Emancipating Lincoln - Holzer Hits the Mark


Harold Holzer Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012).

I’m currently prepping a lesson for my Civil War course that focuses on the post-war image of Abraham Lincoln as the Great Emancipator and the Savior of the Union. Near deification, of course, will will inform at least part of the class discussion - as we wade into the man vs. myth debates. While sifting through my notes, I remember an excellent little volume by esteemed Lincoln historian Harold Holzer that I once had the pleasure of reviewing for the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association a few years back - you can read the review HERE.

In short…Holzer’s analysis illustrates Lincoln’s political cunning, intentional obfuscation, and deliberate planting of information in order to finesse the notion of emancipation for an uneasy citizenry. Emancipating Lincoln offers some surprising conclusions, suggesting that Lincoln’s image as emancipator was longer coming than we might have previously imagined. 

Within the context of historical memory, Holzer follows some familiar patterns. He examines a wide array of images spanning nearly 150 years and connects emancipation moment(s) with a number of historical events and people of historical significance. Holzer confirms, following the paths of historical memory scholars before him, that vestiges of the past are shaped by today’s predilections. And thus, through Lincoln and his proclamation, for better or worse, individuals can draw on a useful history.

I quite enjoyed this book and thus strongly recommend that you pick up a copy yourself…then let me know what you think. I will talk about Lincoln and Civil War era memory with anyone who will listen (and with some who won’t…).

With compliments,