, 273, 276, and 278 as well as many more. He used Douglass’ views on Lincoln, with him stating that he was “the black man’s President” and “leader of the colored people” (267).
In conclusion, this book describes the change in Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass and how they were affected by each other. It gives the reader a better understanding of the politics and ideologies of the time period and how they were spread from person to person. ”
- “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” by David W. Blight
- “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin