The Radical and the Republican by James Oakes
The Radical and the Republican
James Oakes’ book, “The Radical and The Republican” talks about slavery, discrimination against races, the Civil War, the politics that existed in the period of the mid-1800s and also the abolition of trade. The main events and themes of this book revolve around to men, Fredrick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Fredrick Douglass is portrayed as the Radical while Abraham Lincoln represents the Republican. The Radical represents a perfect mold of the American popular history over the tussle between the Northern and the Southern parts concerning slave trade. Oakes tries to reveal the tribulations and the trials that the two men faced during the hard times of slavery in the United States of America. It is an engaging story of two heroes who emerge victorious amidst adversity and holding different perspectives.
Oakes grounds the book in a more professional historical command of the vast literature on Slave abolition, Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. Oakes tries to show ways in which both Fredrick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln share a given proportion of parallel links in their lives and ideas. Oakes presents the case of the ideologically opposite men converging at a certain critical point with the United States history, the event of the abolition of the slave trade. Oakes therefore show that the two men, Douglass and Lincoln, given their respective social and political positions complement each other in bringing about the abolition of the slave trade.
The period after the United States Revolutionary War saw antislavery becoming a huge problem. Despite the federal constitution stating clearly that everybody was equal, majority of the Southerners did not treat the blacks as people and, therefore, subjected them to forced labor in their homes and plantations as slaves. Fredrick Douglass indicated in his narrative the negative effects of slavery. He maintained that slavery had great effects on both the families: the masters’ and the slaves.’ He termed slavery as changing bright people to stupid and worthless individuals with no value whatsoever. It affected the masters in that they became so evil and cruel overlords, treating other people, slaves like second generation human beings. Fredrick Douglass was a good influence during his life, but during the time of slavery, he was a Garrisonian which meant that he denounced the religions and churches that gave slavery a node (Oakes 10).
On the other hand were Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party. The Republican Party was established from the Whig Party immediately after its disintegration. The party had maintained non-interference with the affairs of slavery in the areas where it was already practiced, but to prevent it from expanding especially to the Norther parts of America. Many of those allied to the Republican Party were against slavery, not because of any moral concern, but because they felt that with slavery, the rate of economic growth was reduced. The Republican Party appeared less of abolitionists since the members publicly supported the slaveholder’s view that slavery was protected by the constitution in areas where it had already existed. Fredrick Douglass was against this. As an abolitionist, he thought that if he stood by the Republicans, then the fight against slavery would come to an end (Oakes 9). Douglass, therefore, was obviously very suspicious and careful not to join the Republicans. At that time, in the year 1860, Abraham Lincoln was the presidential candidate for the Republican Party.
Lincoln and Douglass had many closely associated views concerning antislavery but the approaches were also very different as well. Both of them had always asked the same question, “Why should anyone else have to settle for something less than equal rights” (Oakes 11)? On one hand, Douglass needed to stop slavery through any possible action. On the other hand, Lincoln, being a politician, was very cautious with his words and never referred to slaveholders as sadists or sinners. He did not agree with many of the proslavery laws but always defended himself to be acting within the law, and that is what is required of an American Citizen, something that Douglass did not quite agree with. He had always wanted someone who was as radical as he was. Although Lincoln was not radical in his approach it was clear he never supported slavery, something that became evident with the passage of the Act on Kansas-Nebraska, that he gave his conversation to the antislavery politics. The passed Act permitted slavery into the Western areas where it was originally banned. This led to Lincoln’s political rival, Stephen Douglas to draw a connection between him and the widely hated abolitionists. Douglas (Stephen) referred to Lincoln as ‘black Republican’ and claimed that the praise he had initially received from Douglass (Fredrick) was a proof of his radicalism (Oakes 40). This was an aspect of political position that complemented the men towards achieving the abolition of slavery.
The social positions of these two men also complemented each other to bring an end to slavery. Oakes reveals from the early social life of both Lincoln and Douglass. He reveals that men came from societal backgrounds comprising majorly of poverty and violence that worked to shape their early lives and worked towards influencing up to their adult lives and their choices. Despite a different argument that might exist refuting any possible closeness between the enslavement of a young Lincoln went through in his father’s household and the actual bondage that Douglass went through, both of them pushed through hard situations to become celebrated men (Oakes 50). Both Lincoln and Douglass there drew much of their slave experience in their early life and that was what uniquely joined them together and worked as a complementing factor to fighting slavery. From these early social backgrounds, both men grew up have much hatred of the act of slavery and, therefore, worked towards its abolition. The only difference was the way that each took in advocating for abolition of slavery in America. Fredrick Douglass took the radicalism point of view whereas, being a politician, tend to lie much on the Republican side, in which, despite being the proslavery laws, still passed the laws in the name of being a loyal American citizen. His radicalization only came after the passing of the Act that permitted slavery in the Western regions.
James Oakes points out to the two important men whose diverse ways but similar thoughts contributed greatly to the end of slave trade in America. Fredrick Douglass on one hand was a radical while Abraham Lincoln on the other hand was a Republican. Douglass believed in imminent action as the only way to drive away slavery from America as Lincoln was tied into political ideologies of the Republican way. However, with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, he changed at the point when he gave a speech supporting antislavery. The early social life of both also reveals complementing aspects of the two against slavery.
Oakes, J. The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics. New York: W. W. Norton, 2007. Print.
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