Can you compare the political attitudes of Stephen A. Douglas with Abraham Lincoln?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that the primary difference between Douglas and Lincoln was their vision. Both were fairly solid leaders. Douglas, though, saw political conflicts of the time as something that existed in the moment. He saw slavery as a political issue that can be compromised through popular sovereignty and other methods of political expediency. I think that Douglas suffered from not being able to fully grasp that the issue of slavery was “superhistorical,” an issue that existed within the time period and also would transcend it. Douglas did not see the transcendent element of the slavery question. I see Lincoln as possessing the sharp and keen insight in seeing the issue of slavery as one that was larger than the time period. Lincoln was one of the few political leaders who actively campaigned and argued on the notion that slavery was not an issue where traditional notions of compromise were possible. He took a huge gamble in asserting such a position, given the Southern defense of it. There was nothing politically expedient of convenient in taking such a stance, as evidenced in the election of 1860, where the South seceded as a result. Lincoln understood that there are moments where bravery through political courage and will are needed in order to become politically viable. It is in this light that the name of Lincoln resonates in American History on the short list of its greatest leaders and while Douglas is considered to be a good leader, but more of an afterthought in American political thought.

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