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Book Chapter

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Department 1

Civil War Era Studies

Department 2



The nineteenth century in Europe and America was an era of second thoughts. Those second thoughts were largely about the Enlightenment, which had been born in the mid-1600s as a scientific revolution and blossomed into the Age of Reason in the 1700s, when it seemed that no puzzle was beyond the grasp of scientific rationality. That blossom was snipped all too quickly by the French Revolution, which drowned rationality in human politics in a spray of Jacobin-terrorized blood, then by the revulsion of European art and music from the Enlightenment’s canons of balance and symmetry in favor of the Romantic glorification of the sublime and the irrational, and finally by the rage and contempt that the Enlightenment’s most rationalized offspring—its bourgeois capitalist entrepreneurs, inventors, and managers—inspired in the hearts of intellectuals and aristocrats alike. This does not mean that the Enlightenment was herded off the scene entirely by the Romantic reaction. The scientists had dug themselves firmly into a position from which they refused to be dislodged, and the bourgeoisie of France and England continued their relentless struggle to wrest control of their nations’ politics from its nobles and emperors. So, there remained men and women of the nineteenth century who lashed themselves firmly to the mast of the Enlightenment, disregarding the sirens of Romantic passion in art and literature, as well as politics. And it is among the latter that we must classify Abraham Lincoln. [excerpt]

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