Utilizing Abraham Lincoln’s Second Innaugural Address as a focal point, this presentation seeks to develop ideas about Lincoln’s moral reasoning concerning the American Civil War. Highlighting key moments of the Civil War against the background of the just war tradition, the presentation isolates the ways in which Lincoln’s so-called “tragic pragmatism” shaped his understanding about events and the moral issues raised by the war and its aftermath. Among the points discussed is Lincoln’s final speech and the actions he took to prosecute the war in preparation for Reconstruction and reuniting the nation.
Presented by Kent McConnell
For much of his professional career, Dr. Kent A. McConnell has explored subjects related to questions of ethics and warfare. A historian of American culture in the 19th century and the American Civil War in particular, Dr. McConnell's research has examined how violence perpetrated on the human body has shaped the psychophysical experience of Americans. As the nation sought to recover from their "trial by fire," ethical questions emerged about the nature and meaning of the conflict that drew upon ancient thought, philosophy, and scientific thinking. The response of 19th-century Americans to this tragic event in their nation reveals the broad contours of just war theory that has shaped the West.