Please update your browser

You're using a version of Internet Explorer that isn't supported by Questia.
To get a better experience, go to one of these sites and get the latest
version of your preferred browser:

Lincoln, Douglas and Liberalism

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 30, 2013 | Go to article overview

Lincoln, Douglas and Liberalism


Byline: Michael Taube, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

There have been many impressive books written about the Abraham Lincoln-Stephen Douglas debates during the 1858 Senate election in Illinois. Harry V. Jaffa, Harold Holzer and Allen Carl Guelzo all stand out for their analyses of one of the most important events in U.S. political history. So much so, it makes one wonder if there's anything really left to discuss.

John Burt, a professor of English at Brandeis University, has decided to give it the old college try. He took a rather unique approach in his new - and weighty - book, Lincoln's Tragic Pragmatism: Lincoln, Douglas, and Moral Conflict. Mr. Burt examines the Lincoln-Douglas debates with the most unusual thesis I've ever seen or read: from the perspective of liberalism.

The head starts spinning at the mere mention of this political term. Where is Mr. Burt going with this book, exactly? Classical liberal or modern liberal? Liberal democracy? Liberal political parties? Liberal portion of food? (OK, maybe not the last one.)

Not quite. Lincoln and Douglas are instead transformed into the political embodiments of liberal thinkers such as John Rawls, Immanuel Kant and Alexis de Tocqueville. Mr. Burt writes that the hope of liberal politics is that it can establish a tradition of fair dealing among people of different interests and views. With respect to Lincoln and Douglas, they sought, in different ways, to work out the relationship between principle and consent in liberal politics, and neither was fully successful in enabling liberal politics to mediate the conflict over slavery.

Lincoln's approach to slavery is unveiled in three main themes: the implicitness of concepts, "reverse Burkeanism "and"tragic pragmatism "In particular, the latter theme is"characteristic of Lincoln's analysis of the political conflicts of his own era "It refers to the prevailing wish"to keep the promises the Founders committed their nation to "but"one always discovers that the exigencies of history unfold new demands out of these concepts, demands our generation has almost inevitably failed." Hence, Lincoln's participation with Douglas in this historic moral conflict - the legitimacy of slavery, or lack thereof - had a long-lasting and profound effect on Americans.

Many chapters in Lincoln's Tragic Pragmatism are devoted to breaking down the intricate political positions of both men. While Lincoln would naturally be expected to possess positive virtues, Mr. Burt quantifies that Douglas is not the villain of this book, although I hope I see his flaws, especially his virulent and passionate racism, with sufficient clarity.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Lincoln, Douglas and Liberalism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.