Session 13: The Rule of Law, Slavery, and the Future of Self-Government
What is “reverence for the laws” and why does Lincoln think it is so important to “the perpetuation of our political institutions”? Who or what is the “towering genius” that poses the greatest threat to American self-government? What does Lincoln’s criticism of “old school” temperance reformers suggest about the proper mode of political debate for a self-governing people? What role does Lincoln believe religion plays in a self-governing society?
Session 14: Abolitionism and Constitutional Self-Government
According to Garrison, what is wrong with gradual abolition of slavery? Does he think the Constitution is pro-freedom or pro-slavery? Why does Garrison not endorse political reform as the cure for the nation’s ills? What is the key principle that Lincoln proposes for the “fusion” of various political interests into a new party? Contrast Lincoln’s approach to eliminating slavery with Garrison’s. What does Lincoln mean by comparing America to “a house divided against itself”? What is Frederick Douglass’s view of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution? Does he view blacks in the United States as Americans? What do blacks in America need to flourish as human beings and as citizens? Why is Lincoln not an abolitionist?
Session 15: Lincoln Confronts Stephen Douglas’s Popular Sovereignty
What does Stephen Douglas mean by “popular sovereignty”? Why does Lincoln view the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 as a reversal of American policy towards domestic slavery? How does “indifference” about the spread of slavery amount to “covert real zeal” for its spread? How does Lincoln justify previous national compromises with slavery? What is Lincoln’s definition of self-government and how does it inform his political rhetoric and policy proposals? What is Lincoln’s definition of democracy? What role does Lincoln think the Declaration of Independence plays in contemporary political practice? Why does Lincoln advise against a Republican call for repeal of the fugitive slave law? What connection does Lincoln make between liberty, union, and the Constitution?
Jaffa, Crisis of the House Divided, Epigrams, p. 15, and chaps. 3, 4
McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, chap. 6
Session 16: Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858
Contrast Lincoln’s understanding of the relation between public opinion and political rule with that of Stephen Douglas. What does Douglas mean by “diversity” and how does he use it to attack Lincoln’s alleged doctrine of “uniformity”? Why does Douglas think Lincoln is wrong to criticize the Dred Scott opinion? How does Lincoln answer Douglas’s charges? What does Lincoln mean by the “moral lights” of the community? In the second debate, how does Lincoln force Douglas into a quandary regarding popular sovereignty and support for the Dred Scott opinion? (See Douglas’s argument about “unfriendly legislation.”) In the seventh debate, what is Lincoln’s understanding of the Founders’ views regarding slavery? How does Lincoln show that the rhetoric of Douglas makes him a kind of abolitionist in practice?
Why did the South secede? Why did secession lead to war? For a half century the northern, free states coexisted politically in the same nation with southern, slaveholding states. Why and how did that national structure fall apart in the 1850s? Was this breakdown inevitable, or could wiser political leadership have prevented it? Why did the election of Abraham Lincoln as president precipitate the secession of seven lower-South states? Why did both sides prefer war to compromise? Could this terrible war have been avoided? Could the positive results of the war (Union and freedom) have been achieved without war?
Mackubin Thomas Owens, “The Case Against Secession”
Session 19: Lincoln’s Election, Secession, and the Civil War
As Lincoln recounts the early history of the federal government, what authority did it exercise over slavery? What problems do southerners have with the Republican Party, and how does Lincoln respond to their charges? Why does Lincoln claim that the southern disposition during the 1860 election year was to “rule or ruin in all events”? What is his advice to Republicans as they face opposition over the slavery controversy? In his address to the New Jersey Senate, why does Lincoln call the American citizenry God’s “almost chosen people”? What is Lincoln’s declared agenda as the incoming president? Why does he think secession unjustified and illegitimate? What is Lincoln’s view of the authority of the Supreme Court? What does Lincoln mean by “the better angels of our nature”? How does Lincoln think the country can avoid civil war?
Lincoln claimed to be fighting a war that would lead to “a new birth of freedom,” yet some claim he violated civil liberties on an unprecedented scale. How can a war for liberty be reconciled with such violations of civil liberties? Were the steps he took during the war constitutional? Why or why not? Compare and contrast Taney’s opinion in ex parte Merryman and Lincoln’s apologia in his letter to Erastus Corning and the New York Democrats.
Don E. Fehrenbacher, “Lincoln and the Constitution”
Herman Belz, “Lincoln and the Constitution: The Dictatorship Question Revisited
Session 21: Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation
The Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave under the authority of the Federal government, e.g., the border states of Maryland, Kentucky, Delaware, or Missouri. What did it accomplish? What did Frederick Douglass think about the Emancipation Proclamation at the time and then in retrospect? On emancipation, Lincoln moved too slowly for the radicals and abolitionists and too fast for the Democrats. How would you assess Lincoln’s actions?
Lucas E. Morel, “Forced into Gory Lincoln Revisionism”
Don E. Fehrenbacher, “Only His Stepchildren: Lincoln & the Negro”
James M. McPherson, “The ‘Glory’ Story”
Session 22: “A New Birth of Freedom” and Lincoln’s Re-Election
Why does Lincoln call “all men are created equal” a “proposition” instead of a “self-evident truth”? How does he see the Civil War as a test? What does he define “dedication” and why does Lincoln depreciate what was said at the Gettysburg dedication? What is “the great task” that remains for the American people? What is the “new birth of freedom” he calls the nation to experience?
What are Lincoln’s objectives as the newly re-elected president? Why emphasize that both sides tried to avoid war? Why is there no explicit mention of the South as the cause of rebellion in the Second Inaugural Address? According to Lincoln, who or what was the cause of the Civil War? Why does he appeal to God’s judgment to discern the meaning of the Civil War? How does the Second Inaugural Address forge a connection between America’s past and America’s future? In other words, why does Lincoln use his Second Inaugural Address to explain the meaning of the preceding four years?
Session 23: Frederick Douglass – Reconstruction and the Future of Black Americans
How did Douglass answer the question, “What Country Have I?” What was his critique of the emigrationist position? What was the basis for his greater optimism about race relations in America? Just as Douglass was the leading figure in the fight to secure the natural right to liberty for blacks in America, he was the leading figure in the post-war struggle to secure civil rights for African-Americans. Why does Douglass favor justice (“fair play”) over charity (“benevolence”) for black Americans? Why does Douglass counsel black Americans against “race pride”? Why does Douglass consider “the Negro problem” a misnomer for “the nation’s problem” and how does this affect the kind of solutions proposed to help black Americans? What was his critique of the emigrationist position? Does he believe in black reparations? If color prejudice is the bane of black Americans, what principles and policies does Douglass propose to eliminate it from American society?