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Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates 1st Edition

4.9 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226391137
ISBN-10: 0226391132
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About the Author

Harry Jaffa (1918-2015) was an influential historian and political philosopher.  At the time of his death he was an emeritus professor at Claremont McKenna College and Claremont Graduate University and a distinguished fellow of the Claremont Institute. His ideas helped shape modern American conservatism; he was also a speechwriter for 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 460 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (March 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226391132
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226391137
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #494,718 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Professor Harry V. Jaffa's "Crisis of the House Divided" is an extremely important book. In it, he succeeds in turning back the revisionist historians of the mid-Twentieth Century who sought to devalue Abraham Lincoln's commitment to the proposition that "All men are created equal."

This tide of revisionism took two general forms; partisans for the South who placed the full blame on Mr. Lincoln for sparking the "War of Northern Aggression"; and modern historians, skeptical of any higher motives and virtues in statesmen of the past, who claimed that there were really no substantial policy differences between Mr. Lincoln and Senator Stephen A. Douglas. If the latter class of historian could prove that Lincoln didn't really believe in freedom for slaves and that his rhetoric against slavery was irresponsible (knowing how it offended Southern sensibilities) while Douglas' "Popular Sovereignty" policy would have eventually led to the limitation and elimination of slavery, then Lincoln's legacy as President could be shown to be the largely accidental.

Fortunately, Professor Jaffa's work demolishes the corrosive contentions of the revisionists, showing, beyond any doubt, that Mr. Lincoln believed America was founded on the principle of human equality as much as it was founded on the idea of democracy. That democracy and equality were the twin pillars of the American Republic and were in tension was something Mr. Lincoln well understood while Judge Douglas honored only democracy. Hence, Douglas' "Popular Sovereignty" led to the concept that the majority could decide slavery was not only legal, but also moral. In opposition, Mr.
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This book is a most profound examination of the thinking of both Sen. Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln concerning all of the issues associated with slavery up to the Civil War. Jaffa wants to set the record straight as far as any number of contentions by well-known historians of his era, known as revisionists. Most importantly, he flatly disputes the notion that the thinking and actions of Douglas (the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854) endorsing popular sovereignty were essentially equivalent to the principled stand of Lincoln based on the equality of all men in their long-term ramifications for slavery. Those revisionist historians contend that Lincoln and the Republicans should have accepted Douglas' solution to the slavery crisis, thus not precipitating the Civil War.

Another claim against Lincoln that Jaffa thoroughly discredits is that Lincoln, in fact, did not hold Negroes as equals, and simply used the issue for personal political gain regardless of the consequences for the Union. But Lincoln understood that politics is the art of the possible. The author makes clear that Lincoln held an intense respect for the principles of the Declaration of Independence, including the rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness for all, including Negroes. It was one thing for the Union to be formed with the taint of slavery, but the contention that Southerners came to that slavery was a "positive good" was felt by Lincoln to have the potential to completely undermine the basis of the US. Perhaps it could even be justified to enslave a group of "inferior" whites. Lincoln felt compelled to move the nation back to its core principles without alienating those who did not have the same clarity as to what was at stake.

The book is a challenging read.
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By A Customer on January 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
Harry Jaffa's definitive work on the most famous debates in American history is necessary reading for anyone interested in Civil War history or, more specifically, the philosophical views that influenced the leading players on both sides leading up to it. The first half of the book is an in depth examination of Douglas's position on popular sovereignty and the spread of slavery. The second (and perhaps more interesting half) is devoted to the origin of Lincoln's ideas in the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Jaffa is a combative writer who is not afraid to criticize (sometimes harshly) the writings of prominent historians on this subject. However, though he clearly admires Lincoln's natural rights thinking and rejects Douglas's "might makes right" philosophy, he gives a fair analysis of both men's positions. As far as I know, this work remains the authority on this subject even after more than 4 decades in print.
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If you want to read one book about Lincoln's thought, this is the one to read. The first part of the book, which takes Douglas seriously and states the strongest case for him, is historically dense and may be difficult for most readers. But keep going, because the payoff will be great. There follow chapters on two of Lincoln's early speeches. Jaffa's analysis here is brilliant, though perhaps a bit far-fetched. In the final part of the book, Jaffa states the case for Lincoln against Douglas. This part is rich in its ideas, rigorous in its reasoning, and eloquent to the point of being inspirational. (By the way, if you want to read one biography of Lincoln, I'd recommend the one by Lord Charnwood. Though written almost a century ago and therefore not up to date on all the details of historical scholarship, it is judicious throughout and beautifully written.)
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