The Great Debate
Against slavery, as it happened.
Jun 3, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 36 • By KEN MASUGI
Does this collection of passionate voices obscure the most intelligent and efficacious ones? Abraham Lincoln forged an American response to slavery, joining Christian and natural law principles under the yoke of constitutionalism. Lincoln opposed slavery principally because it contradicted the uniquely American experiment in self-government. Hence, his Peoria speech (1854) refers to the Declaration of Independence as “the white man’s charter of freedom”—meaning that it was in the self-interest of democratic republican white men to extend the logic of the Declaration to all people.
Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address transformed his First Inaugural’s message of Southern responsibility for the rebellion into the American burden of slavery. But what we don’t see here is Lincoln’s calculated emancipation strategy. Nor do we see the abolitionists in their approval of Southern secession and their opposition to Lincoln in both presidential campaigns. We always knew slavery was wrong, but eliminating it was another order of challenge for the cause of liberty in America.
Ken Masugi teaches in the Ashbrook Center’s Master of Arts in American government and history program.