Author’s Voice program about Lincoln and Civil War history, A House Divided, benefits from the fact that we stream our shows live from Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in Chicago. The Book Shop has been dealing in rare and collectible books, autographs, manuscripts, and art relating to Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War since at least 1938. As a result we are able to attract some of the finest writers of American history in the field, be they academic scholars, popular biographers, or talented “indies” with a great ideas.
On January 25, 2019, we were delighted to host Professor David Blight from Yale University to sign and discuss his ground-breaking biography Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. This remarkable book is, as of this writing, reputed to be a finalist for the 2019 Gilder-Lehrman Lincoln Prize.
While discussing the life of the great abolitionist and orator, we had a chance to look at a number of related items from the Book Shop’s stock. Douglass was appointed Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia in later life – a job that placed him on the “inside” of the Republican power structure. As such he signed any number of deeds, such as this document from October, 1885. David Blight pointed out that this personal success on Douglass’ part, while it provided influence and income for his large extended family, also placed him at odds with his “cause.” Such is the eternal challenge to the successful insurgent who finds himself on the inside of power.
We also shared a reproduction copy of a rare publication of the Emancipation Proclamation – the broadside printed by the State Department. While there are many fine decorative versions of the Proclamation, each with its own claim to originality, the broadsides printed by the Government for promulgating the new policy have a special sense of instrumentality. Historian Richard Hofstadter once claimed that Lincoln’s Proclamation had all the moral drama of a “bill of lading.” These instrumental publications contain more drama than anybody could wish from simple language in that these documents actually liberated enslaved people and made them “forever free.” In our interview David Blight gave a particularly compelling description of Douglass’ experiences on the first Emancipation Day, January 1, 1863.
Watch David Blight’s interview: