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Lincoln and Race

Lincoln and Race

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Richard Striner


Paperback (Other formats: Hardcover)
118 pages, 5 x 8, 4 illustrations

Concise Lincoln Library


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About the Book

Named on the 2013 list of University Press Books for Public and Secondary Schools

Abraham Lincoln is known as the Great Emancipator, yet his personal views on race have long been debated. Since his death, his legend has been shadowed by the mystery of his true stance toward non-whites. While Lincoln took many actions to fight slavery throughout his political career, his famously crafted speeches can be interpreted in different ways: at times his words suggest personal bigotry, but at other times he sounds like an enemy of racists. In Lincoln and Race, Richard Striner takes on one of the most sensitive subjects of Abraham Lincoln’s legacy, exploring in depth Lincoln’s mixed record and writings on the issue of race.

Striner gives fair hearing to two prevailing theories about Lincoln’s seemingly contradictory words and actions: Did Lincoln fight a long-term struggle to overcome his personal racism? Or were his racist comments a calculated act of political deception? Beginning with an exploration of the historical context of Lincoln’s attitudes toward race in the years before his presidency, Striner details the ambiguity surrounding the politician’s participation in the Free Soil Movement and his fight to keep slavery from expanding into the West. He explores Lincoln’s espousal of colonization—the controversial idea that freed slaves should be resettled in a foreign land—as a voluntary measure for black people who found the prospect attractive. The author analyzes some of Lincoln’s most racially charged speeches and details Lincoln’s presidential words and policies on race and the hotbed issue of voting rights for African Americans during the last years of the president’s life.\

A brief but comprehensive look into one of the most contentious quandaries about Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln and Race invites readers to delve into the mind, heart, and motives of one of America’s most  fascinating and complex leaders.

Univeristy Press Books for Public and Secondary Schools 2013 edition


Richard Striner is Professor of History at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland.  An interdisciplinary scholar, he has written on political and intellectual history, economics, historic preservation, architecture, literature, and film. His most recent books are Father Abraham: Lincoln's Relentless Struggle to End Slavery, Lincoln's Way: How Six Great Presidents Created American Power, and Supernatural Romance in Film: Tales of Love, Death, and the Afterlife.


 “With lawyerly precision, Richard Striner mines the speeches and writing of our sixteenth president to make a compelling case for a President Lincoln who, contrary to contemporary belief, had a long and abiding commitment not just to the end of slavery but also to equality before the law for all men, whatever the color of their skin.”—Clay Risen, staff editor at the New York Times

“Striner presents a very well balanced study in Lincoln and Race. The reader is led through several corridors full of seemingly contradictory evidence about Lincoln as a politician who used the race issue to his advantage. . . . Students of the Civil War era will find this study very helpful in understanding Lincoln’s attitude as politician and as president toward race.” —Michael J. DeebNew York Journal of Books

Lincoln and Race is a useful addition to the Lincoln literature. Striner makes a convincing case that Lincoln was not motivated by racial bias that he is often accused of by his critics.”—Michael BurkhimerJournal of Illinois History 

“[Striner] engages in a fair-minded and perceptive parsing of Lincoln’s words regarding race, starting with the Peoria speech. He also discusses Lincoln’s policies to end slavery, such as his unwillingness, after he was elected in 1860, to compromise with the South to allow slavery to expand into the territories; his unwillingness, as the North grew war-weary, to end the war with slavery intact; and his behind-the-scenes efforts to have Louisiana and Tennessee restored to the Union without slavery.”—Henry CohenThe Federal Lawyer 

“Washington College history professor Richard Striner weighs the evidence and concludes that, not only was Lincoln free of racial bias, but he also was a political genius willing to deceive his opponents about his racial attitudes to further the cause of human rights.”—Star Democrat

“Terse, unflinching, and cogent. Striner forthrightly vindicates Lincoln from the stigma of racism through a close textual analysis of his most controversial speeches and by careful attention to their political context. He persuasively shows how Lincoln consistently employed evasive and conditional language to disarm the racial pandering of his opponent and the recalcitrant fears of his audience. While making seemingly important concessions to the inflexible racial prejudice of his audience, Lincoln nonetheless subtly upheld core egalitarian principles. As a lawyer, Lincoln used this strategy of conceding a narrow point while upholding a more fundamental principle to great effect. As a statesman, his use of this same strategy was at once necessary and masterful: it enabled him to survive politically while maintaining the viability of the antislavery cause in the racist state of Illinois and throughout the Union. Far from being a white supremacist, then, Lincoln was a master politician whose political craft was indispensable in advancing equality and black freedom against the prevailing climate of white supremacy. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the provocative yet perilous question of Lincoln and race.”—Joseph R. Fornieri, author of Abraham Lincoln, Philosopher Statesman

“Abraham Lincoln was both a pragmatic politician seeking office and the most profound moral philosopher ever to occupy the presidency. The contradictions between the two roles were enormous, leaving in their wake apparently irreconcilable statements about the most emotional issue of his day, racial equality. Richard Striner’s impressive exercise in decoding Lincoln’s rhetoric takes us as far as one can go in discovering the Great Emancipator’s bedrock opinion.”—Alonzo L. Hamby, author of For the Survival of Democracy: Franklin Roosevelt and the World Crisis of the 1930s