Book that Explores Lincoln’s Views on Slavery Wins 2011 Lincoln Prize

GETTYSBURG, PA (February 11, 2011)—A compelling and insightful book that explores Abraham Lincoln’s evolving ideas about the institution of slavery and the roles of African-Americans was chosen out of 106 top-notch submissions as the 2011 Lincoln Prize recipient.

Eric Foner will receive the $50,000 Lincoln Prize for his book, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (Norton), as well as a bronze replica of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ life-size bust, Lincoln the Man. Foner is the DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University. The Prize, sponsored by Gettysburg College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, will be awarded May 11 at the Union League Club in New York, less than a month after the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.

The Prize was co-founded in 1990 by businessmen and philanthropists Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman, co-chairmen of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York and co-creators 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, Foner offers a nuanced analysis of a man willing and able to change in response to forces beyond his control. He depicts the sweep of Lincoln’s career as a fascinating collision of moral judgments, political expediency, and military necessity. Foner traces the way that Lincoln grew and developed and was ultimately able to accept a biracial democracy when so many other Americans did not. He also deals subtly with Lincoln’s views on race, demonstrating that we are far too presentist in focusing on Lincoln and race and that Lincoln is less concerned about it than we are.

“Eric Foner has written an outstanding book focused on Lincoln and slavery from Lincoln’s earliest days until the day of his assassination,” said Lewis Lehrman. “In it he sums up the finest historical research on the subject, unearthing interesting new material. The Fiery Trial is beautifully written, in a clear, direct style characteristic of the author’s work.”

“I am pleased that Eric Foner’s book, The Fiery Trial, on Lincoln and the end of American slavery, has been honored as the 2011 Lincoln Prize recipient,” said Gettysburg College President Janet Morgan Riggs. “Foner provides great insight into Lincoln’s developing position on slavery and rise as leader of the new Republican Party.”

The three-member 2011 Lincoln Prize jury—Michael Burlingame, 2010 Lincoln Prize winner for his two-volume biography, Abraham Lincoln: A Life and holder of the Chancellor Naomi B. Lynn Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield; Paul Finkelman, President William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy and Senior Fellow in the Government Law Center at Albany Law School; and Jacqueline Jones, Mastin Gentry White Professor of Southern History and Walter Prescott Webb Chair in History and Ideas at the University of Texas at Austin—considered 106 titles for the award before recommending the finalists to the Lincoln Prize Board which makes the final decision. In addition to Lehrman, Gilder, and Riggs, the Board includes President of the Gilder Lehrman Institute James G. Basker; Gettysburg College Trustee Emeritus Edwin T. Johnson; and honorary member Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies Emeritus at Gettysburg College Gabor Boritt.

Seven finalists were considered for this year’s Lincoln Prize. The six that did not win were all awarded Honorable Mention, an occurrence that has rarely happened in the twenty-one-year history of the Prize.

Past Lincoln Prize winners include Ken Burns in 1991 for his documentary, The Civil War; Allen Guelzo for his books, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President in 2000 and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America in 2005; and Doris Kearns Goodwin in 2006 for her book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.

About Eric Foner

One of this country’s most prominent historians, Eric Foner received his doctoral degree at Columbia under the supervision of Richard Hofstadter. He is only the second person to serve as president of the three major professional organizations in his field: the Organization of American Historians, American Historical Association, and Society of American Historians. Foner’s publications have concentrated on the intersections of intellectual, political and social history, and the history of American race relations. He has taught at Cambridge University as Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions, Oxford University as Harmsworth Professor of American History, Moscow State University as Fulbright Professor, and at Queen Mary, University of London as Leverhulme Visiting Scholar. He serves on the editorial boards of Past and Present and The Nation, and has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, London Review of Books, and many other publications. Additionally, Foner has been the recipient of scholarship and teaching awards.

About the Honorable Mention Recipients

Robert Bray, Reading Lincoln (Southern Illinois University Press)—the first scholarly study of this important subject. The author has identified and listed what Lincoln read, has examined those works himself, and has analyzed how they may have influenced Lincoln’s thinking and writing.

Lorien Foote, The Gentlemen and the Toughs: Violence, Honor, and Manhood in the Union Army (New York University Press)—drawing on a wide variety of sources, especially courts-martial cases, the author explores persistent tensions and overt conflicts within the Union army over notions of “manliness” and “honor.”

Mark W. Geiger, Financial Fraud and Guerilla Violence in Missouri’s Civil War, 18611865 (Yale University Press)—an impressive piece of detective work. The author has uncovered an unknown financial conspiracy in Missouri in 1861, when “a small group of pro-secession politicians, bankers, and wealthy men conspired to divert money from Missouri’s banks to arm and equip rebel units then forming throughout the state.”

Stanley Harrold, Border War: Fighting Over Slavery Before the Civil War (University of North Carolina Press)—a leading scholar of the antislavery movement in the US, the author describes and analyzes the conflict over slavery from the 1780s through the 1850s along the entire North-South border.

Kate Masur, An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C. (University of North Carolina Press)—this carefully constructed book focuses on the connection between race, equality, emancipation, and the Civil War in the nation’s capital. Based on much new information about Congress and efforts to promote equality during the war, it offers the first serious analysis of emancipation in Washington and its aftermath.

Howard Jones, Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations (University of North Carolina Press)—a comprehensive overview of both Northern and Southern relations with the European powers, by a historian who has for many years studied and written about Civil War diplomacy.


Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition that includes Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate and other distinguished scholars among its alumni. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, founded in 1994, is a not-for-profit organization that oversees the Gilder Lehrman Collection and conducts history education programs in all fifty states, serving more than 150,000 teachers, their students and communities, across the country every year.

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