Ron Fine’s Book Critique

This book critique was written by Ron Fine in his History 147:  United States History II class in Fall 2015.

Vorenberg, Michael. Final Freedom: the Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Final Freedom, written by Michael Vorenberg, examines the struggle among legal thinkers, politicians, and ordinary Americans in the Union and the Border States to discover a way to abolish slavery that would overcome the deficits of the Emancipation Proclamation. The author argues that the crucial consideration of emancipation happened after, not before the Emancipation Proclamation, and that the debate over final freedom was constructed by a level of volatility in party politics underestimated by previous historians, and that the abolition of slavery by constitutional amendment represented a new method of reform that transformed attitudes toward the Constitution. Michael Vorenberg had the intention of spreading the knowledge which he had researched to historians and scholars studying slavery and abolition, African American history, legal and constitutional history, and general U.S. history. Vorenberg structured his book into eight distinct chapters in which he explains a new facet of the emancipation of slavery. Organized chronologically, Final Freedom draws on a wide range of source materials to illustrate the history of constitutional amending during the second half of the Civil War such as newspaper articles, political speeches, private correspondence, and more. He explicitly writes about the outcomes of both the Emancipation Proclamation, as well as the 13th Amendment. Vorenberg concludes that although some may believe that slaves were liberated after Abraham Lincoln gave his Emancipation Proclamation speech, this was not the case. In reality, most slaves were liberated and freed once the 13th Amendment was ratified and placed into the constitution.

In essence, Michael Vorenberg’s Final Freedom makes a strong case for paying greater attention to the founding of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Vorenberg utilized sources and examples to aid him in arguing that the 13th Amendment was the true emancipator of slaves. He does this successfully by including effective and persuasive sources thus further proving his argument to be correct by use of evidence. Although he constructed a competent thesis, it could be improved by including an excerpt from an opposing viewpoint. By including an excerpt from an opposing viewpoint, Vorenberg could successfully rebut the opposing argument, thus making his undoubtedly stronger. The author has successfully achieved his goal of spreading the knowledge which he had researched to historians and scholars studying slavery and abolition, by constructing a well-versed book with evidence from sources and examples in history. The structure of Final Freedom is very well organized and is systematically presented. It is simple for the reader to follow along with the author’s thoughts because Vorenberg organized the book in a chronological order. Vorenberg’s conclusion of arguing that the crucial consideration of emancipation happened after the Emancipation Proclamation, supports the thesis and contributes to the overall message that the author is trying to relay to the reader. Although Vorenberg writes a knowledge-filled book, his assumptions are too demanding for the lay reader. He assumes that the reader is well-versed in African American History which affects the reader in a negative way. Although there are a few negative aspects, the positive aspects far outweigh the negative ones. Overall, this book comes together very effectively and is a must-read for those who are interested in U.S History in the 1800s.

Last Updated November 23, 2015