Led Dr. James Humphreys, Professor of History- Murray State University
Many Americans today view Abraham Lincoln as a staunch opponent of slavery and a champion of blacks, who suffered the brutality of human bondage. To many Americans, he is the "great emancipator," whose loathing of slavery drove him to employ his power as president to dismantle the institution during the Civil War. Actually, the truth behind the stereotypical image of Lincoln is more complex. James Humphreys, in "Abraham Lincoln, Race, and Emancipation," strips away the myths and half-truths that have obscured Lincoln's ideology on race and his attitude toward black freedom since the president's death a century and a half ago.
As several historians have pointed out, Lincoln's thought on race gradually evolved. President Lincoln refused to move against slavery at the beginning of the war, viewing the struggle as a limited war to reunite the Union, not to crush slavery. The war, however, escalated in bloodshed, as Lincoln's armies suffered a string of humiliating defeats. After he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, an order that sprang more from military necessity than from any humanitarian impulse, Lincoln came to regard the contributions of black soldiers as crucial to the Union war effort and also concluded that the eradication of slavery was the only redeeming aspect of an extremely bloody civil war. He eventually favored the ratification of a constitutional amendment ending the institution of slavery, a stance that would have been inconceivable at the beginning of the fighting. Humphreys will trace the evolution of Lincoln's thought toward race and emancipation from the time Lincoln was a young politician, through the Civil War, to the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery in 1865. The Abraham Lincoln, who emerges from Humphreys's presentation, is far more interesting, more nuanced, and more human than the romanticized version of Lincoln as the "great emancipator."
James S. Humphreys is a professor of history at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky, where he specializes in the history of the American South. Humphreys completed a Ph.D. in history in 2005 at Mississippi State University. He is the author of Francis Butler Simkins: A Life, published by the University of Florida Press in 2008 in a book series titled "New Perspectives on the History of the South." Humphreys also serves as co-editor of the Interpreting American History series, published by Kent State University Press.
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