Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason
Approximately 16,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln, arguably our most revered President. Is there possibly anything new to say about him? Surprisingly, the answer is: yes! In this highly original book, David Hirsch and Dan Van Haften offer a fresh perspective on Lincoln’s oratory, as a lawyer and as a politician. The conventional wisdom is that Lincoln used colorful phrases, flowery oratory, and funny stories to persuade and charm his listeners. Hirsch and Van Haften offer a radically different perspective: that the key to Lincoln’s success was intellectual fidelity to the principles of Euclid, the Greek mathematician and logician.
The book that inspired and animated Lincoln and gave him his distinctive voice was not the Bible or Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress but Euclid’s Elements. To most of us, that book with its abstract generalizations and didactic tone might seem dull, rigid, or both. To Lincoln, it was electrifying! In Lincoln’s view, it contained the perfect recipe for constructing a convincing argument: a logical, linear presentation that moves sequentially and powerfully from the Enunciation to the Exposition to the Specification to the Construction to the Proof to the Conclusion.
In their book, Hirsch and Van Haften demonstrate, if I may use that Euclidean word, that Lincoln was enamored of Euclid. But they demonstrate much more. By analyzing some of his courtroom utterances as a lawyer and several of his most famous speeches, including the Cooper Union Speech, the Gettysburg Address, and the Second Inaugural Address, they show how Lincoln adhered, almost slavishly, to the Euclidean template and why this was so important to his rhetorical success.
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