Today is of course the anniversary of the birth of America’s greatest president, Abraham Lincoln.As a politician and as president, Lincoln was a profound student of the Constitution and constitutional history.Perhaps most important, Lincoln was America’s indispensable teacher of the moral ground of political freedom at the exact moment when the country was on the threshold of abandoning what he called its “ancient faith” that all men are created equal.In 1858 Lincoln attained national prominence in the Republican Party as the result of the contest for the Senate seat held by Stephen Douglas.It was Lincoln’s losing campaign against Douglas that made him a figure of sufficient prominence that he could be the party’s 1860 presidential nominee.At the convention of the Illinois Republican Party in June, Lincoln was the unanimous choice to run against Douglas.After making him its nominee late on the afternoon of June 16, the entire convention returned that evening to hear Lincoln speak.Accepting the convention’s nomination, Lincoln gave one of the most incendiary speeches in American history.Lincoln electrified the convention, asserting that the institution of slavery had made the United States “a house divided against itself.” Slavery would either be extirpated or become lawful nationwide, Lincoln predicted, provocatively quoting scriptural authority to the effect that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”Demonstrating how it “changed the course of history,” Harry Jaffa calls it “[t]he speech that changed the world.”
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