John Stauffer


On his book GIANTS: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln

Cover Interview of December 04, 2008

Editor’s note

Originally, this interview ran on the Rorotoko cover page under the headline

“Douglass’s and Lincoln’s intertwined story of change and self-making is the nation’s story.”

We highlighted two quotes.

On the first page:

“Douglass and Lincoln ultimately understood that continual self-making was antithetical to racism.  This was because the idea of “whiteness” as a sign of superiority depended on a self that was fixed and unchanging.  They stood at the forefront of a major shift in cultural history, which rejected fixed social stations and included blacks and whites, though rarely women, in the national ideals of freedom and equality.”

On the second:

“In the past fifty years, scholars have largely disparaged the concept of self-making. They see it as a term for Madison Avenue, not the Ivory Tower; it has the ring of an advertisement, not scholarship. Yet the concept of self-making, its rewards and costs, is central to the American experience, for it functions as a barometer of the ideals of freedom and equality of opportunity.”