Join us on Thursday, January 25th, for a lively discussion with author Dr. James Read on his latest book Sovereign of a Free People: Abraham Lincoln, Majority Rule, and Slavery.
Lincoln’s understanding of majority rule, and his faith and hope that even the most difficult political questions could and should be resolved through peaceful democratic methods, is the theme of James H. Read’s 2023 book, Sovereign of a Free People: Abraham Lincoln, Majority Rule, and Slavery.
Abraham Lincoln closed his Gettysburg Address, delivered amid “a great civil war,” expressing the hope that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” But Lincoln never wanted such a war. Before the war he had believed and hoped that slavery could be abolished peacefully, gradually, and democratically through “peaceful ballots,” not “bloody bullets.”
American history did not take this direction, because slave state leaders of the Lower South dramatically refused to accept Lincoln’s election as president. Those states seceded before his inauguration as president. They shortly thereafter fired on Fort Sumter, because they believed Lincoln’s vision of slavery’s gradual, peaceful extinction would succeed in the long run unless immediately and forcefully blocked. In response to slaveholders’ refusal to accept the results of a free and fair election, Lincoln's First Inaugural Address (March 4, 1861) defended majority rule as “the only true sovereign of a free people.”
James H. Read is a Professor of Political Science at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University in Minnesota. In addition to Sovereign of a Free People, he is the author of Power versus Liberty: Madison, Hamilton, Wilson, and Jefferson (2000), Doorstep Democracy: Face to Face Politics in the Heartland (2008), and Majority Rule versus Consensus: The Political Thought of John C. Calhoun (2009), as well as many articles and book chapters in the fields of political theory and American political thought. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1988. He lives in Avon, Minnesota.