Glenn Brasher on James Oakes

If any readers want to hear more about James Oakes’ ideas about emancipation’s place in the Northern agenda, I’ve just found Glenn David Brasher’s review of Freedom National, where Oakes began developing them:

Oakes is keenly aware that his narrative challenges a good deal of the historiography, especially in insisting that Republicans warned the South of military emancipation prior to the war and were liberating all slaves behind Union lines for well over a year before the Emancipation Proclamation. He is also aware that there are many primary sources in which leading Republicans (such as Seward, Chase, Sumner, and even Lincoln himself) made contemporary statements that contradict his interpretations. But in what is the book’s boldest section (and perhaps its most stunning), Oakes labels these many wartime statements as “collective amnesia,” blaming them for creating a “myth” that still persists (328-339).

Brasher has much more. He has good things to say about the book too, but clearly doesn’t think much of Oakes’ argument.



4 comments on “Glenn Brasher on James Oakes

  1. Brad says:

    That is just one person’s opinion. Oakes received the Lincoln Prize for the book and Eric Foner had good stuff to say about it, which speaks volumes.

    Maybe you should read the book first?

    • Foner’s endorsement does speak volumes, but it doesn’t render Oakes beyond criticism, whether speaking of Oakes the essayist or Oakes the book author. Brasher makes substantive criticisms of the book. That’s the entire point of my linking to him. If you’re aware of any response from Oakes, I’m happy to link to that as well.

  2. Brad says:

    My point is that before you criticize a book you should read it, particularly one such as this.

    • But I have not offered criticism of a book. I indicated as much in the original post.

      I criticized Oakes Jacobin essay, which I have read. That and Oakes’ books are different works, even if they make the same arguments. Then, because I was still curious in part because of your comment, I went and looked at what other scholars had to say about the book. Brasher has read it and made what sound to me like sound criticisms. That’s all I’ve had to say about Oakes’ books themselves.

      Also while I’m here, thank you for correcting me on when Oakes’ piece was published.

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