The Liberal Line

Darkness of looming civil war divided American politics between the reform liberalism of Abraham Lincoln and the utilitarian liberalism of Stephen Douglas. The 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates were over the question of extending slavery to western territories. Douglas saw society as the sum of individuals and their choices, He advocated popular sovereignty, ‘they want it, let them have it.’

Lincoln said slavery was wrong and should not be allowed even if it was wanted by the majority. His moral political view of society held that common good was beyond the sum of individual goods and led to his great speech, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Lincoln saw slavery as immoral and he held society accountable for its abolition.i

Bellah, Robert N. and Madsen, Richard et al., (1996). Habits of the Heart, Individualism and Commitment in American Life. Published by University of California Press. Berkeley

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