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The Lincoln Persuasion

The Lincoln Persuasion: Remaking American Liberalism

J. David Greenstone
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zvv7w
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  • Book Info
    The Lincoln Persuasion
    Book Description:

    In this, his last work, J. David Greenstone provides an important new analysis of American liberalism and of Lincoln's unique contribution to the nation's political life. Greenstone addresses Louis Hartz's well-known claim that a tradition of liberal consensus has characterized American political life from the time of the founders. Although he acknowledges the force of Hartz's thesis, Greenstone nevertheless finds it inadequate for explaining prominent instances of American political discord, most notably the Civil War.

    Originally published in 1994.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6361-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. List of Charts and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Joan Greenstone, Michael Greenstone and Daniel Greenstone
  5. EDITOR’S NOTE
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    Louisa Bertch Green
  6. INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK
    (pp. xix-2)
    Carla M. Hess

    THIS BOOK AROSE from both David Greenstone’s questions about Louis Hartz’s claim that liberalism in the United States constituted a single tradition of understanding and practice and from Greenstone’s interest in using the later work of Ludwig Wittgenstein to analyze political practice. In Greenstone’s early work in American urban and labor politics, he took issue with Hartz in the specific context of labor politics (see Greenstone 1977 [1969]). Then, while he chaired the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago (1972–1975), David became interested in Wittgenstein’s epistemological conclusions. He began to wonder whether Wittgenstein’s observations could be...

  7. PART ONE

    • INTRODUCTION TO PART ONE
      (pp. 5-8)

      MORE THAN thirty years ago, Marvin Meyers began his classic study,The Jacksonian Persuasion, by identifying a persuasion as “a matched set of attitudes, beliefs, projected actions…. At a given social moment some of these [shared values of a community] acquire a compelling importance. The political expression given to such values forms a persuasion.”¹ A few years later, in the introduction to a new edition, Meyers added an implicit invitation to other scholars. At certain points, he noted, “the tired language of party politics” acquires a surprising new force, “a relevance and vitality.” “Characteristically, a commanding presidential voice and figure—...

    • ONE THE LINCOLN MYTH RECONSIDERED
      (pp. 9-34)

      MEMORIAL DAY, as W. Lloyd Warner wrote in his study of a small New England city, “is a cult of the dead which organizes and integrates the [community]…into a sacred unity.” In that cult, Abraham Lincoln functioned as a “martyred” saint. Revered as a prophet, his words “intoned … as if they were a religious chant,” he “loomed over the memorial rituals like some great demigod over the rites of classical antiquity.”¹ Warner’s overt claim was that Lincoln occupies a mythic place in American political culture. Warner suggested, moreover, that understanding the significance of Lincoln—and, more broadly, the significance...

    • TWO AMERICAN POLITICAL CULTURE: LIBERAL CONSENSUS OR LIBERAL POLARITY?
      (pp. 35-66)

      ANY ACCOUNT of the course of American political development must confront the issue of American exceptionalism. As citizens of the first extended republic, white American men were the first to enjoy nearly universal suffrage and the first to form mass political parties; yet, after the Civil War, massive industrialization and a continuing ideological devotion to political equality had relatively little impact on society and politics. Compared to working classes of other countries, for example, the American working class has been politically cautious—when it has not been positively quiescent—and the scope of the country’s social welfare programs has been...

  8. PART TWO

    • INTRODUCTION TO PART TWO
      (pp. 69-70)

      FOR ALL its virtues, Hartz’s version of the consensus thesis had a manifestly static character. The problem is not that the thesis ignored all change. In his narrative, in fact, Hartz often noted the effects of social and economic developments. The problem, rather, is that in Hartz’s account these developments affected political life from the outside while leaving its fundamental Lockean commitments undisturbed. But what of those essentially political developments such as the rise of political parties, the transformation of the presidency, and the constitutional supremacy of the federal government? Together, these developments profoundly separate contemporary politics from the world...

    • THREE ADAMS AND JEFFERSON: A SHARED LIBERALISM
      (pp. 71-94)

      DISPOSITIONS vary in importance over time. Apart perhaps from the painful case of the Alien and Sedition Acts, the first political struggles of the American regime did not reflect the reform-humanist polarity. The central concerns were, first, for securing independence and establishing the new regime and, then, for determining the proper powers of the federal government and addressing the conflicts among economic and regional interests. There was, to be sure, a continuing interest in the perspectives advanced by Lockean theory, by republicanism, by the continental and Scottish Enlightenments, and by Protestant morality. During this period, however, American political culture was...

    • FOUR ADAMS, JEFFERSON, AND THE SLAVERY PARADOX
      (pp. 95-118)

      I HAVE THUS stated my opinion on a point on which we differ,” Thomas Jefferson wrote John Adams in 1813, “not with a view to controversy, for we are both too old to change opinions which are the result of a long life of inquiry and reflection; but [rather] on the suggestion of a former letter of yours, that we ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other.”¹

      What were the vital points on which Adams and Jefferson disagreed? In the 1770s, they had collaborated on the founding synthesis that guided both the revolution and, in...

  9. PART THREE

    • INTRODUCTION TO PART THREE
      (pp. 121-123)

      IN THE generation after Jefferson’s death, the Jacksonian Democrats emerged as his humanist liberal successors. The Jacksonians’ devotion to political equality, to the sovereignty of individual preferences, and to universal male suffrage, also continued the work of the founders. Whatever the Federalists’ fears of popular excesses, whatever the Hamiltonians’ private skepticism about democratic principles, the new republic had a popular foundation. Relying at every point on the ultimate authority of the people, the Constitution swept away every vestige of a hereditary order.¹

      The Jacksonian Democrats confronted two problems the founders had been spared. The first problem was that of the...

    • FIVE WILLIAM LEGGETT: PROCESS, UTILITY, AND LAISSEZ-FAIRE
      (pp. 124-139)

      WILLIAM LEGGETT was the radical conscience of Jacksonian democracy. Seaman, poet, short story writer, and New York theater critic, he made his political mark as an editorial writer, first on William Cullen Bryant’sEvening Postand then on his ownPlaindealer. Leggett wrote his editorials only during the early and middle 1830s, before ill health overtook him. Yet, more than any other Jacksonian theorist, Leggett expanded on Jefferson’s belief in equality, utility, and universal individual rights, just at a time when the Virginian’s fellow Southerners were turning against such doctrines as subversive.¹

      Leggett’s rigorous laissez-faire creed spoke to both a...

    • SIX STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS AND POPULAR SOVEREIGNTY
      (pp. 140-153)

      WILLIAM LEGGETT’S problems with slavery anticipated the difficulties slavery eventually posed for all of Jackson’s northern followers. Among those followers, none paid more attention to the issue than Lincoln’s great opponent in Illinois, Stephen A. Douglas. Douglas’s solution to the problem of slavery was popular sovereignty, the doctrine that the white voters of each state and federal territory should decide for themselves on the issue of slavery. As Douglas readily acknowledged, the doctrine had been introduced into the national debate by his fellow Democrat, Lewis Cass, but Cass’s other interests had led to his appointment as secretary of state, a...

    • SEVEN MARTIN VAN BUREN’S HUMANIST LIBERAL THEORY OF PARTY
      (pp. 154-186)

      NEW YORK’S leading Jacksonian, Martin Van Buren, was by no means as philosophically sophisticated as Adams or Jefferson, or as theoretically gifted as his contemporary, John C. Calhoun. Van Buren, however, ranged creatively in a narrower sphere. Whereas William Leggett and Stephen A. Douglas elaborated on the familiar Jeffersonian themes of individual autonomy and states’ rights, Van Buren broke new ground. In so doing, he argued for asystemof competitive, equally legitimate political parties—a system that came to exemplify both the strengths and the limitations of American humanist liberalism. Divided from its opposition on basic principles, each party...

  10. PART FOUR

    • INTRODUCTION TO PART FOUR
      (pp. 189-190)

      IN THE antebellum era, the Jacksonian and Whig perspectives formulated the basic problems of democratic politics in sharply different ways. For the Jacksonians as humanist liberals, the essential problem was always posed by an existing set of political choices. Respect for the autonomy of the individual meant that one question always came to the fore: what practices, policies, and institutions were necessary to satisfy as many citizens as possible? Their political problem thus was alwaysinternalto the existing set of preferences; one always began with the existing distribution of preferences; and the goal was always how best to aggregate...

    • EIGHT JOHN QUINCY ADAMS
      (pp. 191-214)

      NO ANTEBELLUM FIGURE better illustrates the tensions between political morality and democratic polity than John Quincy Adams. From 1781 to 1828 Adams served his country with intelligence, effectiveness, and at times real distinction: as minister, in turn, to the Netherlands, Prussia, Russia, and Great Britain; as the chief United States negotiator in the Treaty of Ghent; as a member of the Massachusetts legislature, which in turn elected him to the U.S. Senate; and as secretary of state under James Monroe. Adams also declined an appointment to the Supreme Court. Yet historians, biographers, and Adams himself have all regarded his presidency...

  11. PART FIVE

    • INTRODUCTION TO PART FIVE
      (pp. 217-221)
      Dave Ericson

      LINCOLN always claimed that the free-soil policy of the Republican party had been the policy of the founding fathers. He engaged in extensive historical exegesis to prove that point in his Cooper Union address of 1860, and he earlier had clashed with Douglas on the point several times during the course of their famous 1858 debates. The third-generation controversy over the founders’ position on slavery discloses three important facts about American political culture and Lincoln’s central place within it.

      One, that controversy suggests the power of the myth of the founding fathers. Later generations debated (still debate!) political issues in...

    • NINE LINCOLN AND THE NORTH’S COMMITMENT TO LIBERTY AND UNION
      (pp. 222-243)

      FROM THE TIME of Daniel Webster’s celebrated Second Reply to Hayne in 1830, almost every Northerner had rallied to his eloquent statement of their sectional creed: “LibertyandUnion, now and for ever, one and inseparable!”¹ In linking the two major tenets of the North’s liberal faith—individual freedom and enterprise, and the providential importance of the Union and its republican institutions—Webster expressed his profound political moderation. As much as he personally disliked slavery, his devotion to union signaled a willingness to tolerate the institution in the South in order to avoid a rending sectional conflict. National survival required...

    • TEN LINCOLN’S POLITICAL HUMANITARIANISM: MORAL REFORM AND THE COVENANT TRADITION
      (pp. 244-286)

      THE ARGUMENT to be developed in this final chapter makes two basic claims. The first claim is that Lincoln’s position on slavery, like the position of the abolitionists, reflected a broadly humanitarian ethic. Unlike the humanitarianism of the abolitionists, however, Lincoln’s humanitarianism was political rather than personal. It required dedicating and when necessary rededicating the American regime to the moral, material, and intellectual self-improvement of every citizen. The second claim is that Lincoln’s political humanitarianism achieved coherence and intclligiblity—and attracted great popular support—because it drew broadly on beliefs and practices deeply rooted in American culture. That is, whereas...

  12. REFERENCES
    (pp. 287-298)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 299-312)