Abraham Lincoln's Political Thought

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Course Level:
Course Length:
15 weeks

Course Description

This course is designed to introduce students to the political thought and statesmanship of Abraham Lincoln.  Particular attention will be paid to Lincoln’s speeches and writings, as well as key pieces of secondary literature to help illuminate broader themes in the course.  Specific topics will include Lincoln’s thoughts on the relationship between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, free labor, natural rights, equality and slavery, union and secession, law abidingness, civil religion, and executive power, just to name a few.

Required Readings:

  • Joseph R. Fornieri, ed.  The Language of Liberty: The Political Speeches and Writings of Abraham Lincoln. Revised Bicentennial Edition. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2009.
  • Kenneth L. Deutsch and Joseph R. Fornieri, Lincoln’s American Dream: Clashing Political Perspectives. Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2005.

Method of Instruction

This course is generally taught in a discussion oriented format.  Although there will be specific instances during the semester where a more traditional lecture oriented format might be necessary, we will try to keep the course as conversational as possible.  Students must therefore be prepared to ask questions, answer questions posed to them by their peers and the instructor, and offer thoughtful contributions to discussion.  Above all, one should do the readings assigned for each class session prior to coming to class.  One should be prepared and be willing to participate in discussion about the material.  Frequent class discussion will foster a classroom environment that will be far more interesting and rewarding than one in which the instructor simply lectures every day. Moreover, as part of a liberal education, a discussion oriented, question and answer format helps us to develop the skills necessary to engage material, appropriate knowledge for ourselves, and to try to better understand what it means to be both a human being and a citizen.  In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, if you have a disability and may require some type of instructional and/or examination accommodation, please contact the instructor early in the semester (preferably within the first two weeks) so that he can provide or assist in providing accommodations you may need.

Attendance Policy

Please be advised that there is an attendance policy for this course.  Attendance at each class meeting is both expected and required. Because we will spend most of our time engaged in class discussion, habitually absent students can expect extreme difficulty in this course.  Students with extended absences due to illness or other special circumstances should see the instructor as soon as possible.  Extended absences are highly discouraged, as they will adversely affect the student’s grade.  In this course, the student’s final grade will be reduced half a letter grade for each unexcused absence over three

Classroom Etiquette

Please do not come late to class, as this is both discourteous and disruptive.  Students who come to class after attendance has been taken, or leave during class without permission from the instructor, will be considered absent.  In addition to coming to class on time, the instructor requests that students refrain from sleeping, text messaging, talking on cell phones, reading the newspaper, etc.  These things are discourteous and disruptive both to the instructor and to other classmates.  All cell phones, mp3 players, and the like, should be turned off before entering the classroom.  If there are special circumstances regarding these matters, please discuss them with the instructor as early as possible.

Class Participation

Proper participation in class is both required and rewarded.  As this is a course that will often concern the discussion of ideas, simple attendance without participating in discussion is insufficient.  The good student will not only be present and attentive in class, but will also actively participate in class discussion by answering questions about the assigned readings, raising questions, and volunteering thoughtful observations about the material.  Proper class participation also requires that the student behave with proper courtesy and regard for others’ comments.  In general, no one should talk while someone else is talking and we should all strive to treat one another with the proper courtesy and respect.  A student’s grade in the course will not be lowered merely for lack of active class participation, although the instructor reserves the right to raise “border line” grades if he judges a student’s participation to have been exceptionally good. 


There will be six quizzes given throughout the semester (about every two weeks).  Only five of these quizzes will count toward the student’s final grade in the course.  Although the instructor will drop the student’s lowest quiz score, one should keep in mind that the remaining quizzes will comprise 25% of the student’s final grade. The quizzes will consist of a few questions (format may vary) to be completed at the beginning of class on the dates specified in the class schedule below.  Each quiz will cover the class lectures and assigned readings from the preceding two weeks, as well as readings assigned for the day of the quiz.  Make-up quizzes will be given only in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

Essay Assignments

There will be two essay assignments (1500-1800 words each) assigned during the semester.  Details will be discussed early in the semester.  Each of these essays will comprise 20% of the student’s final grade.  Essays are to be handed in at the beginning of class two weeks after the assignments are made, on the due dates given in the schedule below.  Note the following policies regarding these essay assignments:  1. Late essays will be accepted up to three days after the due date, however, these essays will be docked ten points for each day they are late.  This includes weekends. 2. The word requirement will be taken seriously.  Please provide a word count on the first page of your essay.  Any essay that fails to fulfill the word requirement (i.e. too many words or too few) will be docked five points.  3. Any evidence of plagiarism will be treated in accordance with university and departmental policies and procedures.  See “Academic Integrity and Plagiarism” below. 

Final Examination

The final examination will be given in class on the date assigned by the university.  Please see the class schedule below.  This final exam will count for 35% of the student’s final grade in the course.  It will be a comprehensive exam comprised of short answer and essay questions regarding any of the lectures and assigned readings covered in this course.  In other words, all material covered throughout the course will be considered “fair game.”  Make-up examinations will be given only in the most extraordinary of circumstances.


Final course grades are based upon the quizzes, required written assignments, and final exam, as well as the regularity and quality of class participation, less any penalties due to extended unexcused absences. Grading will be distributed as follows:

1. 5/6 Quizzes:  25% of the final grade (125 points)

2. Essay Assignment #1:  20% (100 points)

3. Essay Assignment #2:  20% (100 points)

4. Comprehensive Final Exam:  35% (175 points)


                                            500 possible points


Final grades will be assigned based upon the percentage of total points achieved.  The grading scale is: 


A = 90-100% (roughly 450-500 points) (90-92 = A-)

B = 80-89% (roughly 400-449 points) (87-89 = B+) (80-82 = B-)

C = 70-79% (roughly 350-399 points) (77-79 = C+) (70-72 = C-)

D = 60-69% (roughly 300-349 points)

F = 0-59% (roughly 0-299 points)


Please remember that the student’s final grade in this course will be reduced half a letter grade for each unexcused absence over three.  Again, grades will not be lowered merely for lack of active class participation, although the instructor reserves the right to raise “border line” grades if he judges a student’s participation to have been exceptionally good.  For information regarding Incompletes, Course Withdrawals, Grade Appeals, or other such matters, please refer to the “Academic Policies” section of the Undergraduate Catalog.

Course Schedule


The following schedule is meant to serve as a broad outline of the course.  The instructor reserves the right to make reasonable adjustments to the readings and schedule if necessary.


Introduction: Syllabus and course overview; political philosophy, political thought, and statesmanship.  What does the study of Lincoln’s political thought and actions contribute to our understanding of politics?


I. Young Lincoln and Whig Politics, (1832-1854):


  • Joseph R. Fornieri, The Language of Liberty, pp. 4-9.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “To the People of Sangamo County,” March 9, 1832, in Fornieri, pp. 9-13.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “To the Editor of the Sangamo Journal,” June 13, 1836, in Fornieri, pp. 13-14.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Protest in Illinois Legislature on Slavery,” March 3, 1837, in Fornieri, pp. 22-23.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions: Address before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois,” January 27, 1838, in Fornieri, pp. 24-33.          
  • Mark E. Neely, Jr., “Lincoln’s Lyceum Speech and the Origins of Modern Myth,” in Deutsch and Fornieri, Lincoln’s American Dream, pp. 162-79.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Temperance Address Delivered before the Springfield Washington Temperance Society,” February 22, 1842, in Fornieri, pp. 60-68.
  • Michael P. Zuckert, “Lincoln and the Problem of Civil Religion,” in Deutsch and Fornieri, pp. 350-66.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Letter to the Editor of the Illinois Gazette,” August 11, 1846, in Fornieri, pp. 743-45.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “To the Voters of the 7th Congressional District,” Handbill Replying to Charges of Infidelity, July 31, 1846, in Fornieri, p. 745.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Resolutions in the U.S. House of Representatives,” December 22, 1847, in Fornieri, pp. 80-82.
  • Abraham Lincoln, On the War with Mexico: “Speech in the U.S. House of Representatives,” January 12, 1848, in Fornieri, pp. 82-90.
  • Abraham Lincoln, On the Presidential Question: “Speech in the U.S. House of Representatives,” July 27, 1848, in Fornieri, pp. 106-21.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Remarks and Resolutions Introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives Concerning the Abolition of Slavery in the District of Columbia,” January 10, 1849, in Fornieri, pp. 121-23.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Eulogy on Henry Clay Delivered in the State House at Springfield, Illinois,” July 6, 1852, in Fornieri, pp. 128-40.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Fragments on Government,” July 1, 1854(?), in Fornieri, pp. 140-41.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Fragments on Slavery,” July 1, 1854(?), in Fornieri, pp. 149-51.


II. A House Divided (1854-1858):


  • Fornieri, pp. 145-49.
  • Abraham Lincoln, The Peoria Address: “The Repeal of the Missouri Compromise and the Propriety of its Restoration,” October 6, 1854, in Fornieri, pp. 151-84.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Letter to Owen Lovejoy,” August 11, 1855, and “Letter to Joshua F. Speed,” August 4, 1855, in Fornieri, pp. 185-86, 188-91.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “On Sectionalism,” October 1, 1856(?) in Fornieri, pp. 193-97.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Speech at a Republican Banquet, Chicago, Illinois” December 10, 1856, in Fornieri, pp. 197-99.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Speech on the Dred Scott Decision,” Springfield, Illinois, June 26, 1857, in Fornieri, pp. 211-23.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “A House Divided”: Address Delivered at Springfield, Illinois at the Close of the Republican State Convention, June 16, 1858, in Fornieri, pp. 223-31.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Speech in Reply to Douglas at Chicago, Illinois,” July 10, 1858, in Fornieri, pp. 232-48.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Fragment on Slavery,” August 1, 1858(?), in Fornieri, p. 264.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Fragment on Slavery”: Pro-Slavery Theology, October 1, 1858(?), in Fornieri, p. 746.
  • Fornieri, pp. 266-75 on the Lincoln-Douglas Debates.
  • Joseph R. Fornieri, “Lincoln, the Natural Law, and Prudence” in Fornieri, pp. xvii-xxxiii only.
  • The Lincoln-Douglas Debates (1858) -- First Joint Debate, Ottawa, Illinois, August 21, 1858, in Fornieri, pp. 275-308.
  • First Joint Debate Continued.
  • Second Joint Debate, Freeport, Illinois, August 27, 1858, in Fornieri, pp. 308-42.
  • Third Joint Debate, Jonesboro, Illinois, September 15, 1858.  Read pp. 352-356 only.
  • Fourth Joint Debate, Charleston, Illinois, September 18, 1858. Read pp. 383-84 only.
  • Fifth Joint Debate, Galesburg, Illinois, October 7, 1858. Read pp. 449-51 only.
  • Sixth Joint Debate, Quincy, Illinois, October 13, 1858. Read pp. 470-75, 484-91, 493-95 and 497-99 only.
  • Seventh Joint Debate, Alton, Illinois, October 15, 1858.  Read pp. 523-25, 532-38 only.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Letter to H.L. Pierce and Others,” April 6, 1859, in Fornieri, pp. 748-50.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Speech at Cincinnati, Ohio,” September 17, 1859, in Fornieri, pp. 750-73.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Fragment on Free Labor,” September 17, 1859(?), in Fornieri, pp. 773-74.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society,” Milwaukee, Wisconsin, September 30, 1859 [follow link in Blackboard].
  • Fornieri, pp. 548-56.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Address at Cooper Institute, New York,” February 27, 1860, in Fornieri, pp. 558-75.
  • Abraham Lincoln, Fragment on the Constitution, the Declaration and the Union, 1860(?), in Fornieri, pp. 575-76.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Speech at New Haven Connecticut,” March 6, 1860, in Fornieri, pp. 774-89.


III. The Civil War and Emancipation:


  • Abraham Lincoln, “Farewell Address at Springfield, Illinois,” February 11, 1861 [follow link in Blackboard].
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Address to the New Jersey Senate at Trenton, New Jersey,” February 21, 1861, in Fornieri, pp. 577-78.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Address in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” February 22, 1861, in Fornieri, pp. 579-80.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “First Inaugural Address,” March 4, 1861, in Fornieri, pp. 580-88.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Message to Congress in Special Session,” July 4, 1861, in Fornieri, pp. 588-602.
  • James G. Randall, “Lincoln in the Role of Dictator,” in Deutsch and Fornieri, pp. 278-89.
  • Herman Belz, “Lincoln and the Constitution: The Dictatorship Question Reconsidered,” in Deutsch and Fornieri, pp. 289-304.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Message to Congress,” March 6, 1862, in Fornieri, pp. 620-22.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Letter to the Senate and House of Representatives,” April 16, 1862, in Fornieri, p. 624.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Appeal to Border States Representatives to Favor Compensated Emancipation,” July 12, 1862, in Fornieri, pp. 627-29.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Address on Colonization to a Deputation of Negroes,” August 14, 1862 [follow link on Blackboard].
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Letter to Horace Greeley,” August 22, 1862 in Fornieri, pp. 630-32.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Reply to Emancipation Memorial Presented By Chicago Christians of All Denominations, “September 13, 1862 in Fornieri, pp. 792-98.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Meditation on the Divine Will,” September 30, 1862, in Fornieri, pp. 798-99.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Annual Message to Congress,” December 1, 1862.  Read pp. 643-53 only.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation,” September 2, 1862 and “Final Emancipation Proclamation,” January 1, 1863, in Fornieri, pp. 653-58.
  • Bennett, Lerone J., Jr.  “Was Abe Lincoln a White Supremacist?”  Ebony 23 (February, 1968): 35-42 [follow link in Blackboard].
  • Lucas E. Morel, “Forced into Gory Revisionism: A Review of Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream,” in Deutsch and Fornieri, pp. 202-07.
  • Joseph R. Fornieri, “Lincoln, the Natural Law and Prudence” in Fornieri, pp. xxxiii-lvii only.
  • Fornieri, pp. 661-67.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Letter to Erastus Corning and Others,” June 12, 1863, in Fornieri, pp. 670-78.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Letter to James C. Conkling,” August 26, 1863, in Fornieri, pp. 680-84.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Address Delivered at the Dedication of the Cemetery at Gettysburg” November 19, 1863, in Fornieri, pp. 684-85.
  • Willmoore Kendall, “Equality: Commitment or Ideal?” in Deutsch and Fornieri, pp. 60-71.
  • Harry V, Jaffa, “Equality as a Conservative Principle,” in Deutsch and Fornieri, pp. 71-98.
  • Frank J. Williams and William D. Pederson, “Abraham Lincoln as an Advocate of Positive Government,” in Deutsch and Fornieri, pp. 393-98.
  • Thomas J. DiLorenzo, “The Great Centralizer:  Abraham Lincoln and the War Between the States,” in Deutsch and Fornieri, pp. 398-423.


IV. Reconstruction:


  • Abraham Lincoln, “Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction,” December 8, 1863, in Fornieri, pp. 685-88.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Letter to Governor Michael Hahn,” March 13, 1864, in Fornieri, pp. 689-90.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Letter to Albert G. Hodges,” April 4, 1864 in Fornieri, pp. 802-04.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Address at a Sanitary Fair in Baltimore,” April 18, 1864, in Fornieri, pp. 690-92.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Letter to Eliza P. Gurney,” September 4, 1864 in Fornieri, p. 805.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Response to a Serenade,” November 10, 1864, in Fornieri, pp. 695-96.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Annual Message to Congress,” December 6, 1864, in Fornieri, pp. 697-710.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Second Inaugural Address,” March 4, 1865, in Fornieri, pp. 710-12.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Letter to Thurlow Weed,” March 15, 1865, in Fornieri, pp. 809-10.
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Last Public Address,” April 11, 1865 in Fornieri, pp. 712-16.