In this very solid, carefully and rigorously argued book, James OakesIn his final and perhaps most original chapter Oakes traces the winding route Lincoln followed in order to get to the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States once and for all. A Republican-dominated Congress might muster the two-thirds vote to pass such an amendment, but ratification by three-quarters of the states would be more difficult. During the war, Lincoln’s position became more and more radical, but, Oakes says, Lincoln was skeptical all along that emancipating slaves, even in large numbers, would ever be enough; and he always remained committed to the belief that the slave states should abolish slavery on their own. describes and analyzes the antislavery constitutionalism that emerged in a dialectical struggle with pro-slavery constitutionalism in antebellum America.
In The Crooked Path to Abolition, Oakes delineates early on the many things that Lincoln was not: 'He never called for the immediate emancipation of the slaves… he never denounced slaveholders as sinners and never endorsed the civil or political equality of Blacks and whites… He never opened his home to fugitive slaves… he endorsed voluntary colonization of free Blacks… He certainly spoke at colonization meetings… but never at an abolitionist meeting.' Oakes ably guides the reader through the Byzantine legal labyrinth of slavery American style – perhaps Gordian Knot is a better metaphor. If the author’s narrative occasionally waxes repetitive and academic, all is forgiven: Most often Oakes brings clarity and insight to a political conundrum of bewildering complexity.
... illuminating and accessible ... Much insight is to be gained by contrasting the antislavery constitutionalism of Douglass and Lincoln with the proslavery constitutionalism of Southern enslavers: Doing so brings into sharp focus the anti-racist qualities of Lincoln’s leadership ... Acknowledging the persistent fault lines in the North, even among slavery’s opponents, is a key to understanding why fundamental rights remained so elusive for Black Americans.