Monday, November 03, 2008

Lincoln and Douglas: Weren't There More Important Issues Than Slavery?

Hadley Arkes:
As you may recall, in my talk the other night I drew, as an analogy, the complaint made by the historian J. G. Randall over the performance of Lincoln and Douglas during their famous debates in 1858. His complaint was about the unwarranted prominence that these two men were willing to give to that vexing moral issue of slavery. His condemnation ran in this way:
With all the problems that might have been put before the people as proper matter for their consideration in choosing a senator--choice of government servants, immigration, the tariff, international policy, promotion of education, west ward extension of railroads, the opening of new lands for homesteads, protection against greedy exploitation of those lands . . . encouragement to settlers . . . improving the condition of factory workers, and alleviating those agrarian grievances that were to plague the coming decades--with such issues facing the country, those two candidates for the Senate talked as if there were only one issue.
That complaint, read today, is bound to strike readers as churlish, even oafish. And yet why? Is it wrong because we have come to regard that issue now, in our own day, as one we happen to care about? Or is it because there was truly something more fundamental in that question of just who were those beings who were the objects of concern in all of these other issues?
Read the whole thing.