Book Review: Big Enough To Be Inconsistent: Abraham Lincoln Confronts Slavery And Race (The W. E. B. Du Bois Lectures)
Book Reviewed by Thumper
There is a great chance that my review of Big Enough to Be
Inconsistent: Abraham Lincoln Confronts Slavery and Race by
George M. Fredrickson will have more words than the small book
itself. Fredrickson examines the writings of Abraham Lincoln to
discuss Lincoln's true opinions on African Americans, our
freedom, and the state of slavery. Ordinarily, I would not have
touched this book. For years now, I would get review copies of
books on Lincoln ’ and there are a LOT of books about Lincoln,
EACH YEAR. I would not read them. I am from the school of
thought that took Lincoln at his word when he wrote that if he
could have ended the Civil War without freeing the slaves he
would. Needless to say that fact knocked Lincoln permanently off
that pedestal of devotion and admiration for me. I was mystified
that, even today, many African Americans still hold Lincoln in
such regard. I changed my mind about reading this book after
reading John Meacham's American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House
(excellent book by the way). So, with Illinois suddenly on my
mind because of President Obama, I decided to give ol’ Abe a
Big Enough to Be Inconsistent is a small book. It is the size of a college thesis and at times reads like one. Fredrickson does a good job of maintaining a level of objectivity. It is clear that one of his purposes in writing the book is to factual state, as much as humanly possible, what Lincoln truly thought of African-Americans and slavery, which Fredrickson succeed.
The only major misstep Fredrickson made was that it would have been beneficial if the actual documents or speeches that Lincoln made regarding race were included, if not in their entirety, a major portion of the documents. For example, by the time Fredrickson began evaluating the Lincoln-Douglass Debates, I had no idea what was going on. In order for me to have a solid point of reference, I would have to know the content of the debates. Fredrickson assumed that I, the reader, already knew or had read the Lincoln-Douglass debates; which I had not. I could not fully enjoy or comprehend a few of Frederickson's points because of my ignorance.
Big Enough to Be Inconsistent was well worth the read. I learned quite a bit about Lincoln. For instance, Lincoln believed that blacks and whites could not live peacefully in this country, so he was all about freeing the slaves and shipping them off to their own colony away from the United States. Also Lincoln did not care for slavery because it took employment away from poor white people, which his family was. It took Lincoln witnessing former, runaway slaves becoming soldiers and fighting valiantly for the Union, only then was Lincoln willing to give blacks props, interesting stuff to say the least.
I would recommend Big Enough to Be Inconsistent to those who are well studied in Lincoln. For the Lincoln novice, like me, I would start somewhere else and then come back to this book when you have become fully versed in Lincoln.