Giants : The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln
November 7, 2010
Lecture by John Stauffer
Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s Election
“We have had a period of darkness, but are now having the dawn of light,” rejoiced Frederick Douglass on New Year’s Day, 1863. With the Civil War entering its third year, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which brought the promise of freedom to 4,000,000 enslaved Americans.
To mark the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s election as president, Dr. John Stauffer will speak about the parallel lives and evolving relationship of Lincoln and Douglass. These two self-made men helped transform American society through their vigorous actions and powerful words.
Douglass, the abolitionist who was formerly enslaved, saw the Civil War as an opportunity to end slavery. Early in the war Douglass chastised Lincoln for not embracing emancipation as a war aim. But Douglass eventually came to admire Lincoln’s political skills and resolve to produce “a new birth of freedom” in the country.
“Viewed from the genuine abolition ground,” said Douglass in 1876, “Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesmen to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.”
“The two men’s personal conflicts often paralleled the nation’s conflicts,” wrote Stauffer. “Douglass repeatedly lost faith in Lincoln, only to find it again. His changing perspectives chart not only the political journeys of both men but also the nation’s journey to its Second Revolution.”
John Stauffer is a leading authority on anti-slavery and social protest movements, as well as interracial friendship. He is a Harvard University professor of English and American Literature and Language in the Department of African and African American studies, and Chair of the History of American Civilization program at Harvard. His eight books include Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln (2008) and The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race (2002), which both won numerous awards. He is the author of more than 50 articles. His essays have appeared in Time, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, Raritan, and The New York Sun. He has appeared on national radio and television shows and has lectured widely throughout the United States and Europe.
Photo of Frederick Douglas courtesy of the Collection of the New York Historical Society
Photo of Abraham Lincoln courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Presented by the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research and the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site as part of the 2010-2011 program series, Commemorating Our Nation's Struggle for Freedom: From Civil War to Civil Rights.