“What we now want is a country — a free country — a country not saddened by the footprints of a single slave — and nowhere cursed by the presence of a single slaveholder,” Frederick Douglass said, as recorded in “The President and The Freedom Fighter” by Brian Kilmeade.
Kilmeade’s 2021 biography “The President and The Freedom Fighter” offers a new, unique perspective on two heroes from the Civil War: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Kilmeade, an author and Fox News commentator, brings a welcome reprieve from the all-too-common twisting of history to suit political aims.
Kilmeade begins the work by offering the reader a window into Lincoln and Douglass’ difficult childhoods. Rather than regurgitating their well-remembered achievements, Kilmeade reveals the man behind the myth.
Lincoln and Douglass were far different from the perhaps monolithic, stoic ideals that many of us are familiar with. He uses sound research to portray clear, relatable character development in each of the men throughout their lives.
While living in New Salem, Illinois, Lincoln wrestled a local troublemaker in the streets. Lincoln also managed the town’s gristmill, but spent his free time reading and eventually worked his way into law and politics.
Once, when Douglass’ slave master came to beat him, he defended himself — successfully. Douglass eventually learned to read and began to share his story at abolitionist conventions, becoming a leading voice in the movement to end slavery.
While Kilmeade expands beyond the major events in Lincoln and Douglass’ lives, he doesn’t fail to do these issues justice. He makes the weighty decisions of war and emancipation all the more complex by revealing the way in which Lincoln’s childhood and Douglass’ background in slavery contributed to the way in which they approached these issues. These men, the reader finds, had a personal connection to the Republic’s struggle for true liberty.
At the same time, Kilmeade reveals that the men didn’t simply draw from their own experience. He shows they held America’s founding principles in the highest regard. Kilmeade reveals how the principle of equality and the right to the fruits of one’s labor inspired Douglass to resist — and eventually escape — slavery. He also depicts how Lincoln’s self-taught education eventually brought him to “a reverence for the Constitution and laws.” In a day where supposed “experts” have the final say, Kilmeade shows that men from humble backgrounds can use their reason to find and defend immortal truths.
Kilmeade approaches the issue of slavery and America’s founding in a subtle, non-inflammatory way. By providing historical context, often incorporating Lincoln and Douglass’ own words, he suggests a more optimistic and patriotic perspective on the issue.
While “The 1619 Project” depicts America as a fundamentally racist country, “The President and The Freedom Fighter” reveals America’s struggle to advance the principles of the Declaration of Independence. At the same time, however, he refrains from going beyond what the evidence warrants. Kilmeade’s historical responsibility is impressive, to say the least.
With Hillsdale’s history of abolitionism — including two visits by Douglass — Kilmeade offers students a refreshing reminder of the school’s heritage. This book is a powerful message on the sacrifices made for the sake of liberty and equality under the law.