- Paperback: 460 pages
- Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (March 15, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226391132
- ISBN-13: 978-0226391137
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 20 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #52,226 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates 1st Edition
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About the Author
Harry V. 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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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. The issue of permitting slavery in territories became and remained contentious from 1820 on. The arguments for and against slavery in territories are quite subtle involving constitutionality, Congressional acts, territorial legislative bodies, and court decisions. The Dred Scott decision in 1857 disallowing restrictions on taking property (slaves) into territories is examined. Lincoln and the Republicans, rightfully so, were very apprehensive as to the long term ramifications of that decision. It was hardly a stretch to see where free states could become a thing of the past.
The book is only indirectly concerned with the Lincoln-Douglas debates. They are randomly referred to throughout the text, but earlier writings and speeches receive far more attention. Douglas' words concerning the Mexican territories and the Kansas-Nebraska Act are well covered. The author devotes a large segment to examining Lincoln's speech to the Young Men's Lyceum in 1938, where his thinking on major issues had already crystallized. Lincoln's address on temperance receives much attention.
The author is a disciple of Leo Strauss, the natural rights theorist. He does regard Lincoln as a preeminent natural rights thinker. There is some discussion of pre-civil society versus civil society. But the overall import of the book does not turn on acceptance of natural rights in a purist sense.
This book, decades after its publication, cannot be ignored for understanding Lincoln.