Foner tackles what would seem to be an obvious topic, Lincoln and slavery, and manages to cast new light on it ... Because of his broad-ranging knowledge of the 19th century, Foner is able to provide the most thorough and judicious account of Lincoln’s attitudes toward slavery that we have to date ... More cogently than any previous historian, Foner examines the political events that shaped Lincoln and ultimately brought out his true greatness.
Foner not only illuminates Lincoln’s developing views on the question of slavery, but also places him in the broad context of America’s most divisive and consequential political conflict ... We come to understand, in Foner’s telling, the extent of slavery’s dominion in the first half of the nineteenth century, and the enormous obstacles that slavery’s enemies would face ... Foner is the leading authority on this period of our history, and interested readers could have no better guide through the thicket of action that propelled Lincoln to the forefront of American politics and the country into the cauldron of civil war.
The central theme of The Fiery Trial is Lincoln’s 'capacity for growth' in his 'views and policies regarding slavery and race' ... No one has written about this trajectory of change with such balance, fairness, depth of analysis, and lucid precision of language as Foner has done in The Fiery Trial. The minefield of Lincoln studies is filled with partisan and polemical writings through which Foner has carefully made his way and emerged without a scratch ... His book is anything but tedious, and the skill of his pen carries the reader along in this narrative of America’s most important and dramatic achievement presided over by its greatest president.
Foner, one of our most respected historians of the Civil War and Reconstruction era, has written a distinctive and valuable book, showing persuasively that we should not understand Lincoln from the myth-glazed outcome reading backward, but from the beginning, through one transformative event after another, looking forward. This is a historian's book, a lesson in context, but one hopes it will be widely read ... Foner steadfastly avoids the pathos or drama, the sheer narrative appeal, of Lincoln's poetic and tragic story. He takes on the most sensitive subject in Lincoln scholarship, and tries, almost to a fault, to de-sentimentalize it. This book is about policy, not the person, ideas, not the life ... There are moments when one wishes that Foner might interpret even further some of the pivotal changes in Lincoln's trajectory, rather than merely reconstruct them.
The strongest parts of "The Fiery Trial" lie at the very beginning, where Mr. Foner situates Lincoln in the context of the Republican ideology that the author wrote about 40 years ago, and at the very end, where Mr. Foner makes the transition to Reconstruction. In between, however, there is nothing particularly new in this elaboration of Lincoln's path to emancipation and abolition ... The book's errors can be forgiven. Less pardonable is the reduction of Lincoln's complex politics to fuzzy psychological concepts like "growth," transforming the story of what was indeed a fiery political trial into a therapeutic fairy tale.
Foner’s account of Lincoln’s last two years in office reinforces the conventional view of the president’s political greatness: he focused heroically on securing emancipation and shrewdly postponed discussion of what political rights freed people would gain ... Most of Foner’s readers will dismiss the possibility that the Great Emancipator would ever have abandoned black Americans. But one theme that quietly emerges from the book is Lincoln’s sustained reluctance to mobilise the full power of the federal government against its most recalcitrant citizens.
Foner traces the complexities of Lincoln’s evolving ideas about slavery and African-Americans ... In his account Lincoln is a canny operator, cautiously navigating the racist attitudes of Northern whites, prodded—and sometimes willing to be prodded—by abolitionists and racial egalitarians pressing faster reforms ... Lincoln is no paragon in Foner’s searching portrait, but something more essential—a politician with an open mind and a restless conscience.
Renowned scholar Foner adroitly traces how personal conviction and force of circumstance guided Abraham Lincoln toward the radical step of emancipation ... While many key events in the legendary career are examined...other formerly unnoticed aspects appear in unexpected bold relief ... Look elsewhere for an understanding of the president as person, but linger here for an indispensable analysis of Lincoln navigating through the treacherous political currents of his times.