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Abraham Lincoln as a Man of Ideas

Allen C. Guelzo

Publication Year: 2009

Abraham Lincoln was a man of many parts – politician, lawyer, president – but he was also one of the greatest proponents of democracy. This book uncovers and examines the major ideas that were the sources of Lincoln’s democracy, showing a man of surprising intellectual depth, a man of ideas that still offer challenges to readers today.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Book Title

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p. iv


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p. v

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pp. vii-ix

"Whenever this question shall be settled,” Abraham Lincoln said of the question of slavery in New Haven, Connecticut, on March 6, 1860, “it must be settled on some philosophical basis. No policy that does not rest upon some philosophical public opinion can be permanently maintained.” This conviction guided Lincoln throughout...

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Introduction: What Would Lincoln Do?

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pp. 1-12

If there is, somewhere, a list of the top ten questions Americans ask themselves about their national life, this one has to be very near the top, or perhaps even at the top. In 1918, sheet music for rallying public opinion behind the American intervention in the First World War asked, “Abraham Lincoln, What Would You Do?” In 1939,...

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1. The Unlikely Intellectual Biography of Abraham Lincoln

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pp. 13-26

Whatever else we are likely to think about Abraham Lincoln, the odds are that we will not be likely to think of him as a man of ideas. The image of Lincoln which comes down to most of us casts him into a number of roles, but an intellectual is not usually one of them. It is possible,...

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2. Abraham Lincoln and the Doctrine of Necessity

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pp. 27-48

Abraham Lincoln was a fatalist. That, at least, was what he told many people over the course of his life. “I have all my life been a fatalist,” Lincoln informed his Illinois congressional ally, Isaac Arnold. “Mr. Lincoln was a fatalist,” remembered Henry Clay Whitney. “He believed . . . that the...

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3. Come-Outers and Community-Men: Abraham Lincoln and the Idea of Community in Nineteenth-Century America

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pp. 49-72

The most eloquent and moving words Abraham Lincoln ever uttered about any community were those “few and simple words” he spoke on the rear platform of the railroad car that lay waiting on the morning of February 11, 1861, to take him to Washington, to the presidency, and ultimately to his death. As his...

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4. Lincoln and Natural Law

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pp. 73-86

On the day in August 1612 when Galileo wrote his second letter on the nature of sunspots, something in the nature of nature itself changed. “I seem to have observed that physical bodies have physical inclination to some motion . . . whenever they are not impeded by some obstacle,” Galileo wrote,...

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5. “Fiends . . . Facing Zionwards”: Abraham Lincoln’s Reluctant Embrace of the Abolitionists

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pp. 87-104

It has always been one of the ironies of the era of the Civil War and the end of slavery in the United States that the man who played the role of the Great Emancipator of the slaves was so hugely mistrusted and so energetically vilified by the party of abolition. Abraham Lincoln,...

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6. Apples of Gold in a Picture of Silver: Lincoln, the Constitution, and Liberty

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pp. 105-124

In the threatening winter of 1860–61, as the United States was being inched ever closer to the outbreak of civil war by the secession of the Southern states over the issue of black slavery, the newly elected president, Abraham Lincoln, opened up a confidential correspondence with a former Southern political colleague, Alexander Stephens of Georgia. Stephens had made headlines in November 1860 in a speech to the Georgia legislature urging Georgia not to follow the South into secession. Lincoln sent...

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7. Understanding Emancipation: Lincoln’s Proclamation and the End of Slavery

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pp. 125-152

The most common trope which governs understanding of Abraham Lincoln and emancipation is that of progress. The variations on this trope are legion, and they include notions of Lincoln’s journey toward emancipation, his growth in understanding the justice of emancipation, or his path to the Emancipation Proclamation. “Lincoln was,”...

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8. Defending Emancipation: Abraham Lincoln and the Conkling Letter, August 1863

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pp. 153-181

Abraham Lincoln might well have believed that “I never in my life was more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing” the Emancipation Proclamation into military law on January 1, 1863. But doing what was right and what was politically viable were two different things. “At no time during the war was the depression among the people of the North so great as...

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9. Prudence and the Proclamation

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pp. 182-194

Say the word prudence to the ancients, and it would be a virtue; say the word prudence to the faculties of the American colleges of the nineteenth century, and it would be a part of the curriculum in moral philosophy; say the word prudence today, and it would be part of a joke. This says something for how ideas change over time; but it...

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10. Lincoln and the “War Powers” of the Presidency

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pp. 195-210

On the day that Charles Sumner heard of the firing on Fort Sumter, he took himself at once to the White House to tell Abraham Lincoln (as he would tell him so many more times during the course of the next two years) that the war had delivered slavery into the president’s hands for destruction. Why civil war, and...


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pp. 211-216

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Author Bio

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p. 217

Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and a member of the history department at Gettysburg College, where he also directs the college’s Civil War Era Studies program. He is the author of Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President (1999), Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America (2004), and Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates That Defined America (2008) and has contributed to the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Journal of American History, Civil War History, and Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association. He is...

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809386376
E-ISBN-10: 0809386372
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809328611
Print-ISBN-10: 0809328615

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 1 line drawing
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 459792659
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Abraham Lincoln as a Man of Ideas

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Subject Headings

  • Lincoln, Abraham, -- 1809-1865 -- Political and social views.
  • Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865 -- Philosophy.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1861-1865.
  • Slaves -- Emancipation -- United States.
  • United States -- Intellectual life -- 1783-1865.
  • Presidents -- United States -- Biography.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1845-1861.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- Philosophy.
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