The Importance of Moral Leadership

These notes were composed for Lincoln’s 1858 debates with his Democratic rival, Stephen Douglas, in the race for the United States Senate. In this fragment, Lincoln forcefully asserts a politician’s obligation to provide moral leadership: “In this age, and this country, public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed. Whoever moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes, or pronounces judicial decisions.” Lincoln condemns Douglas for ignoring the moral dimension of the slavery issue and attacks his position that “[slaves] have no part in the [D]eclaration of Independence . . . that slavery and liberty are perfectly consistent.”