James Oakes is a Distinguished Professor at the CUNY 
Graduate Center. His most recent book is The Scorpion’s Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War. (December 2019)


The Great Divide

Abraham Lincoln, Washington, D.C., April 1864; photograph by Anthony Berger, printed from a broken negative

Becoming Lincoln

by William W. Freehling

The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War

by Joanne B. Freeman
Most historians now agree that the slave states seceded to protect slavery. Gone are the days when the so-called revisionist historians argued that the South left the Union in defense of states’ rights or because of high protective tariffs that favored Northern industry over Southern agriculture. These days scholarly disagreement …

The Power of Running Away

Charles White: Exodus I: Black Moses (Harriet Tubman), 1951; from the exhibition ‘Charles White: A Retrospective,’ on view at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, until January 13, 2019. The catalog is published by the Art Institute of Chicago and MoMA and distributed by Yale University Press.

The Captive’s Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the Politics of Slavery

by R.J.M. Blackett
In January 1850 Senators Andrew P. Butler of South Carolina and James Mason of Virginia proposed a new Fugitive Slave Law to replace the statute that had been on the books since 1793. A new law was needed, they said, because the old one was not being enforced. Free black …

Our ‘Wicked War’

The Battle of Buena Vista, also known as the Battle of La Angostura, during the Mexican-American War, February 1847

The Dead March: A History of the Mexican-American War

by Peter Guardino
One of the odd things about the controversy over monuments to the Confederacy is that they memorialize the losing side in the Civil War. Americans generally prefer to remember the winners. In Washington, D.C., both the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument celebrate leaders of the successful rebellion against Great …

The Supreme Partisan

Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois, August 1860

A Self-Made Man: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1809–1849

by Sidney Blumenthal

Wrestling with His Angel: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1849–1856

by Sidney Blumenthal
By the time Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as president in 1861, Africans and their descendants had been enslaved in North America for about 250 years. Slavery had survived wars and revolutions, economic upheavals, and a variety of governments. Fifteen presidents had come and gone, as had more than thirty Congresses, …

A Different Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois, May 20, 1860

Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter, 1860–1861

by Harold Holzer

Lincoln and His Admirals: Abraham Lincoln, the US Navy, and the Civil War

by Craig L. Symonds
Etched into the pedestal of a statue of Daniel Webster that stands in Central Park not far from where I live are the most famous words from Webster’s second reply to Robert Hayne during their “great debate” of January 1830: “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable.” Abraham …