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Lincoln and the Constitution

Curriculum Overview

How ought Americans to understand what rule “of the people, by the people, and for the people” means? Is American democracy characterized by the rule of the majority, understood as popular sovereignty, or is majority rule qualified by some other constitutional principle? “Lincoln and the Constitution” will explore the challenges to popular government raised in the years leading up to ...

Session 1: Abraham Lincoln and the Slavery Question
Abraham Lincoln and the Slavery Question

Is the rule of the majority the heart of democracy? Or must the will of the majority be tempered by other considerations to fulfill the requirements of just government? Was the slavery question a territorial, political, racial, or moral question—or all combined? “Abraham Lincoln and the Slavery Question” will explore Lincoln’s constitutional approach to the problem of slavery in America and his response to the opposing arguments of the day.

Session 2: Abraham Lincoln, Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief
Abraham Lincoln, Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief

What obligations and powers do American presidents have to protect and preserve both the nation and its political institutions? How should presidents understand their duty both to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” and to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution?” “Abraham Lincoln, Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief” will explore what tensions exist between these two roles, and how Lincoln as a wartime president navigated the demands that a representative democracy places on its elected leader.

Session 3: Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address
Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address

What is the significance of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address? Is it a funeral oration, a victory speech, a policy pitch, or something more? Was Lincoln’s purpose to break with a tainted national past, or to redefine it? “Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address” will explore Lincoln’s interpretation of the American Founding, his understanding of the war as a test of that Founding, and the meaning of his appeal to all Americans to rededicate themselves to the “great task remaining” of perpetuating self-government.

Session 4: Lincoln and the Reframing of America
Lincoln and the Reframing of America

What tasks must a republic—a system of government based on popular rule—fulfill to be and to remain healthy and successful? What is the greater challenge of statesmanship—founding a new political order, or maintaining and preserving one? “Lincoln and the Reframing of America” will explore how Lincoln sought to answer these questions in light of cultivating a reverence for the rule of law and a popular attachment to the American regime.