Boothbay author examines U.S. race relations in new book

Posted:  Tuesday, October 24, 2017 - 8:45am
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A new book by a Boothbay author examines today’s race relations by examining how two U.S presidents shaped the slavery debate as members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Fred Kaplan, 79, is the author of “Lincoln and the Abolitionists: John Quincy Adams, Slavery and the Civil War.”

The book examines where a former president, Adams, and a future one, Lincoln, stood on the subject of slavery as congressmen in 1848.

Adams was among the most prominent politicians of his era. He was the son of a former president, served one term as president (1825-29), and served as U.S. Secretary of State, U.S. senator and congressman. Adams was in his eighth term in 1848, but Lincoln was serving his only term in the U.S. Congress. Both men were members of the Whig Party and agreed on the major issues of the day: They supported federal funds for constructing national infrastructure, and opposed the Mexican War and slavery.

Both opposed slavery on moral grounds. But the two men differed in their approach to combating it. Adams, 80, was at the end of his political career and life. He died in 1848. He supported a “multi-racial county,” according to Kaplan, and was an anti-slavery activist who worked with abolitionists. Adams didn’t believe a political solution would solve the slavery issue. He believed abolition would occur only through a slave insurrection or Civil War. 

Lincoln took a more pragmatic approach to the slavery question as a first term congressman. He was 39 years old and believed slavery should be contained, not eliminated. In his book, Kaplan describes Lincoln as a “pro-white” American who believed the two races couldn’t co-exist peacefully.

Kaplan described the man who eventually became the first Republican president as one who reluctantly freed the slaves. During the Civil War, Lincoln freed southern blacks through the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, as a means to recruit more free blacks to join the Union army. Lincoln was also a member of the American Colonization Society which supported establishing an African colony for freed slaves.

During his presidency, Lincoln made several overtures to the Confederacy allowing it to keep its slaves and rejoin the Union.

“The book is controversial. It takes a more honest look at ‘Saint Lincoln.’ Nobody wants to think of him as not being in favor of a multi-racial and ethnic America. Lincoln has been mythologized. He is a great man for whom I have great respect, but this book takes a look at his record, warts and all.”

His last two books were separate ones about Lincoln and Adams. During his research, he found the two men had a lot of similarities and differences in their opposition to slavery. While John Quincy Adams isn’t one of the best known presidents. Kaplan believes history is now remembering him in a better light.

“He is an underrated president who is increasingly becoming better known. Since I wrote my book (“John Quincy Adams: American Visionary”) another very good biography was written about him,” he said.

For three decades, Adams steadfastly supported ending slavery immediately and making all American blacks U.S. citizens. “He said why should they go back to Africa and work under a hot sun. They are here to stay,” Kaplan said about Adams’ view on citizenship for freed blacks.

This is Kaplan’s 11th book and is part of a two-book deal with Harper Collins. On Sept. 13, he discussed Lincoln and the Abolitionists as part of C-Span’s book series. His discussion can be seen at c-span.org