Lincoln and the House Divided

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The most important need Abraham Lincoln faced as the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois in 1858 was to distinguish himself sharply from the incumbent, Stephen A. Douglas, to lessen the risk that Republicans would support Douglas as the best means to achieve their own goals. The House Divided Speech can be understood as a response to this need. He asserted that the country was tending toward nationwide slavery as the result of a conspiratorial effort and that Douglas was part of the plot. He attempted to make these claims credible in the absence of direct evidence by employing a number of rhetorical moves ranging from abductive reasoning to the use of vivid images and metaphors. The conclusion suggested that if Douglas was not an active conspirator, he was at least an unwitting dupe. Although not successful in winning Lincoln a Senate seat, the speech helped to launch his national political career.


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