James Oakes

The Radical and The Republican

  • 38-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 7 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a college professor with a PhD in English
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The Radical and The Republican Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 38-page guide for “The Radical and The Republican” by James Oakes includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 7 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Constitutionality and the Role of the Government in Private Affairs and Race Relations, Social Class, and the Organization of Society.

Plot Summary

The Radical and the Republican is a nonfiction book written by James Oakes and published in 2007. While many nonfiction works are centered around a central thesis, hypothesis, or argument, The Radical and the Republican does not follow this pattern; instead, Oakes’s approach is one of compare-and-contrast. He sets up Abraham Lincoln (the Republican) and Frederick Douglass (the Radical) as foils, which allows him to move back and forth from the two historical figures as he examines their politics leanings, public speeches, and written works regarding the abolition of slavery both leading up to and during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Far from being an analysis of the records of Lincoln and Douglass, The Radical and the Republican is instead a presentation of two men and the beliefs they promulgated. Culling heavily from primary sources, Oakes allows the two men to speak for themselves. He does not moralize or offer his own position; rather, he acts almost as a moderator of a debate. By doing this, Oakes fades away and the heart of The Radical and the Republican rests entirely with Lincoln and Douglass and their encounters with not only each other but with their allies and enemies in politics and the public sphere.

While often times assuming a background of historical knowledge on the part of the reader, when necessary, Oakes elucidates the watershed moments that occurred on the road to the Emancipation Proclamation—the 1863 presidential decree that abolished slavery in states engaged in conflict against the Union—and the peripheral figures influencing both Lincoln and Douglass during this time. Such events as the Dred Scott Decision, the Missouri Compromise, and the Fugitive Slaw Act are briefly summarized, but the bulk of The Radical and the Republican serves as a character study of Lincoln and Douglass and how men of similar conviction often times stood diametrically opposed in regards to the role and powers provided to the Federal Government, how slavery should be handled in the United States, and the best way to first curtail and then ultimately end the practice.

In short, The Radical and the Republican offers both a compelling contrast between the roles required of a statesman versus the job and responsibilities of an activist, and it also expertly highlights the delays and obstacles that plague a popular democracy when it comes to either abolishing and changing policy measures on hot-button, highly contested issues.

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