In his book The Radical and the Republican, James Oakes compares and contrasts the positions of Fredrick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. Oakes argues that while both Douglas and Lincoln opposed slavery, they used dissimilar tactics because their motivations were different. Lincoln focused on promoting national unity through the eradication of slavery ( 217) while Douglas focused on establishing freedom for blacks ( 223). Oakes strongly supports his thesis with examples of their diverging opinions of slavery’s relation to equality, the constitution, and Christianity. Although Oakes’s book includes little personal commentary, his choice of structure congruently connects Lincoln and Douglas’s accounts, enabling readers to clearly understand his point of view.
Oakes first argued that while Douglas and Lincoln both believed,“ Slavery was an affront to American values” (34) and that political action was necessary to end slavery, their motivations were initially different. Lincoln, not wanting to alienate either the North or South, merely stated that slavery was wrong because it deprived, “ …men and women…hard earned fruit of their own labor.”(58-61). While Douglas agreed with Lincoln that slavery, “ …thwarted progress and stifled individual initiative”( 34), he was more free to expand his reasons further because of his position as a reformist, “ …[ slavery] contradicted the great principles of the Declaration of Independence. It violated the sacred purpose of the constitution. It defiled the precepts of a professedly Christian nation.”( 34). Years later, Lincoln came to a very similar conclusion, but it was only after this position suited his own motivations and was presented using his own tactics such as “ strategic racism” and compromise in order to promote national unity. This example strongly supports Oakes thesis in that it demonstrates how position effected Lincoln and Douglas’s opinion. It was also advantageous to the rest of the book because it acted as a loose outline, which added to the book’s congruency and overall effectiveness.
Oakes then smoothly transitioned from Douglas’s general argument that slavery was against the Declaration of Independence, to Douglas’s sub-argument that racial equality and slavery were intertwined in his chapter, “I Cannot Support Lincoln”. While Douglas was motivated by a desire to see all blacks both freed and treated equally, Oakes argued that Lincoln was motivated more by national unity. Douglas and Lincoln’s differing reasons led to differing tactics.
In order to promote national unity, Lincoln initially believed he had to use “strategic racism” (125) which argued that blacks were not equal to whites. Years later, when Lincoln expressed his revised public opinion that both blacks and white were equal, he still utilized other forms of compromise. Doing so, Lincoln believed, would prevent the alienation of Southern slaveholders. Douglas, on the other hand, did not have the responsibility of guiding a...