Frederick Douglass called the martyred president "emphatically the black man's president” as well as “the first who rose above the prejudice of his times and country.” This narrative history of Lincoln’s personal interchange with Black people over the course his career reveals a side of the sixteenth president that, until now, has not been fully explored or understood.
In a little-noted eulogy delivered shortly after Lincoln's assassination, Frederick Douglass called the martyred president "emphatically the black man's president," the "first to show any respect for their rights as men.” To justify that description, Douglass pointed not just to Lincoln's official acts and utterances, like the Emancipation Proclamation or the Second Inaugural Address, but also to the president’s own personal experiences with Black people. Referring to one of his White House visits, Douglass said: "In daring to invite a Negro to an audience at the White House, Mr. Lincoln was saying to the country: I am President of the black people as well as the white, and I mean to respect their rights and feelings as men and as citizens.”
But Lincoln’s description as “emphatically the black man’s president” rests on more than his relationship with Douglass or on his official words and deeds. Lincoln interacted with many other African Americans during his presidency His unfailing cordiality to them, his willingness to meet with them in the White House, to honor their requests, to invite them to consult on public policy, to treat them with respect whether they were kitchen servants or leaders of the Black community, to invite them to attend receptions, to sing and pray with them in their neighborhoods—all those manifestations of an egalitarian spirit fully justified the tributes paid to him by Frederick Douglass and other African Americans like Sojourner Truth, who said: "I never was treated by any one with more kindness and cordiality than were shown to me by that great and good man, Abraham Lincoln.”
Historian David S. Reynolds observed recently that only by examining Lincoln’s “personal interchange with Black people do we see the complete falsity of the charges of innate racism that some have leveled against him over the years.”
Michael Burlingame holds the Chancellor Naomi B. Lynn Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies at the University of Illinois Springfield. He is the author or editor of several books about Lincoln, including An American Marriage;Lincoln Observed;The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln; and the two-volume critical masterpieceAbraham Lincoln: A Life. Michael lives in Springfield, Illinois.
Praise for Michael Burlingame’sAbraham Lincoln: A Life:
"A magisterial enterprise."
– The New York Times
"These monumental volumes deserve a wide readership."
– St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"If you aspire to ‘Ultimate Lincoln Knowledge’ this is a must-read."
– The Chicago Tribune
"The result is a picture of Lincoln from all sides, in a style that is relentless but not daunting."
– Bloomberg News
"This book supersedes all other biographies. Future Lincoln books cannot be written without it, and from no other book can a general reader learn so much about Abraham Lincoln. It is the essential title for the bicentennial."
– Publishers Weekly
"Burlingame is a towering figure in Lincoln scholarship, and students of the sixteenth president have been waiting for this book for years. For all his learning, Burlingame may know more about Lincoln and his era than anyone in the world, his take on his subject is fresh, and he doesn't gloss over Lincoln's less appealing attributes. Abraham Lincoln: A Life comes as close to being the definitive biography as anything the world has seen in decades."