Freedman, Russell. Abraham Lincoln & Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship. Clarion Books, Boston, MA. 128 pages, notes, bibliography, b/w photos. 2012. ISBN 9780547385624, $18.99.
The parallels and evolving relationship between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass is not a new subject. In fact it has been the subject of several full length books including The Radical and the Republican written by James Oakes and Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln written by John Stauffer. With that in mind is there really a need for yet another work on this subject? When you consider that this book is aimed at young readers ages 9 and up and that the author is Newberry Award winner Russell Freedman the answer is a resounding yes!
Freedman adroitly shows readers the backgrounds of both men starting with their youth and events that helped shape their views. Dougalss began life as a slave named Frederick Bailey who didn't even know his birth year. Lincoln was born to a poor farming family and lost his mother at the age of nine. We learn of the hardships endured by the young Douglass and his path to freedom where he became famous on the lecture circuit. Lincoln worked to study law without benefit of schooling and worked his way through several political offices ending with the presidency.
The paths of Lincoln and Douglass finally crossed after the election of 1860 brought Lincoln to the presidency. Despite Lincoln's anti-slavery views the abolitionist Douglass was unable to support him in the election. Lincoln and the Republican party were more concerned with outlawing the spread of slavery rather than ending it in locations where it existed.
The two men first met in 1863 when Douglass came to the White House to air his grievances regarding the unequal treatment given to black soldiers in the Union army. Both Lincoln and Edwin Stanton were receptive to some of Douglass's views and agreed to approve promotions for those recommended. After hearing Lincoln's reasoning for not moving more quickly on the issue of slavery Douglass left with a firmer understanding of where the President stood. The two met again in 1864 and worked to develop a plan to make more slaves aware of the Emancipation Proclamation. Around this time the fortunes of the Union army began to improve and Lincoln was able to easily win reelection. With reelection secured Lincoln was able to help pass the 13th amendment to the Constitution which forever abolished slavery. It was after Lincoln gave his second inaugural address that the two men met for the final time. At an event after the speech Douglass was originally denied entry but was eventually granted entrance. It was here that Lincoln is said to have spoken the words "Here comes my friend Douglass." The two embraced and talked for a few minutes. Just over a month later Lincoln was dead leaving Douglass to carry on the war for equality.
While this is certainly a work for younger students this does not mean the book is without merit. The research is sound, the illustrations are relevant and help bring life to the text, and the writing does not "dumb down" the subject but rather shows a respect for the reader and their intellect. For adults looking for a brief introduction to the relationship of these two men this would be a good read. For students in the late elementary to middle school age range this is would be an excellent read and fills a need in the Civil War literature for this age range. For those wanting to read further the notes and bibliography section are a nice addition. Public and school libraries as well as home schoolers would be advised to look for this work and to make it widely available!