Lincoln's Tragic Pragmatism

Lincoln's Tragic Pragmatism: Lincoln, Douglas, and Moral Conflict

John Burt
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 836
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  • Book Info
    Lincoln's Tragic Pragmatism
    Book Description:

    In their famous debates, Lincoln and Douglas struggled with how to behave when an ethical conflict like slavery strained democracy’s commitment to rule by both consent and principle. What conscience demands and what it can persuade others to agree to are not always the same. Ultimately, this tragic limitation of liberalism led Lincoln to war.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06733-2
    Subjects: History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Introduction: Implicitness and Moral Conflict
    (pp. 1-26)

    The aim of this book is to discern in the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates part of the unwritten political philosophical tradition that has shaped American political practices. More specifically, the aim of this book is to see both Lincoln and Douglas, even as they campaigned against each other with votes in mind, as articulating views about how moral conflicts should go on in a liberal republic, and about how to behave when a moral conflict strains the persuasive engagements upon which liberal government depends. The problems each posed to the other were philosophical problems, not merely partisan ones, and the issues...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Lincoln’s Peoria Speech of 1854
    (pp. 27-93)

    The speech Lincoln gave against the Kansas-Nebraska Act in Peoria on October 16, 1854, was a reprise of a speech he had given in Spring-field on October 4. The measure had been proposed by Douglas on January 4 and not passed by Congress until May, so Lincoln’s response was the product of long meditation. Lincoln’s response was the response of an old Whig, not of the Republican he was to become over the next two years, and it was quite different from the response of the “Independent Democrats” Sumner, Chase, and Giddings, who had published their own heated, even inflammatory,...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Lincoln’s Conspiracy Charge
    (pp. 94-177)

    The “House Divided” speech, given on June 16, 1858, in Springfield, was Lincoln’s formal acceptance of the Republican nomination for the Senate. The speech was strikingly different, in strategy, in the way it conceived of the opponents it was aimed against, and in tone, from the Peoria speech, both for its truculence—uncharacteristic of Lincoln—and for the breathtaking implausibility of its central charge, its claim that Douglas was a party to a conspiracy to force slavery into every part of the Union, the free states as much as the territories. Lincoln continued to press, even to sharpen, this absurd...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Douglas’s Conspiracy Charge
    (pp. 178-269)

    Douglas began the debates, in his opening speech at Ottawa on August 21, 1858, by making a false charge about the origin of the Republican Party:

    In 1854, Mr. Abraham Lincoln and Mr. Trumbull entered into an arrangement, one with the other, and each with his respective friends, to dissolve the old Whig party on the one hand, and to dissolve the old Democratic party on the other, and to connect the members of both into an Abolition party under the name and disguise of a Republican party. (1:497)

    Lincoln and Trumbull, Douglas argued, had created not only a new...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Douglas’s Fanaticism Charge
    (pp. 270-334)

    However Douglas may have felt about the abolitionists, or about Chase and Sumner, he knew very well that Lincoln was no fanatic. Douglas’s private comments reveal that he had fairly and even generously taken the measure of his opponent. Writing at the opening of the 1858 campaign to John W. Forney (who was himself shortly to join the Republicans), Douglas said of Lincoln, “I shall have my hands full. He is the strong man of his party—full of wit, facts, dates,—and the best stump speaker, with his droll ways and dry jokes, in the West. He is as...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Douglas’s Racial Equality Charge
    (pp. 335-448)

    Douglas’s charge that the founders of the Republican Party aimed to create an abolitionist party is false, although hostility to slavery was one of the new party’s key convictions. Nor was the Republican Party in general, or Lincoln in particular, committed to racial equality, as Douglas charged of both. While confining slavery to the states where it already existed was intended to compromise its vitality, to “put it in the course of ultimate extinction,” to cite Lincoln’s oft-repeated phrase, this free soil policy posed no immediate threat to slavery, since the end of slavery envisioned under that policy may have...

  11. CHAPTER 7 The Dred Scott Case
    (pp. 449-553)

    Lincoln and Douglas each strove to use the Dred Scott decision against the other. In different ways, Chief Justice Taney’s opinion put pressure upon the politics of both of them, and each sought to evade its force while foreclosing the attempt of the other to do the same.

    The methods they adopted to respond to the decision differed as the threat to them differed. Douglas could claim to support the decision since he supported its holding that the federal government could not prohibit slavery in the territories (a holding that ruled the central policy of the Republican Party out of...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Aftershocks of the Debates
    (pp. 554-648)

    Although at least a plurality of voters probably favored Lincoln, Douglas managed to win enough seats in the legislature to eke out a narrow reelection to the Senate in 1858. Douglas had an edge in the legislature to begin with, because some of the votes were cast by Democratic holdovers, whose districts may have turned Republican but whose seats were not at risk. In addition, the census of 1850, upon which the apportionment of election districts was based, was old enough to favor Douglas, although the districts were not outrageously gerrymandered by nineteenth-century standards. In the final tally Douglas had...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Coda: And the War Came
    (pp. 649-708)

    The great themes of Lincoln’s presidential speeches and public papers are the consequences of the great themes of the Lincoln-Douglas debates: that the absolute cultural precondition of political freedom is the moral equality of all people; that the problem of moral equality is fraught with conflicts so deep and so intractable that the Union, whose commitment to moral equality is compromised by hypocrisy and shadowed by self-deceit, cannot be preserved or retain its freedom except through a struggle that risks its survival; that emancipation is both morally and practically the necessary precondition of restoring the Union; that conflicts over moral...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 709-774)
  15. Works Cited
    (pp. 775-790)
  16. Index
    (pp. 791-814)