Lincoln and the Crisis of the 1850s: Thoughts on the Group Self
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In 1858, Lincoln was a political figure little known outside of Illinois. For 4 years, he had vigorously opposed the prospect of slavery’s extension into the territories, which was made politically feasible with Stephen A. Douglas’s doctrine of popular sovereignty that was introduced in the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854). Lincoln believed strongly by 1858 that Stephen Douglas was the principal spokesman for a disastrous set of policies dealing with issues that the country faced. The country’s founders, in Lincoln’s view, had reluctantly accepted slavery as a Southern institution. They recognized its existence and even validated its perpetuation with the three-fifths compromise. Such constitutional protection had justified federal laws governing the return of fugitive slaves for over half a century. It was thus illegal and unconstitutional to talk of abolition and the mobilization of a national effort to end the South’s peculiar institution.