American Political Thought: Abraham Lincoln and the House Divided

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American Political Thought: Abraham Lincoln and the House Divided

"A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free." Abraham Lincoln, June 16, 1858


Course Purpose

The Civil War has been interpreted as an attempt to resolve in practice the dilemmas of slavery and federalism left unresolved by the Founders. The causes that gave rise to the conflict and Lincoln's attempt to resolve them are essential to understanding American political thought. Lincoln responded to the threats of slavery and secession by attempting to vindicate the American Republic from the blight of slavery and to preserve a Union dedicated to the principles of the Declaration. Events during the Civil War era compelled him to clarify the meaning and destiny of the American republic. Most recently, Lincoln's role in preserving American democratic government has been criticized from both sides of the political spectrum. Are these critiques justified?

This course critically examines the challenge of slavery and secession to American republicanism and analyzes Lincoln's response to these challenges. It will examine Lincoln's leadership before and during the war. In order to understand more fully the political context of Lincoln's leadership, it will be necessary to consider the alternative views of American republicanism as presented by the radical abolitionists, Stephen A. Douglas and John C. Calhoun. The following questions will be raised throughout the course: Was Lincoln's interpretation of the Union and equality a fulfillment or a betrayal of the Founders' intentions? Was popular sovereignty the most democratic alternative to resolving the policy of slavery extension? Was the South morally and legally justified in seceding? Was Lincoln's leadership prudent or tyrannical? Was Lincoln sincerely committed to black freedom?


Required Texts

  • Mark J. Neely, The Last Best Hope of Earth: Lincoln and the Promise of America
  • Lincoln: Selected Speeches and Writings edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher
  • Reserved Readings in the Library (See list below)


Course Requirements

  • Midterm 20% & Final Exam 20% = 40%.
  • Critical Analysis Paper, 6-8 pages = 20%.
  • Debates on the Union & Slavery = 20%.
    • The Union and Slavery: Calhoun vs. Webster.
    • The Radicals: Young Frederick Douglas & Wm. Lloyd Garrison vs. George Fitzhugh
    • The Moderates: Lincoln Douglas Debates: Abraham Lincoln vs. Stephen Douglas
    • Secession & Disunion: The South vs. Lincoln
  • Class Participation: Quizzes on Reading, Participation, Attendance=20%.
    • Quizzes on Readings
      • Quizzes will reward students who do the reading and attend class
      • Quizzes will be administered the first 15 minutes of class
      • Those who miss a quiz due to tardiness or unexcused absence will receive a zero for the pop-quiz


Make-Ups, Late Work & Absences

  • Make-ups will only be given in the case of an illness that is documented by a physician
  • All make-up tests will take the form of an oral exam
  • Unexcused late papers will be penalized one letter grade for each day late
  • Students absent on the day of their group debate without a documented excuse will receive a "0" for their debate grade


Procedures for Critical Analysis Paper

  1. Must be related to the topic of the course: Lincoln, the Union and Slavery.
  2. Size & Style: 6-8 double-spaced pages, 1" inch margins, with proper documentation.
  3. You may analyze an event, a policy, a leader, a thinker, a speech related to the class
  4. Narrow the topic. Focus upon a specific theme. You must have a clearly identifiable thesis.
  5. You must include both primary and secondary sources.
    1. Primary Sources/Original Texts--that is, speeches and writings of eyewitnesses, leaders and participants themselves--for example, Frederick Douglas in his own words or a speech by Lincoln. All the readings on reserve are primary sources in addition to the Speeches and Writings of Abraham Lincoln.
    2. Secondary Sources--Scholarship, history books, biographies that explain the primary sources, actions and events during this time period. The Neely book is a secondary source.
  6. The goal of this assignment is to learn not only about the topic, but the process of writing from its conception to its completion. Therefore, students are encouraged to consult with their instructor throughout the process for feedback. They are encouraged to discuss a topic with him, to take advantage of his office hours, to present outlines and to present rough drafts before final submission.
  7. Proper documentation: Footnotes, Endnotes or Parenthetical and a Bibliography in accordance with the standard academic form of the APA or APSA.


Reserved Readings

  • The following primary source readings are on electronic reserve and in a photocopied packet at Wallace library. We will be making reference to them in class. The reserved readings are particularly relevant to the debates. To access the Reserved Readings look up Wallace Library Web Page and go under course Reserves.
  • Use lower case for everything.
  • The following are in order on reserve
    • Thomas Jefferson, Manners
    • Thomas Jefferson, The Kentucky Resolutions, 1798
    • William Lloyd Garrison, Editorial in the Liberator, 1831
    • William Lloyd Garrison, The American Union
    • Daniel Webster, Second Reply to Hayne, 1830
    • The Fugitive Slave Act, 1850
    • Calhoun Speaks Against the Compromise of 1850
    • John C. Calhoun, The South Defended
    • Daniel Webster's Seventh of March Speech
    • Antislavery Leaders Respond to the Kansas Nebraska Act, 1854
    • The Kansas Nebraska Act, 1854
    • The Kansas Nebraska Act: A Plot Against the North
    • George Fitzhugh, Cannibals All! Or Slaves Without Masters
    • Dred Scott v. Sandford, 1857
    • John Brown and the Remission of Sins by Blood, 1859
    • Frederick Douglass, The Constitution and Slavery, 1849
    • Frederick Douglass, The Meaning Of July Fourth For the Negro, 1852
    • Frederick Douglass, The Constitution of the United States: Is It Proslavery Or Antislavery? 1860
    • Abraham Lincoln, Peoria Speech, Oct. 16, 1854
    • Stephen Douglas from the Lincoln Douglas Debates, Ottawa Debate
    • Abraham Lincoln, Cooper Institute, Feb. 27, 1860
    • Why South Carolina is Leaving the Union
    • The Constitution of the Confederacy
    • Jefferson Davis's War Message, April 29, 1861
    • The War is About Slavery, Alexander Stephens
    • The War is over Constitutional Issues, Jefferson Davis
    • Frederick Douglass, Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln


Course Outline

Week 1: Introductory Themes & Questions.

  1. Slavery and secession challenge the very foundations of the American regime
  2. North vs. South define two incompatible conceptions of the American Republic and American dream
  3. Breakdown of First Principles. The Need for a Moral Consensus on first principles
    1. The Civil War may be seen as an attempt to resolve in practice the dilemmas of slavery and federalism left unresolved by the Founders
    2. Understanding American Political Thought in terms of those dilemmas and the attempts to resolve them. What were the dilemmas? What were the alternatives?
    3. An examination of Lincoln's attempt to resolve these dilemmas
  4. Was the Constitution profoundly flawed as some of the Radical Abolitionists contended?
  5. Were Lincoln's views consonant with the Founders?
  6. Were Lincoln's views a betrayal of the Founders as Southerners contended?
  7. Was Lincoln's commitment to black freedom a sham?


Week 2-3: The Declaration, Slavery and the Constitution, Historical Background of Slavery Extension.

  1. The Principles of American Self-Government; The Declaration as the Nation's Founding Document? A self-evident lie? The Ends/Goals of the Union. What ends was the Union dedicated? The Declaration and the Constitution--Harmony or Antipathy? Equality, Consent, Self-Government and The Blight of Slavery; The Meaning and Destiny of the Union; Federalism and The Union, Slavery and the Constitution
  2. Historical Background of Slavery Extension: Northwest Ordinance; Missouri Compromise of 1820; The Mexican War; Compromise of 1850; Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854
  1. Reserved Readings
    1. Thomas Jefferson, On Manners (On Reserve)
    2. Thomas Jefferson, The Kentucky Resolutions, 1798 (On Reserve)
    3. The Fugitive Slave Act
    4. Antislavery Leaders Respond to the Kansas Nebraska Act, 1854
    5. The Kansas Nebraska Act, 1854
    6. The Kansas Nebraska Act: A Plot Against the North


Week 4: The Young Lincoln, 1832-1852.

  1. Neely, Chapter 1. "Peculiar Ambition", pp. 1-30.
  1. Lincoln Speeches and Writings, pp. 3-92.
    1. To the People of Sangamo County, March 9, 1832, pp. 3-7
    2. Protest in the Illinois Legislature on Slavery, March 3, 1837, pp. 9-10.
    3. Address to the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Jan 27, 1838, pp. 13-21
    4. Address to the Temperance Society of Springfield Illinois,
    5. From Eulogy on Henry Clay at Springfield Illinois, July 6, 1852, pp. 85-90.


Week 4-5: Prelude to Civil War: Sectionalism from 1833-1857.

  1. Reserved Readings
    1. William Lloyd Garrison, Editorial in the Liberator, 1831
    2. William Lloyd Garrison, The American Union
    3. Frederick Douglass, The Constitution and Slavery, 1849
    4. Frederick Douglas, The Meaning Of July Fourth For the Negro, 1852
    5. Frederick Douglas, The Constitution of the United States: Is It Proslavery Or Antislavery? 1860
    6. Daniel Webster, Second Reply to Hayne, 1830
    7. The Fugitive Slave Act, 1850
    8. Calhoun Speaks Against the Compromise of 1850
    9. John C. Calhoun, The South Defended
    10. Daniel Webster's Seventh of March Speech
    11. Antislavery Leaders Respond to the Kansas Nebraska Act, 1854
    12. The Kansas Nebraska Act, 1854
    13. The Kansas Nebraska Act: A Plot Against the North
    14. George Fitzhugh, Cannibals All! Or Slaves Without Masters
    15. Dred Scott v. Sandford, 1857
  1. Debate #1: Calhoun vs. Webster on the Union, States' Rights and Slavery.
    1. Is the Constitution a Compact of Free and Independent States?
  1. Debate #2: Abolitionists (Douglas, Garrison and Phillips) vs. George Fitzhugh on the Union and Slavery.
    1. Is the Constitution a Pro-Slavery document? Is Free Society a Failure? Is Slavery a Positive Good?


*Midterm Exam


Week 6: A House Dividing, 1854-1860.

  1. Neely, Chapter 2, "Republican Robe", pp. 31-59.
  1. Lincoln, Speeches and Writings, pp. 93-239.
    1. Peoria Illinois Speech, pp. 93-99, Oct. 16, 1854.
    2. To Joshua Speed, Aug, 25, 1855, pp. 102-106.
    3. Speech at Republican Banquet in Chicago, Dec. 10, 1856, pp. 115-116.
    4. Speech on The Dred Scott Decision at Springfield, June 26, 1857, pp. 117-122.
    5. House Divided Speech, June 16, 1858, pp.131-139.
    6. Speech at Chicago, July 10, 1858, pp.140-148.
    7. All of the Lincoln Douglas Debates, pp. 149-196.
    8. Speech at Columbus, Sept. 16, 1859, pp. 220-228.
  1. Reserved Readings
    1. Abraham Lincoln, Peoria Speech, Oct. 16, 1854
    2. Stephen Douglas from the Lincoln Douglas Debates, Ottawa Debate
    3. Abraham Lincoln, Cooper Institute, Feb. 27, 1860


  1. Debate #3 The Lincoln Douglas Debates on the Union and Slavery.
    1. How Should the Question of Slavery and Slavery Extension be Resolved?


Week 7: The Election of 1860, Secession and The Outbreak of War.

  1. Neely, Chapter 3, "Commander in Chief", pp. 61-94.
  1. Lincoln Speeches and Writings, pp. 240-334.
    1. Address at Cooper Institute, New York, Feb. 27, 1860, pp. 240-251
    2. Speech at New Haven, March 6, 1860, pp. 253-261
    3. Farewell Address at Springfield, Feb. 11, 1861, pp. 277.
    4. Address to the New Jersey Senate at Trenton, Feb. 21-1861, pp. 280-281
    5. Speech at Independence Hall, Feb. 22, 1861, pp. 282-283
    6. First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861, pp. 284-293
    7. Special Message to Congress, July 4, 1861, pp. 300-315.
  1. Reserved Readings
    1. John Brown and the Remission of Sins by Blood, 1859
    2. Frederick Douglass, The Constitution and Slavery, 1849
    3. Frederick Douglas, The Meaning Of July Fourth For the Negro, 1852
    4. Frederick Douglas, The Constitution of the United States: Is It Proslavery Or Antislavery? 1860
    5. Abraham Lincoln, Peoria Speech, Oct. 16, 1854
    6. Stephen Douglas from the Lincoln Douglas Debates, Ottawa Debate
    7. Abraham Lincoln, Cooper Institute, Feb. 27, 1860
    8. Why South Carolina is Leaving the Union
    9. The Constitution of the Confederacy
    10. Jefferson Davis's War Message, April 29, 1861
    11. The War is About Slavery, Alexander Stephens
    12. The War is over Constitutional Issues, Jefferson Davis
  1. Debate #4: Secession. North vs. South.
    1. Was the South Morally and Legally Justified in Seceding?


Week 8-9: War, Emancipation and "A New Birth of Freedom", 1861-1863.

  1. Neely, Chapter 4, "Emancipation", pp. 95-122.
  2. Neely, Chapter 5, "A Free People Conduct a Long War", pp. 123-158.
  3. Lincoln Speeches and Writings, pp. 335-405.
    1. Appeal to Border States For Compensated Emancipation, July 12, 1862, pp. 335-337.
    2. Address on Colonization, August 14, 1862. pp. 338-342.
    3. Letter to Horace Greely, August 22, 1862, pp. 343. *
    4. Meditation on the Divine Will, circa early Sept. 1862, p. 344.
    5. Preliminary Emancipation, Sept. 22, 1862, pp. 345-347.
    6. Proclamation of Suspending Habeas Corpus, p. 348.
    7. Letter to George B. McClellan, Oct. 13, 1862, pp. 349-351.
    8. Message To Congress, Dec. 1, 1862, pp. 356-364.
    9. Final Emancipation, pp. 368-369.
    10. Letter to Hooker, January 26, 1863, pp. 371-372.
    11. Letter to Erastus Corning and Others, June 12, 1863, pp. 373-382.
    12. Letter to James Conkling, August 26, 1863, pp. 389-393.
    13. Gettysburg Address, Nov. 19, 1863, p. 405.


*Papers Due Week 9*


Week 10: Reconstruction, The Election of 1864 and Racial Adjustment, 1863-1865.

  1. Neely, Chapter 6, Politics as Usual, pp. 159-183 & Chapter 7, Fate, pp. 183-193.
  1. Lincoln Speeches and Writings,
    1. Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, pp. 411-414.
    2. Letter to Michael Hahn, March 13, 1864, pp. 418-419.
    3. Letter to Albert Hodges, April 4, 1864, pp. 419-421.
    4. Letter to Eliza P. Gurney, Sept. 4, 1864, pp. 432.
    5. Response to Serenade, Nov. 10, 1864, pp. 436-437.
    6. Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865, pp. 449-450.
    7. Letter to Thurlow Weed, pp. 450-451.
  1. Reserved Readings
    1. Frederick Douglass, Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln


Final Exam




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