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Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship

Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship

Автором Russell Freedman

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Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship

Автором Russell Freedman

4.5/5 (3 оценки)
144 pages
1 hour
Jun 19, 2012


From the author of Lincoln: A Photobiography, comes a clear-sighted, carefully researched account of two surprisingly parallel lives and how they intersected at a critical moment in U.S. history. Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were both self-taught, both great readers and believers in the importance of literacy, both men born poor who by their own efforts reached positions of power and prominence—Lincoln as president of the United States and Douglass as the most famous and influential African American of his time. Though their meetings were few and brief, their exchange of ideas helped to end the Civil War, reunite the nation, and abolish slavery. Includes bibliography, source notes, and index.
Jun 19, 2012

Об авторе

Russell Freedman (1929-2018) received the Newbery Medal for Lincoln: A Photobiography. He was the recipient of three Newbery Honors, a National Humanities Medal, the Sibert Medal, the Orbis Pictus Award, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, and was selected to give the 2006 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture. Mr. Freedman lived in New York City and traveled widely to research his books.

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Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass - Russell Freedman


Clarion Books

3 Park Avenue, New York, New York 10016

Copyright © 2012 by Russell Freedman

All rights reserved.

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to trade.permissions@hmhco.com or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.

Clarion Books is an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.


The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:

Freedman, Russell.

Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass : the story behind an American friendship / by Russell Freedman.

p. cm.

1. Lincoln, Abraham, 1809–1865—Juvenile literature. 2. Douglass, Frederick, 1818–1895—Juvenile literature. 3. Presidents—United States—Biography—Juvenile literature. 4. African American abolitionists—Biography—Juvenile literature. 5. Friendship—United States—Juvenile literature. I. Title.

E457.905.F725 2012



ISBN 978-0-547-38562-4 hardcover

ISBN 978-0-544-66827-0 paperback

eISBN 978-0-547-82286-0


To Dick Mayer

for the gift of friendship


When I was growing up in San Francisco during the Second World War, I would ride my bicycle down to the beach, walk across the sand, and stand at the water’s edge, looking out at the crashing waves and the wide Pacific. In my mind’s eye I could see exactly where I was standing on a map of the world. Over my shoulder to my right, that was north and Canada; to my left, south and Mexico; and straight ahead, far to the west was China, which, for some odd reason, was said to be in the East. If I climbed into a boat and sailed away and kept on sailing, sooner or later I would reach that distant and mysterious place called China. The idea thrilled me, all the more so because it seemed an impossible dream.

Like so many dreams, that one was put on the shelf as I went to college, served with the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea, and found my calling as a writer of nonfiction books on subjects that interest me. Abraham Lincoln was an irresistible subject. A poor backwoods boy, he rose from a log cabin to the White House. Self-educated, he became an eloquent writer. Brooding and melancholic, he was known for his jocular sense of humor. As president, he saved the Union from dismemberment and ruin, as Frederick Douglass observed, and freed his country from the great crime of slavery. The more I learned about Lincoln, the more I came to appreciate his subtleties and complexities. The man himself turned out to be vastly more interesting than the myth.

In 1988 my biography of Lincoln was awarded the Newbery Medal. So I figured that the time had come. I celebrated by realizing my boyhood dream and traveling to China in the spring of 1989 with a friend who is fluent in Cantonese, Mandarin, and some regional dialects. Thanks to his language facility, we were able to travel around the country freely for almost three months. China had not yet become an economic superpower. It was still a nation of tile-roofed villages and low-rise cities. People in Beijing lived among the narrow lanes and alleys of traditional hutongs, and bell-ringing bicycle riders commanded every intersection.

In June of that year, we found ourselves in the midst of a massive and continuing pro-democracy demonstration taking place in Beijing. Thousands of students were camped out in Tiananmen Square in the heart of the city, where they had erected a papier-mâché Goddess of Liberty, their version of the Statue of Liberty. And every day, tens of thousands of demonstrators from all walks of life were surging down Chang’an Avenue, the broad Avenue of Eternal Peace that leads to the square. They paraded by on foot and on bicycle, in commandeered buses and in trucks, carrying banners, waving flags, chanting slogans, and singing patriotic songs as crowds lining the avenue applauded and cheered.

I shall never forget watching as a gigantic banner, held aloft by twenty or thirty marchers, came toward me down the avenue. A huge face had been painted on that banner, and when I first saw it, I thought I must be mistaken. It was the face of Abraham Lincoln. And beneath his beard, in Chinese characters, were the words Government of the people, by the people, for the people.

A government surveillance helicopter clattered overhead, circling above the crowd. People looked up at it and jeered.

No one we spoke to in Beijing expected a violent government crackdown. But on June 4, Chinese army tanks and troops moved into Tiananmen Square, crushed the Goddess of Liberty, and cleared the area of demonstrators. The exact number of civilian deaths, estimated from the hundreds to the thousands, is unknown.

Before leaving China, we saw a half-torn wall poster, written in bold characters: ONCE UPON A TIME IN BEIJING, THERE WAS NO DEMOCRACY YET. I was reminded that Lincoln is not just a pivotal figure in the story of America, my country, but a universal symbol of freedom and democracy. He represents a vision of America that is held as a matter of faith by people all over the world.

Russell Freedman



Waiting for Mr. Lincoln

Heads turned when Frederick Douglass walked into the White House on the morning of August 10, 1863. It was still early, but the waiting area leading to Abraham Lincoln’s office was crowded with politicians, officials, patronage seekers, and citizens of all kinds seeking an audience with the president.

Douglass was the only black man among them. The others seemed surprised to see him, and some were none too pleased.

Lincoln tried to meet with as many callers as he possibly could each day. He said he enjoyed his public opinion baths and found them a useful way to find out what people were thinking. When first elected, he had refused to limit his visiting hours. They do not want much, he said of the throngs of citizens waiting to see him one day, and they get very little. . . . I know how I would feel in their place.

The White House, around 1865.

But the crowds became unmanageable. People showed up before breakfast and were still waiting to see him late at night. At times, even U.S. senators had to wait a week or more to speak with the president. As his work piled up, Lincoln realized that he had to restrict his visiting hours. He saw callers from ten o’clock in the morning till one in the afternoon. Priority was given to cabinet members and congressmen; if any time remained, ordinary citizens were admitted.

It wasn’t easy to see the president. Not everyone got in.

Douglass handed his calling card to a clerk and looked around for an empty chair. None was available, so he found a place to sit on the stairway leading to Lincoln’s office. The stairs were filled with other men hoping for a moment with the nation’s chief executive.

Douglass had no appointment. He had no idea how long he might have to wait, or even if he would be granted an interview. By meeting with the president, he hoped to secure just and fair treatment for the thousands of black troops who had enlisted in the Union army and were now fighting for the North in America’s Civil War.

When the war began, federal law prohibited blacks from serving in the army. But as the fighting continued, with mounting casualties and no decisive victories, the North finally allowed African Americans to enlist. Black soldiers fought with distinction, but they were paid only half as much as white

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  • (5/5)
    A superb portrait of the remarkable friendship between these two great men, and the influence it had upon historical events and race relations.
  • (5/5)
    This book by Russell Freedman takes us through the lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, starting from the very beginnings of their lives all through how they became friends and influenced the course of the Abolitionist movement and the Civil War. There's a lot of amazing historical stories in here that most history textbooks don't cover about either of these amazing men. Though we know what they did during their lives and how they each changed the United States with their efforts, this story delves more into the 'how' than the 'what'. The pictures are great, including the early photographs of both men. There are pictures of not just them, but of their environments which also help to farther explain their stories. This is great for research projects or for students who just want to learn more about Lincoln or Douglass. I enjoyed reading it. It is also well sourced and documented, and credit is given where it is due.
  • (4/5)
    Good biographical information about both men -- along with brief histories of slavery and the Civil War. The writing is accessible, but not juvenile. A good book for middle school students. Excellent photos and drawings.
  • (4/5)
    Great way to get the basics of two incredibly influential men in American history. Also, loved how the Civil War and push to end slavery was tied in. Wonderful read and teaching tool. Good for grades 4 and up.
  • (5/5)
    Very interesting book! I knew some things about both Douglass and Lincoln, but I didn't know that they had met. I was no aware of the influence that Douglass had on some of the decisions that Lincoln made regarding the Civil War. A very interesting book about two great historical men.
  • (4/5)
    They had both come a long way, rising from poverty and obscurity. They had both educated themselves, and in fact read many of the same books... And they shared a common purpose.Impressive research leads to thoughtful storytelling. I always enjoy Russell Freedman's work because of the storytelling, but in going through the citations and notes, I am thoroughly gobsmacked at the amount and depth of his research in this book, especially his primary source notes and quotations. Though most students are aware of the historic personalities of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, few authors have done much more than mention them as famous figures of the same time period. Freedman shows how their common experiences and beliefs led them from one meeting to an unusual friendship. In opening with the lead-up to their first meeting, and then backtracking to take readers through each man's life up to that point, Freedman sets the stage for the actual meeting in the White House. At the end of that meeting on August 10, 1863, Lincoln told him "Mr. Douglass, never come to Washington without calling upon me." Both men were passionate about ending slavery, and holding the country together. Their efforts were pivotal in the course of the Civil War, and in the shaping of the nation in recovery from that war. This is a fantastic book to give to students interested in Lincoln this fall, with the new Spielberg movie coming out soon! 6th grade and up.