The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History recently announced the finalists for this year’s Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize. Freedom’s Crescent: The Civil War and the Destruction of Slavery in the Lower Mississippi Valley, written by John Rodrigue, Stonehill College’s Lawrence and Theresa Salameno Professor of History, was among five works recognized this year. The $50,000 prize is awarded annually to a work that enhances the general public’s understanding of Abraham Lincoln, the American Civil War soldier, or the American Civil War era.

“The Lincoln Prize can be considered the pinnacle of Lincoln and Civil War studies,” Rodrigue said. “For me, just being mentioned in the same category with the past winners and other finalists is a tremendous honor. It’s very rewarding to have the confirmation that Freedom’s Crescent would be an important book.”

Cover of Freedom's Crescent: The Civil War and the Destruction of Slavery in the Lower Mississippi Valley
Freedom's Crescent: The Civil War and the Destruction of Slavery in the Lower Mississippi Valley by Professor John Rodrigue

Freedom’s Crescent focuses on four states in the lower Mississippi valley (Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana), each of which seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy. Through an investigation of military campaigns, the abolishment of slavery, and political events in the region, the book identifies the area as the epicenter of emancipation. 

In producing this work, Rodrigue sought to demonstrate that the end of slavery faced countless challenges, including many that came after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Modern understanding of the Constitution and federal authority lead many to assume that those in power in the 1860s were determined to impose a federal amendment abolishing slavery, but that is not how the situation was viewed at the time.

“There were some very real political and constitutional obstacles that had to be overcome,” Rodrigue said. “Wartime Reconstruction in the lower Mississippi valley indicates how easily that objective could have failed.”

The winner of the 2024 Lincoln Prize will be announced on Thursday, February 29, 2024. The award was established in 1990 by businessmen and philanthropists Lewis E. Lehrman and the late Richard Gilder, in partnership with Gettysburg College and Professor Gabor Boritt, Director Emeritus of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College.

“The range and quality of new historical writing is fully on display in these five finalists for the 2024 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize. From boy soldiers to battlefield heroism, plantation slavery to radical abolitionism, these books are full of the stories and issues that continue to reverberate today,” said James G. Basker, president of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in a press release.