Lincoln/Douglass bio has special resonance today

Wed Dec 3, 2008 10:58am EST
 
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Ed Stoddard

DALLAS (Reuters Life!) - A new "double biography" of two 19th century American icons has a special resonance this political season with the election of Barack Obama.

"Giants: The Parallel lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln", by Harvard academic John Stauffer, traces the lives of these two self-made men who became unlikely political allies in the struggle against American slavery.

Douglass was an ex-slave who became one of America's greatest orators. Lincoln raised himself up from his "white trash" upbringing to become the great emancipator.

A conservative Republican, Lincoln opposed the extension of slavery into "free" areas but only embraced the idea of its total abolition - long promoted by Douglass and other radicals - in the midst of the Civil War.

Along the way they cemented a rare friendship and their interlinked biographies shed light on a gripping era in American history.

Stauffer spoke to Reuters about his new book and the significance of Obama's election victory.

Q: The reconstruction period that followed America's Civil War has been called the country's "unfinished revolution" because the freed black population was soon subjected to terror and saw many of its newly won rights and opportunities for economic advancement stripped away. Does Obama's election finish this revolution or is it a new chapter in its unfinished business?

A: "I would say it's a new chapter in its unfinished business. I think that the civil rights era that began really with World War II and culminates with the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and then 1965 was considered the second reconstruction and then there was kind of a backsliding and regression during the 1980s and 90s in terms of African Americans as a whole ... And I think Obama's election is a great symbol of the fact that we are now moving forward. I think Obama's election has the potential to revitalize race relations in the United States in truly profound ways."   Continued...

 
<p>A new "double biography" of two 19th century American icons has a special resonance this political season with the election of Barack Obama. "Giants: the parallel lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln", by Harvard academic John Stauffer, traces the lives of these two men who became unlikely political allies in the struggle against American slavery. REUTERS/Christa Cameron</p>