Natural right or history? The Lincoln-Douglas debates and the moral foundations of liberalism
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This paper re-examines the Lincoln-Douglas debates through a comparison of two works on the subject: Harry Jaffa’s Crisis of the House Divided and John Burt’s Lincoln’s Tragic Pragmatism: Lincoln, Douglas and Moral Conflict. This paper examines several arguments made both in and about the debates, particularly on the status of the Declaration of Independence for Lincoln and for Douglas, on the nature and implications of popular sovereignty, and on the ability of liberal government to accommodate deeply rooted moral disagreements. The paper then considers how Madisonian political science, as articulated in Federalist 10, might yield insights about the nature of the problem the country faced in 1858 and the inevitability of the Civil War that was a result of that problem.