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James Oakes
Position: Distinguished Professor
Campus Affiliation: Graduate Center
Phone: 212-817-8439
Degrees/Diplomas: Ph. D. University of California, Berkeley
Research Interests: American History
Selected Publications

Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861 - 1865. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2012).


The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics (New York: W. W. Norton, 2007).

Making a Nation: The United States and Its People (Prentice Hall: Upper Saddle River, N.J., 2001), chapters 14-19, 24.

Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South
(New York: Knopf, 1990).

The Ruling Race: A History of American Slaveholders (New York: Knopf, 1982). Second edition published by WW Norton, 1998.



"Natural Rights, Citizenship Rights, State Rights, and Black Rights: Another Look at Lincoln and Race," in Eric Foner, ed., Our Lincoln (New York: W. W. Norton: November, 2008), 109-134.

"No Such Right: American Political Culture and the Origins of Lincoln's Rejection of the Right of Property in Slaves," in Joseph Fornieri and Sara Vaughn Gabbard, eds., Lincoln's America (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2008).

“‘Whom Have I Oppressed’: The Pursuit of Happiness and the Happy Slave,” in James Horn, et al, The Revolution of 1800: Democracy, Race, and the New Republic (Charlottesville, Virginia: Univ. Of Virginia Press, 2003), 220-239.

“The Peculiar Fate of the Bourgeois Critique of Slavery,” in Winthrop D. Jordan, ed., Slavery and the American South (Oxford, Mississippi: Univ. Of Mississippi Press, 2002), 29-48.


"Kenneth Stampp's Peculiar Reputation," in Glenn Feldman, ed., Reading Southern History: Essays on Interpreters and Interpretations (Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, 2001), pp. 202-211.

“Why Slaves Can’t Read: The Political Significance of Jefferson’s Racism,” in James Gilreath, ed., Thomas Jefferson and the Education of a Citizen (Washington, D.C., Library of Congress, 1999), 177-192.

“The Compromising Expedient: Justifying a Proslavery Constitution,” Cardozo Law Review, v. 17, no. 6 (May, 1996), pp. 2023-2056.

“Slavery as an American Problem,” in Larry Griffin, ed., The South as an American Problem (University of Georgia Press; 1995).

“The Political Significance of Slave Resistance, History Workshop, 22 (Autumn, 1986).

“The Present Becomes the Past: The Planter Class in the Postbellum South,” in Robert Abzug and Stephen Maizlish, eds., New Perspectives on Race and Slavery in America (Lexington, Ky., 1986).

“From Republicanism to Liberalism: Ideological Change and the Crisis of the Old South,” American Quarterly 37, (Fall, 1985).

“A Failure of Vision: The Collapse of the Freedmen’s Bureau Courts,” Civil War History, 25 (March, 1979).


Encyclopedia Articles:


“New World Slavery,” “Plantation System,” and “Overseers and Drivers,” entries in The Encyclopedia of American History (Scribners, forthcoming).

“North American Slavery,” entry in Seymour Drescher and Stanley L. Engerman, eds., A Historical Guide to World Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

“Slavery,” entry in Encyclopedia of American Social History (Scribners, 1993).

“Small Slaveholders,” entry in Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery (Greenwood Press, 1988).

Review Essays:


"Defending Slavery," London Review of Books (tentative title, forthcoming).

"A Different Lincoln," New York Review of Books, April 9, 2009.

"They Rose Above the Din," New York Review of Books, October 23, 2008.

"Lincoln and his Commas," Civil War History, Vol. LIV No. 2 (June, 2008), pp. 176-193.

"The Ages of Jackson and the Rise of American Democracies," Journal of the Historical Society (December, 2006), pp. 491-500.

"Slavery in Florida," Florida Historical Quarterly (2004).

“Radical Liberals, Liberal Radicals: The Dissenting Tradition in American Political Culture,” Reviews in American History (2000).

“Was Madison More Radical than Jefferson?” Journal of the Early Republic (1996).

“The Invention of Race: Rereading White over Black,” Reviews in American History, 21 (1993), 172-183.

“The Politics of Economic Development in the Antebellum South, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, XV:2 (Autumn, 1984), 305-316.

“The Muted Firebell of Old Virginia,” Reviews in American History, II, (September 1983), 374-380.

Papers and Conferences:


“Utopian Liberalism in the Eighteenth Century,” Faculty Seminar, Scripps College, The Claremont Colleges, Claremont, CA, November 11, 2002.

“Some Thoughts on Proslavery Thought,” Southern Historical Association, New Orleans, November, 2001.

“The Peculiar Fate of the Bourgeois Critique of Slavery,” Univ. of Mississippi, Spring, 1999.

“Amistad and Identity Politics,” Horace Mann School, New York, January, 1998.

“The Enlightenment as ‘Social’ History,” Conference on “Commerce, Culture, Enlightenment,” University of Chicago, May 2-4, 1997.

Chair and commentator, panel on “Bankrupt Bondsmen and Fettered Females: Slavery Metaphors in 18th and 19th-Century America,” American Society for Legal History Annual Meeting, Richmond, Va., October 1996.

“Robert Wiebe’s Self Rule: A Comment,” Society for the History of the Early American Republic, Nashville, July, 1996.

“The Enlightenment as Social History,” Newberry Library Seminary in Early American History, May 23, 1996. Also given at University of Chicago, Department of Political Science, February 18, 1996.
Commentator, panel on “Slavery and the Southwestern Frontier,” Southern Historical Association, October, 1995.

“The Rhetoric of Reaction: Justifying a Proslavery Constitution,” Society for the History of the Early American Republic, Cincinnati, Ohio, July, 1995.

“The Rhetoric of Reaction: Justifying a Proslavery Constitution,” Symposium on Bondage, Freedom & the Constitution at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, New York, Feb. 19-20, 1995.

“American Thermidor: Republican Reaction in Post-Revolutionary America,” Law and Society Association Annual Meeting, Chicago, IL, May 27, 1993.

“Why Slaves Can’t Read: The Political Significance of Thomas Jefferson’s Racism,” Library of Congress, conference on “Thomas Jefferson and the Education of the Citizen,” Washington, DC, May 14-15, 1993.

“Slavery as an American Problem, “Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, Vanderbilt University, December 1992.

“Synthesizing Race, Class and Gender in Historical Studies,” Social Science History Association, Chicago, IL, December, 1992.

“The Liberal Dissensus,” Humanities Center, Northwestern University, November 4, 1992.

“Redefining Liberalism, “The Newberry Library Seminar in American Social History, Chicago, IL, May 5, 1992.

“The Liberal Dissensus, “Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, CA, May 1991.

“Slavery and Liberal Capitalism,” University of Chicago, History Department Colloquium, Spring, 1987.

“Comparing Slavery: Comment,” Conference on Comparative History, Northwestern University, Spring, 1986.

“The Planter Class in the Post-Bellum South,” Shelby Cullom Davis Center, Princeton University, 1985.

“The Myth of the Planter Class,” Conference on “Myths and Realities in the Old South,” Kentucky State Library, Louisville, 1984.

“Politics and Slavery in the Old South: A Comment,” American Historical Association, San Francisco, 1983.

“The Revolutionary Origins of the Civil War,” University of Dayton, 1982.

Miscellaneous Publications:


"Legislative Supremacy: Myth or Reality?" in Cardozo Public Law, Policy and Ethics Journal, v. 2, no. 1 (2003), 21-23.

"What's Wrong With 'Negative Liberty,'" Law and Social Inquiry, v. 21, no. 1 (Winter, 1996), 79-82.

"Comparative History and Analytical Abstraction," in Beyond White Supremacy: Towards a New Agenda for the Comparative Histories of South Africa and the United States, Collected Seminar Papers No. 49, (London, 1997)

"Slaveholding in Texas: A Response," Journal of Southern History, 51, (1985), 23-28.


Works in Progress:


Emancipation: The End of Slavery in the United States, to be published by W. W. Norton.

Professional Service:

Member, Program Committee, Organization of American Historians, 1996-97
Chair, Avery Craven Prize Committee, Organization of American Historians, 1992

“Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865″ (Norton)