Currently a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center, James Oakes has been teaching and writing about slavery, antislavery, and the origins of the Civil War for nearly thirty years. Most recently, he is the author of The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics (2007) and Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861–1865 (2012), winner of the Lincoln Prize.
By the time he became president Abraham Lincoln had committed himself to a number of antislavery policies that closely tracked those proposed by radical abolitionists: aboltion in Wasington, D.C., radical revision of the Fugitive Slave Act, a ban on slavery in the western territories, and suppression of slavery on the high seas. He justified these positions by invoking the "antislavery constitutionalism" developed by more radical abolitionists. Yet in nearly every specific case Lincoln adopted a slightly less radical variation of the abolitionist policy, enabling him to distance himself from abolitionism and even claim that he was a "conservative."