Abraham Lincoln’s victory in the Election of 1860 was disconcerting news for the South. It was the most recent event in a string of events that seemingly endangered the southern way of life and the future of the country. At a time when many northerners suspected southern threats of secession were but a bluff, there was evidence that the country had already split and the formalities were soon to follow. Read more
As eluded to in Virtue as a Principle and Foundation, vices had come to plague American society shortly after the American Revolution. Patrick Henry said, in 1780, that he “feared that our Body politic was dangerously sick,” as from top to bottom, society appeared to be embracing vice. Patrick Henry to Jefferson, Feb. 15, 1780, Boyd, ed., Jefferson Papers, III, 293.
As the American Revolution approached “most Americans had become convinced that they were ‘aptly circumstanced to form the best republicks, upon the best terms that ever came to the lot of any people before us.'” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 98 quoting Phila. Pa. Packet, Feb. 12, 1776; Purdie’s Wmsbg. Va. Gazette, May 17, 1776.
At the time of the Revolution, republicanism was permeating political discourse and political theory. John Adams asked in 1776 that “[i]f there is a form of government, then, whose principle and foundation is virtue, will not every sober man acknowledge it better calculated to promote the general happiness than any other form?” He continued by explaining that a republican constitution “introduces knowledge among the people, and inspires them with a conscious dignity becoming freemen; a general emulation takes place, which causes good humor, sociability, good manners, and good morals to be general. That elevation of sentiment inspired by such a government, makes the common people brave and enterprising. That ambition which is inspired by it makes them sober, industrious, and frugal.” John Adams, Thoughts on Government, Adams, ed., Works of John Adams, IV, 194, 199.