On May 30, 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act became law, repealing the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and threatening to introduce slavery into parts of the Louisiana Territory where it had been prohibited under the terms of that compromise. At that moment, Abraham Lincoln was a private citizen with a modestly successful law practice; he had not held elective office for five years. Years later, Lincoln would reflect that, by 1854, his law practice “had almost superseded the thought of politics in his mind, when the repeal of the Missouri Compromise aroused him as he had never been before.” Politically aroused as he had never been, he thought and studied, and wrote a speech containing the ideas that would become the foundation of all his subsequent statesmanship–the Peoria speech of October 16, 1854.
Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas was the man primarily responsible for the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and it was against Douglas’s doctrine of popular sovereignty that Lincoln had to aim his main arguments in the Peoria speech. That doctrine held that Negro slavery was perfectly compatible with America’s founding principles and the sacred right of self government, and that the people of Kansas-Nebraska had the sacred right to vote slavery in or vote slavery out, as they chose. Lincoln denied this, arguing that the famous American principle, that “all men are created equal,” applied to all men, black or white, that “according to our ancient faith, the just powers of government are derived from the consent of the governed,” and that “the relation of masters and slaves is, PRO TANTO, a total violation of this principle.” Neither the people of Nebraska nor any people anywhere had a right to do wrong.
As Lewis Lehrman writes in his excellent recent book on the Peoria speech, the “spirit, and even exact phrases” of this speech “can be found at the center of almost every subsequent major speech, public letter, and state paper” authored by Lincoln (Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point [Stackpole Books, 2008, xviii]).
Christopher Flannery, Professor of Political Science, Azusa Pacific University
Read the document:
Speech on the Repeal of the Missouri Compromise
October 16, 1854 at Peoria, Illinois
This unit helps students understand the means by which the nation’s most costly war was fought and the critical decisions that were staked on its outcome. As the war that brought a greater number of casualties than all other American wars combined, it remains our most traumatic. Fought over two critical issues–whether it was legal under the U.S. Constitution for a state to leave the Union, and whether the practice of chattel slavery was consistent with the nation’s founding principles–it decided our national future. The three lessons in this unit guide students through important questions bearing on the means and ends of wartime policy:
The Ashbrook Center is partnering with the Liberty Fund to offer a series of seminars for social studies teachers. These seminars explore the meaning of liberty in the US Constitution by focusing on the debates over ratification and the origins of the Bill of Rights. Two seminars will be offered in spring 2011, each in a state capital where a critical ratification debate took place: Boston, Massachusetts and Richmond, Virginia. The seminars, which begin on a Friday afternoon and conclude the following Sunday afternoon, are offered at no cost, and each participant receives a $425 travel and expense stipend.
Each seminar can accommodate eighteen selected teachers, and each is being led by a university professor who also instructs in Ashbrook’s summer MAHG program. James Stoner, Professor of Political Science at Louisiana State University, will lead the seminar in Boston (March 4-6); Stoner is the author of two books discussing the influence of English common law and modern liberal political theory on American constitutionalism. Professor of Public Policy Gordon Lloyd of Pepperdine University will lead the seminar in Richmond (March 18-20). Lloyd designed and wrote two highly regarded interactive exhibits for TeachingAmericanHistory.org, one on the Constitutional Convention and the other on the Ratification of the Constitution. Applications to these seminars will be accepted through December 31. To apply, visit www.teachingamericanhistory.org/libertyfund/.
Ashland University’s master’s program in American History and Government is designed with high school teachers in mind. Courses are offered only during the summers, and you may earn the degree in as little as three summers of intensive coursework. If you already have a Masters degree or would simply like to obtain additional CEU’s, you may also attend specific courses for continuing education credit. Uniquely, the program engages in the substantive study of history and government. All courses emphasize the use of primary historical documents. Learn more about the program.
A sample course in the MAHG program: Sectionalism and Civil War
This course not only examines the political, social and economic developments in the period leading to the Civil War; it emphasizes the political thought of Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, and John C. Calhoun. It will be team taught during Session One by noted Lincoln biographer Michael Burlingame, Naomi B. Lynn Distinguished Chair of Lincoln studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield and by Lucas Morel, Professor of Politics at Washington and Lee University. During Session Five the teaching team will be Michael Schwarz, Assistant Professor of History at Ashland University, and Kevin Portteus, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Hillsdale College.
Through a generous gift by the children of Robert and Elizabeth Hoffman, 30 $700 graduate fellowships are available to teachers interested in studying in the MAHG program. The fellowship is open to any teacher new to the MAHG program, whether a degree-seeking or non-degree-seeking student. So, whether you are interested in earning your master’s degree, want to take a class to get a feel for the MAHG experience before committing to the program, or if you are simply interested in attending a single course for professional development purposes, the Hoffman Fellowship is a great way to get started in your studies at a reduced cost. To learn more about the fellowship and MAHG’s other financial aid options, please visit the MAHG Financial Aid page.
Each year, the Ashbrook Center works closely with a few school districts and local education agencies to develop customized Teaching American History Grant partnerships. These grants support professional development projects that aim to raise student achievement by improving teachers’ knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of traditional American history.
The Ashbrook Center can provide assistance to local education agencies in writing their Teaching American History Grant applications and in planning and identifying educational opportunities for teachers served by the grant. Grant funds can be used to facilitate high-quality in-service or pre-service professional development activities to improve American history content knowledge of teachers, collaboration between teachers and history experts, and mentoring and coaching of teachers. They may be designed to combine study at Ashbrook’s intensive week-long summer institutes with training and enrichment programs, offered by other grant partners, through one- or two-day workshops held during the school year.
Grant applications are usually prepared in the fall and due in the early spring. For more information about partnering with Ashbrook, contact Christian Pascarella at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A pocket-sized booklet that holds key texts of the American founding, including the Declaration of Independence and the entire text of the US Constitution and its amendments, as well as key primary texts interpreting these. Copies of the booklet are available for $1.00 each. A 10% discount is available for purchases of 25 or more.
To order, call (877) 289-5411 or visit ashbrook.org.