Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates

By Harry V. Jaffa | Go to book overview

Preface

THIS volume is the first in what -- it is hoped -- will be a two-part study of Lincoln's political philosophy. Corresponding to Crisis of the House Divided would be (inevitably) A New Birth of Freedom. I would not so rashly give the name of a book not yet written had it had not been a convenient symbol of my conception of the axis upon which Lincoln's career and thought turned -- an axis constituted by the House Divided speech and the Gettysburg Address.

Although it belongs to a larger whole, the present work is intended to have a unity of its own. I have attempted a thorough explication of the political principles by which Lincoln was guided from his re-entry into politics in 1854 until and through the Senate campaign against Douglas in 1858. To understand these principles, however, I have found it necessary to interpret the great occasional speeches of his early Whig period. This I have done in Part III, wherein I tacitly reject the prevailing view of Lincoln's slow growth to maturity: it is my conviction that he was extraordinarily precocious but that part of that precocity consisted in the self-control that compelled a supremely ambitious man to be a political follower when leadership could be seized only by irresponsibility. I have not, however -- except by implication -- dealt with Lincoln's position on political questions, as distinct from political principles, during his Whig period. Recent historiography has dealt harshly with him because of his partisan stand, both on internal improvements and on the Mexican War. The principles of this historiography are virtually identical with that revisionism which condemns him so bitterly for his opposition to Douglas in (and before) 1858. This latter condemnation is the subject of the critique with which this book begins and ends; and it is my hope, in still another study, to discuss critically the practical policies of Henry Clay's follower, as I have done those of the Republican leader.

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