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Abraham Lincoln and Karl Marx in Dialogue

Allan Kulikoff

Publication Date - January 2018

ISBN: 9780190844646

152 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches


Why put Abraham Lincoln, the sometime corporate lawyer and American President, in dialogue with Karl Marx, the intellectual revolutionary? On the surface, they would appear to share few interests. Yet, though Lincoln and Marx never met one another, both had an abiding interest in the most important issue of the nineteenth-century Atlantic world-the condition of labor in a capitalist world, one that linked slave labor in the American south to England's (and continental Europe's) dark satanic mills. Each sought solutions--Lincoln through a polity that supported free men, free soil, and free labor; Marx by organizing the working class to resist capitalist exploitation.

While both men espoused emancipation for American slaves, here their agreements ended. Lincoln thought that the free labor society of the American North provided great opportunities for free men missing from the American South, a kind of "farm ladder" that gave every man the ability to become a landowner. Marx thought such "free land" a chimera and (with information from German-American correspondents), was certain that the American future lay in the proletarianized cities.

Abraham Lincoln and Karl Marx in Dialogue intersperses short selections from the two writers from their voluminous works, opening with an introduction that puts the ideas of the two men in the broad context of nineteenth-century thought and politics. The volume excerpts Lincoln's and Marx's views on slavery (they both opposed it for different reasons), the Civil War (Marx claimed the war concerned slavery and should have as its goal abolition; Lincoln insisted that his goal was just the defeat of the Confederacy), and the opportunities American free men had to gain land and economic independence.

Through this volume, readers will gain a firmer understanding of nineteenth-century labor relations throughout the Atlantic world: slavery and free labor; the interconnections between slave-made cotton and the exploitation of English proletarians; and the global impact of the American Civil War.


  • Places two monumental voices of the nineteenth century in dialogue for the first time.
  • Illuminates the perspectives of Lincoln and Marx on labor, labor relations, and slavery by presenting them side by side.

About the Author(s)

Allan Kulikoff is the Abraham Baldwin Distinguished Professor in the Humanities Emeritus at the University of Georgia. He is the author of several books, including The Agrarian Origins of American Capitalism.


"A highly teachable text that prompts readers to think about the U.S. Civil War as an international event and serves as a primer on free labor and Marxist thoughtâ. Kulikoff 's introductory essay and his selections are superb; they concisely illuminate the similarities and the differences between free-labor ideology and Marx's theories." -- Matthew C. White, Journal of the Early Republic

"Students will welcome the comparative lens that Kulikoff, a distinguished historian of early American history and the South, provides readers..."--John David Smith, Civil War Book Review

"Allan Kulikoff has done something ingenious. He has brought together in dialogue the president who presided over the capitalist revolution against slavery and the communist who called for capitalism's destruction. The result is clever, fascinating, and, because it's Kulikoff, insightful."--James Oakes, author of The Scorpion's Sting: Antislavery and the Ominous of the Civil War

"To Karl Marx's communists, Abraham Lincoln was the heroic 'single-minded son of the working class' who led his nation's struggle against slavery. Lincoln likened that struggle to the cause of the great European revolutions. Seeing the convergences as well as the clashes of these fundamentally different men, Allan Kulikoff illuminates two great minds making sense of the injustice and inequality of their time."--Sean Wilentz, Princeton University

"Kulikoff masterfully imagines how Marx and Lincoln viewed each other's decisions, proposals, policies, and perspectives with regard to capitalism and slavery. The book is a splendid and valuable exploration of critical issues that dominated the antebellum period and informed debates across borders, time and space."--Louis Ferleger, coauthor of Cultivating Success in the South: Farm Households in the Postbellum Era

"This is a most imaginative and useful contribution to the study of the causes and consequences of the Civil War and to the debates on slavery, emancipation, and free labor. Counterposing the writings, speeches, and correspondence of two influential contemporaries--Abraham Lincoln and Karl Marx--Kulikoff has provided important new insights into the economic, political, and ideological discussions of the Civil War era."--Stanley L. Engerman, University of Rochester

Table of Contents

    Editor's Preface
    Introduction The Corporate Lawyer and the Revolutionary
    The Documents:
    Chapter 1 Land and Opportunity in Antebellum America
    Chapter 2 Slavery as a Social System
    Chapter 3 Secession and the Civil War: Lincoln, Secession and the Border States
    Chapter 4 Slavery, Emancipation, and the Progress of the Civil War
    Chapter 5 Emancipation and Its Discontents
    Chapter 6 Marx and Lincoln on the Fruits of the Civil War
    Epilogue Marx and Lincoln after the Defeat of the Paris Commune
    Bibliographic Essay

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