James Oakes Awarded His Second Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize

February 13, 2013

The 2013 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize went to Distinguished Professor James Oakes (History) for his book Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861–1865 (W.W. Norton, 2012), a groundbreaking history of emancipation. Oakes won the same prize in 2008 for The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics (W.W. Norton, 2007).

Awarded by Gettysburg College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the prize is awarded annually for the finest scholarly work in English on Abraham Lincoln or the American Civil War era. Oakes was chosen from 104 nominations as the 2013 recipient. He will receive $50,000 and a bronze replica of Augustus Saint-Gaudens' life-size bust Lincoln the Man in a ceremony on April 10 in New York City. Oakes earns this honor in the midst of the nation's 150th commemoration of the American Civil War.

The prize was cofounded in 1990 by businessmen and philanthropists Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman, cochairmen of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York and cocreators of the Gilder Lehrman Collection, one of the largest private archives of documents and artifacts in the nation. The institute is devoted to history education, supporting history theme schools, teacher training, digital archives, curriculum development, exhibitions and publications, and the national History Teacher of the Year Award program.

In the book, Oakes covers the history of emancipation, linking the political initiatives of Lincoln and the Republicans in Congress with the courageous actions of Union soldiers and runaway slaves in the South. He challenges the widespread belief that the Civil War was first a war to restore the Union, and only later, when it became a military necessity, a war to end slavery. Instead, Oakes asserts that emancipation and union were linked in Republican policy from the start of the war. The book offers a new understanding of the death of slavery and the rebirth of the United States.

Oakes's stunning book Freedom National restores to view the centrality of slavery to the Civil War. In powerful detail, he shows how slaves, free blacks, Northern whites, and secessionists all saw the war as about emancipation from the outset. It is a 'must read' for anyone who cares about American history," said Gilder Lehrman Institute President James G. Basker.

"Gettysburg College is honored to join with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History to award the Lincoln Prize to James Oakes. With Freedom National, Oakes provides a significant addition to his already impressive scholarly record on the Civil War and provides a fresh perspective on Abraham Lincoln's approach to emancipation," Gettysburg College President Janet Morgan Riggs said.

The three-member 2013 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize jury—Knox College's George A. Lawrence Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus and Codirector of the Lincoln Studies Center Douglas L. Wilson, who twice won the Lincoln Prize for Lincoln's Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words in 2007 and Honor's Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln in 1999; the University of Delaware's Henry Clay Reed Professor Peter Kolchin; and Colby College's John J. and Cornelia V. Gibson Professor of History Elizabeth D. Leonard, Lincoln Prize cowinner in 2012 for Lincoln's Forgotten Ally: Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt of Kentucky—recommended three finalists to the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize Board, which makes the final decision.

In additon to Gilder, Lehrman, Basker, and Riggs, the board includes Gettysburg College Trustees Emeriti James R. Thomas and H. Scott Higgins.

Past Lincoln Prize winners include Ken Burns in 1991 for his documentary The Civil War; Allen Guelzo for Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President in 2000 and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America in 2005; Doris Kearns Goodwin for Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln in 2006; and Eric Foner in 2001 for The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery.

The two other finalists for this year's prize were Stephen Kantrowitz for More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829–1889 (The Penguin Press) and Yael A. Sternhell for Routes of War: The World of Movement in the Confederate South (Harvard University Press).