Abraham Lincoln's Competing Political Ideals: The Union, Constitution, and Antislavery

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1 hour 24 minutes 55 seconds

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American Politics | Political History | United States History


Like most abolitionists, Lincoln denounced slavery as an unmitigated moral evil that violated the founding principles of the American Republic. But unlike them he did not call for its immediate abolition and black citizenship for most of his political career. This lecture explores this seeming paradox by examining Lincoln’s competing political allegiances to the United States Constitution, which contained some protections for slavery, to the American Union, built on constitutional compromises over slavery, and his evolving antislavery views. It charts his emergence as an antislavery politician in the 1850s, when Lincoln struggled to reconcile his reverence for the Constitution with his growing antislavery convictions, from his support of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 to his denunciation of the Dred Scott decision in 1857. Lincoln’s personal journey illustrates that antislavery constitutionalism was never a given but was the hard-fought result of decades of abolitionist agitation and its eventual adoption by free soil politicians such as him. During the Civil War, Lincoln would continue to struggle to resolve his conflicting political allegiances to the Union, Constitution, and antislavery as he moved slowly but surely toward the abolitionists’ twin goals of emancipation and black citizenship.


Lecturer: Minisha Sinha; Discussant: Bill Curtis.

This lecture was part of the conference The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, which took place May 8-10, 2014 at Linfield College.

Sponsored by the Linfield College Frederick Douglass Forum on Law, Rights, & Justice, the Jereld R. Nicholson Library, and the Linfield College Office of Academic Affairs.