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

By Harry V. Jaffa | Go to book overview

Chapter X
The Teaching Concerning Political Moderation

THE Lyceum speech contains a prognosis, twenty years before the house divided speech, of a crisis which must be reached and passed before the capability of a people to govern themselves might be said to be demonstrated. Lincoln saw the gathering storm clouds of that crisis in the wave of mob violence sweeping the country in 1838. His diagnosis of the causes of that violence showed he did not believe it to be any transient wave of popular feeling, but a disease endemic to the government inherited from the Revolution. Certainly his own exhortation to self-restraint could not have been expected to be even a palliative of such evils. Such exhortation serves only to indicate the nature of the role required by him who would administer the true remedy, but it is clear that the opportunity to apply that remedy lay only in part in the power of its possessor. The political savior, like that other Messiah, must await the fulfillment of prophecies implicit in the very conception of his own function before he could step forth.

The Lyceum speech ends by saying that the old "pillars of the temple of liberty...have crumbled away" and the "temple must fall, unless we...supply their places with other pillars, hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason." The pillars of the first temple, the work of the Revolutionary Fathers, were, alas, not quarried from a solid substance, and because they were not the temple did not endure. A second temple must be built, of rock, which shall last as long as the "only greater institution." Like that other institution, this one also finds its consummation

-236-

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