The word democracy occurs only 137 times in the collected writings of Abraham Lincoln. But nothing for Lincoln could be "as clearly true as the truth of democracy." So, when the thunderous cloud of Civil War broke over his presidency, Lincoln had no hesitation in portraying the struggle as a contest, not over constitutional niceties, or even over slavery, but over the basic principle of democracy itself and "whether a constitutional republic, or a democracy -- a government of the people, by the same people -- can, or cannot" survive the push-and-shove of its own people's disagreements, or whether democracies are doomed forever to fly off, by their own centrifugal force, into fragments. Today, Americans increasingly fracture into interests and identities, and then self-righteously invoke power of various sorts to protect our interests or to attack other identities. So, again, we must ask ourselves what democracy is, then what Lincoln thought of it and finally to speculate on how much - if any - of Lincoln's idea of democracy still has a life worth living today.
Dr. Allen C. Guelzo is the Senior Research Scholar in the Council of the Humanities and the Director of the Initiative on Politics and Statesmanship in the James Madison Program at Princeton University.
Curt B. Witcher, Genealogy Center Manager, Senior Manager for Special Collections
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