A Nation So Conceived
Abraham Lincoln and the Paradox of Democratic Sovereignty
Sales Date: December 6, 2022
416 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: December 2022
- Published: December 2022
The culmination of years of work on Abraham Lincoln’s political thought, Michael P. Zuckert’s A Nation So Conceived argues for a coherent center to Lincoln’s political ideology, a core idea that unifies his thought and thus illuminates his deeds as a political actor. That core idea is captured in the term “democratic sovereignty.” Zuckert provides invaluable guidance to understanding both Lincoln and the politics of the United States between 1845 and Lincoln’s death in 1865 by focusing on roughly a dozen speeches that Lincoln made during his career. This reader-friendly chronological organization is motivated by Zuckert’s emphasis on Lincoln as a practical politician who was always fully aware of the political context of the moment within which he was speaking.
According to Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg, America was new precisely because it was born in dedication to the first premise of the theory of democratic sovereignty: that all men are created equal. Lincoln’s thought consisted in an ever-deepening meditation on the grounds and implications of that proposition, both in its constructive and in its destructive potential. The goodness of the American regime is derived from that ground and the chief dangers to the regime emanate from the same soil.
Covering all significant speeches and writings of Lincoln both in his pre-presidential and presidential days, A Nation So Conceived is devoted to exploring the paradoxical duality of “created equal.” In a nearly comprehensive study of Lincoln’s thought, Zuckert uses lessons he learned from decades of teaching to reveal how Lincoln understood both its truth and its pathological consequences while offering an assessment of his aims and achievements as a statesman.
“Michael Zuckert has ventured a sequential survey of Lincoln’s speeches and supporting texts that no other Lincoln scholar has attempted on such a scale and with such success. Zuckert concentrates on Lincoln’s decisive response to the problem of democratic sovereignty: the difficulty of sustaining a self-governing constitutional republic that emerges from a rights-centered revolution. When the volatile tension between the two breaks into a fever over slavery, Lincoln addresses it throughout his career with an art of persuasion based on enduring principles. Zuckert shows how thoroughly Lincoln examines this dilemma and gradually—sometimes decisively—works it toward a sustainable and liberating resolution.”—John Briggs, professor of English, University of California, Riverside
“Michael Zuckert has brilliantly plumbed the depths of Lincoln’s political thought and related it to his actions, beginning with his ‘Perpetuation’ address in January 1838 and ending with his second inaugural address. Zuckert provides a masterful analysis of the tension that existed in Lincoln’s mind regarding the perceived dangers that confronted the young republic and its enlightenment ideals. His penetrating revisionist treatment of the ‘House Divided’ speech alone is a tour de force in Lincoln scholarship.”—William C. Harris, author of Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union and Lincoln and Congress
“A Nation So Conceived is a top-notch study of a master statesmen by a master scholar. Michael Zuckert’s careful, in-depth analysis of Abraham Lincoln sheds new light on the nation’s most consequential president. Zuckert shows us how Lincoln’s core concern—for democratic sovereignty—evolved and deepened over time, centering on an enduring paradox: that the same principle that enables free government also engenders threats to free institutions. This is a must-read book for students of Lincoln but more profoundly for all students of the American republic.”—Susan McWilliams Barndt, professor of politics at Pomona College and coeditor of the journal American Political Thought
1. The “Perpetuation” Address: The Tragedy of America
2. The “Temperance” Address: Playing with Fire
Transition: February 1842–December 1847
3. Mr. Lincoln Goes to Washington: Popular Sovereignty and the War with Mexico
4. Giant with Feet of Clay
Transition: August 1852–September 1854
5. “:The Faith of Our Fathers”: Lincoln’s Case for the Declaration
6. Legality and Legitimacy in the Dred Scott Case
7. The Concept of Dred: Facing the Abyss of Dred Scott v. Sandford
8. Man the Miner, Man the Farmer
9. Dividing the House?
10. In the Shadow of the House Divided: The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858
Transition: From the Illinois Debates to the Harper’s Essay
11. In the Shadow of the Harper’s Essay: The Lincoln-Dougals Debates of 1859–1860
Transition: February 1860–February 1861
12. Secession and Democratic Sovereignty
13. And the War Came
14. Lincoln’ Constitutionalism
16. On the Second Inaugural Address