In the fourth week of Political Studies, fellows will reflect on the art and craft of democratic statesmanship. Statesmanship is distinct from ordinary political leadership. It suggests a certain quality of excellence in both leadership and judgment. It also appears to be an activity at odds, or at least in tension, with democracy. In democracy, the people are said to rule. Yet democracy needs statesmanship to establish it, to sustain it, and perhaps to justify it. Is democratic statesmanship an oxymoron? How is the statesman different not only from the ordinary politician, but from the tyrant?

One seminar will offer a comparative approach, with a study of the speeches and deeds of two of the greatest statesmen of the last century: Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. The second will take a narrower focus on Lincoln, bringing together the study of history and rhetoric to understand Lincoln’s statecraft in conjunction with his literary craft.

Image: Sir Winston Churchill speaks at the Hall on Thanksgiving Day, Royal Albert Hall, 1944 | Print of Lincoln’s cabinet based on Carpenter painting, Library of Congress

Diana Schaub on Lincoln's Second Inaugural


Diana Schaub

Diana J. Schaub is Professor of Political Science at Loyola University Maryland and a member of the Hoover Institution’s task force on The Virtues of a Free Society. From 2004 to 2009 she was a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics.

Flagg Taylor

Flagg Taylor is an Associate Professor of Government at Skidmore College, and serves on the Academic Council of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. He is editor most recently of The Long Night of the Watchman: Essays by Václav Benda, 1977–1989. He is currently writing a book on Czech dissent in the 1970s and 1980s.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session

Recommended Reading:

Lincoln and the Constitution, What So Proudly We Hail




Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your impression of the 23-year-old Lincoln? What is the nature of his “peculiar ambition”? Why is education “the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in”? What is his attitude toward change in laws? Is he a conservative or a progressive?
  2. According to Lincoln, who has the harder task — the revolutionary generation or the current generation? What are the direct and indirect consequences of mob rule, and how are they related to “the perpetuation of our political institutions”? Does Lincoln’s solution — a political religion of reverence for the laws — allow for the possibility of civil disobedience, or is disobedience always uncivil? What is the link between mob law and the threat posed by those who belong to “the family of the lion, or the tribe of the eagle”? Is Lincoln such an individual? What does Lincoln mean by “passion” and “reason”? What is “reverence”?
  3. What sort of reformers does Lincoln praise and what sort does he criticize? If you were to apply what Lincoln says about the temperance movement to the abolition movement, what lessons would you draw? What does this speech reveal about Lincoln’s understanding of human nature?



Discussion Questions:

  1. What is Lincoln’s view of slavery? Is he a bigot? In thinking about these questions, pay close attention to two passages in which Lincoln speaks of the role played by universal feelings in political life.
  2. What does this speech reveal about the relation between public opinion and statesmanship?
  3. What are the “lullaby” arguments offered on behalf of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and how does Lincoln dispense with them? What about “the one great argument” (Stephen Douglas’s doctrine of popular sovereignty)? What are the elements of Lincoln’s critique of Douglas?
  4. Given what Lincoln said about reverence for the Constitution and the law, is he contradicting his own principles in criticizing the Dred Scott decision? What is his view of judicial precedent?  What is Lincoln’s interpretation of the Declaration of Independence? Why is there so much talk of racial amalgamation in this speech?
  5. Why can’t the nation remain “permanently half slave and half free”? Wouldn’t the restoration of the Missouri Compromise (which Lincoln desires) leave the nation a house divided? According to Lincoln, what will be the end result of adopting a policy of quarantine (preventing slavery from spreading into the territories)? Why? What result will follow from the alternative policy of allowing slavery to spread?



Discussion Questions:

  1. How does Lincoln establish that the Framers agreed with the Republican rather than the Democratic view of the powers of the federal government respecting slavery in the territories?
  2. What is Lincoln’s message to the Southerners? Are the Republicans a sectional party? Are they conservative, as Lincoln claims?
  3. What is Lincoln’s message to the Republicans?



Discussion Questions:

  1. What is meant by the “new birth of freedom”? Does it refer to the emancipated slaves? If so, what is Lincoln’s vision of their place within the polity? How does the new birth of freedom relate to the argument of the Lyceum Address about the requirements for the perpetuation of our republic? (You might think too about the ballots and bullets passage of the Special Message to Congress.)
  2. What interpretation of the Civil War does Lincoln present and why? What is Lincoln’s theology? What is the role of charity in political life?

FDR, Churchill, & the Decision for Operation Torch

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