Action Alert!

We’re now reliving the Lincoln-Douglas debates

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 04, 2022

This Wall Street Journal editorial on the lessons to be drawn from the Kansas abortion referendum is balanced, reasonable, and mostly right. But my own thoughts on the issue take a different approach.

To illustrate, allow me to reproduce the penultimate paragraph of the Journal editorial, with just a few key alterations, which I highlight here in bold.

The Kansas result will inspire Democrats across the country to make the midterms a referendum on slavery. They may overreach with their own attempts to reinstate Dred Scott nationally. But Republicans will need a response on the issue that reassures voters like those in Kansas who have a more nuanced view of slavery than either side has been offering since Dred Scott took the issue out of the hands of voters in 1857.

Read the editorial that way, and I think you recognize that the Journal has adopted the approach to “popular sovereignty” once championed by Stephen Douglas, in his debates with Abraham Lincoln. Douglas won the election that year. He took a balanced, reasonable approach. He was a solid, honorable legislator. (“So are they all, all honorable men...”) But the face of Douglas is not carved into Mount Rushmore, and his memorial is not on the National Mall. America got that question right eventually—very painfully—and God willing America will get this question right eventually as well.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: ewaughok - Aug. 09, 2022 12:23 AM ET USA

    Thank you Phil for this coming. I too pray that America will get this right, but I have my doubts. We are no longer the country we were even 20 years ago. We’ve lost so much in terms of moral orientation to the natural law as well as recognition of God‘s providence in the world. We live in a Western world of sad and lonely people caught up in a chase for the moments’ pleasure. Could Sodom or Gomorrah have been any worse?