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The Fiery Trial, Eric Foner
Transcript of The Fiery Trial, Eric Foner
, Eric Foner
Lincoln's Early Career
Lincoln as Senator
Cartooning Lincoln's Views Towards Slavery,
Kimberly, 8th Grade, M.S. 331
"Started from the Senate"
802, M.S. 331 (Full text on blog)
"Started from the Bottom (Lincoln Version)"
Paola and Luis, 8th Grade, M.S. 331
(Video of song on the blog)
What is Foner's Purpose?
The purpose of Eric Foner's book is to "[trace] the evolution of Lincoln's ideas and policies about slavery from his early life through his career in the Illinois legislature in the 1830s...his emergence as a leader of the new Republican party in the 1850s, and his presidency during the Civil War" (2010, p. xvi).
The Fiery Trial
, Eric Foner, 2010
As you can see, Foner is not writing a biography of Lincoln; he is describing Lincoln as a politician grappling with the implications of abolishing slavery at a time when slavery was the core of American political, economic, and social policy.
Teaching this Content to Students
To commemorate Lincoln's birthday, February 12, I taught the students, using James McPherson's New York Times Book Review of "The Fiery Trial," about Lincoln's changing views towards slavery.
The full lesson plan is on the blog, as well as the scaffolded article by McPherson about Foner's text.
Use of Student Choice
To help students make sense of the content, students were given the opportunity to choose one of three formats to demonstrate their understandings. Samples of student work from this lesson are available here and on the blog.
Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation
Is Foner's new historiography necessary?
Is Foner's political biography of Lincoln necessary? According to David S. Reynolds' New York Times Book Review from 2010, Foner's book is "a wise move" that focuses on Lincoln as a politician. This Reynolds says is the most accurate way to tell Lincoln's relationship to slavery because "Lincoln was a politician to the core."
Foner's "The Fiery Trial" is text for teachers to read in order to develop their content understanding of Lincoln's grappling with the issue of slavery. It is also a text that can be accessible for students in high school and appropriately scaffolded for students in middle school.
The text is extremely easy to follow and relies on the analysis of many primary sources to help support Foner's synthesis of Lincoln and American slavery. Using excerpts of this text in the classroom can greatly benefit students as a model of how to synthesize evidence from primary and secondary sources to justify a claim.
"...Lincoln's public stance in the 1850s: slavery was unjust; northerners had an obligation to respect the constitutional compromises that protected the institution...and Lincoln was not an abolitionist" (Foner, 2010, p. 26)
Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author's point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).
As Foner describes, Lincoln was aware that slavery was the "crucial question" that his generation of politicians would be responsible for answering (Foner, 2010, p. 27). During Lincoln's run against Stephen Douglas for the Illinois Senate, he began to view slavery as an institution that would hold the United States back. For example, he used economic data that compared the Northern economy to that of the South to support this claim. He also referred to slavery as a "monstrous injustice" that was similar to a snake - the actions of slavery must be constrained in order to limit its control on the nation (Foner, 2010, p. 87). As he continued his political career during the 1850s, Lincoln knew that he would need to find a way to gradually emancipate the slaves, so that the United States would not live with this institution for another hundred years (Foner, 2010, p. 90).
"...in the 1830s...[Lincoln's] subtext [in the Lyceum Address] was that slavery created a social environment that encouraged lawlessness" (Foner, 2010, p. 28)
During the 1830s and 1840s, Lincoln was beginning to make connections between slavery, violent mobs, and abolition. Starting with the Lyceum Address from January 8, 1838, Lincoln directly addressed the growing violence that was creating a sense of lawfulness in the United States. At this point in his career, Lincoln was afraid that the growing violence was associated with people's discontent with slavery's continuance in the United States. The violence, Lincoln also acknowledged, was a result of the growing dissent with the abolitionist movement growing in the Northern states. Lincoln specified that "assaults on abolitionist meetings and presses endangered the liberty of all Americans" (Foner, 2010, p. 29). As a nation founded on the principles of freedom and liberty, Lincoln wanted to stress that these two unalienable rights were the reason these men were able to listen to Lincoln's speech at Lyceum and voice their opinions about slavery and the abolitionist movements due to these unalienable rights. "He embraced their understanding of genuine freedom" as he began his political career in the state legislature (Foner, 2010, p. 30).
In the following video, Dr. Matthew Pinsker closely reads and annotates Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.