Lifelong Learning On-Campus
Lincoln and Slavery (LLS 164)
Meets Mondays, 7 to 9:30 p.m.
Feb. 10 to April 7, but not March 10
Trotter Hall, Room 301
Before the Civil War the United States enslaved more people of African descent than anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere. Congress, the party system, and the Supreme Court represented and entrenched the interests of slaveholders—indeed their policy preferences affected all aspects of public policy. Yet by the 1850s the idea that slavery must be abolished had become so powerful and widespread in our country that it produced a new party, the Republican party, which was the most successful third party in American history. That idea also brought forth a new generation of exceptionally talented party politicians who were dedicated to ending slavery in this country.
Of these the most thoughtful and successful was Abraham Lincoln. He understood that slavery was no ordinary issue and that a politics dedicated to its demolition was a great and extraordinarily demanding commitment.
The course considers these key aspects of Lincoln’s career:
- his humble origins and early life
- the relationship for Lincoln between political ideas and a life of political action
- his persistence in generating deep social and political reform
- his singleness of purpose in reconstructing the American political system—without fundamentally changing the country’s constitutional forms and while also keeping the Union intact
- the dramatic and consequential evolution of Lincoln’s views of African-Americans
In summary, the course considers slavery and the politics it generated, Lincoln’s political thought, his role in the emancipation of African-Americans, and his role in pushing for an amendment to the Constitution that would dedicate America’s fundamental charter to the anti-slavery cause.
Rick Valelly ’75 is Claude C. Smith ’14 Professor of Political Science at Swarthmore College. He teaches courses on Lincoln and his legacy, Congress, political parties and elections, and the presidency. His most recent book is American Politics: A Very Short Introduction. Previously in LLS he taught “The 2008 Presidential Election” and “The U. S. Presidency.”