Thursday, March 6, 2008

Allen C. Guelzo's "Lincoln and Douglas"

Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College, where he also directs the Civil War Era Studies Program and The Gettysburg Semester. He is the author of Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President (1999) and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America (2004), both of which won the Lincoln Prize. He has written essays and reviews for the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Time, the Journal of American History, and many other publications.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates That Defined America, and reported the following:
This may be one case in which Ford Madox Ford’s "page ninety-nine" rule fails us, because page 99 of Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates That Defined America deals only with what Lincoln and Douglas looked like on the debate platform, and there is more, and of greater moment, to the Lincoln-Douglas debates than what they looked like, standing beside each other. The debates are one of the most mythical moments in American political history, since they are often cast as a sort of premonitory tremor of the Civil War, or as a the American equivalent of a platonic symposium. That forgets that these seven debates in the summer and fall of 1858 were part of two politicians’ campaigns for a U.S. Senate seat, and political campaigning in 1858 had no more to do with Plato than it does now. There was hoopla, heckling, noise, race cards, voter fraud, brass bands, banners, sexual innuendo, even an October surprise – not to mention interparty turmoil behind both candidates’ backs. But the Lincoln-Douglas debates really did have at least some element of a symposium. Each lasted for three hours (no soundbites, no journalist moderators), before crowds that varied in size from 1500 to 25,000, and each was devoted to only one subject – what was to be done about slavery in America. And even beyond this, both Lincoln and Douglas moved their debates to the very core of what it means to be a democracy – is democracy, as Douglas maintained, purely a matter of determining whatever it is a majority of the people want, and giving it to them? Or is it, as Lincoln argued, a means for realizing the inherent natural rights of all men to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Douglas, of course, won the election to the Senate. But Lincoln won the attention of the nation, and was elected president in 1860. And the debate over the nature of democracy continues to-day.
Learn more about Lincoln and Douglas at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue