Can Our Political Institutions Be Saved?

Join me in examining Lincoln’s view in two online classes

By Nancy Spannaus

May 15, 2023—Do you ever wonder whether our fractured political system, often called our “democracy,” can survive? As a young legislator, Abraham Lincoln asked the same question. He addressed the topic in a speech to a Young Men’s Lyceum back in 1838. I believe that Americans today would do well to familiarize themselves with Lincoln’s thinking on the future of our republic.

On May 25 and June 1, I will lead a reading and discussion of this extraordinarily relevant presentation, in an online class for the Lifelong Learning Center at Long Island University.  You can register for this class online at liu.edu/HuttonHouse/Course, or by calling 516-299-2580. Each class is two hours long; there is small fee for attendance. A copy of the speech will be sent to you along with the Zoom link so that you will have easy access.

A Little Context

Lincoln devoted a considerable portion of this speech to the reasons he believed the United States system of government was in danger in the late 1830s. He began with the nationwide pattern of mob violence, and its impact on all strata of the population. I will supplement the text with some discussion of that political landscape, which was familiar to his listeners but not so well-known today.

Mob violence against abolitionist printer Elijah Lovejoy in 1837, which resulted in his death.

There is a deeper context as well, one that goes back not only to the debates which led to the establishment of the Constitution, but also to the philosophies and histories of government in ancient Greece and Rome. Alexander Hamilton and James Madison addressed this question in depth in the Federalist Papers, for example.

Lincoln does not go into such depth, but he presents his own approach to how our institutions of government can be saved. That approach was reflected in the choices he made in his entire political career.

So, join me in stepping back a minute from the current political fray, to look at how one of most consequential Presidents analyzed and addressed a turbulent period in our nation’s history. Take the opportunity to read this seminal document with some of your fellow citizens and discuss it in depth, seeking its lessons for both that time and today.

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