Self-government required that the union should live, and it also negated slavery. Lincoln never believed in political and social equality between the races — instead, he built his argument against slavery on the founding words of the republic. In 1854, after Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, abolishing the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and allowing the extension of slavery into the new territories, he told a crowd in Peoria, Illinois: “If the negro is a man, is it not to that extent, a total destruction of self-government, to say that he too shall not govern himself? When the white man governs himself that is self-government; but when he governs himself, and also governs another man, that is more than self-government — that is despotism … No man is good enough to govern another man, without that other’s consent. I say this is the leading principle — the sheet anchor of American republicanism.”
A constant theme runs throughout Lincoln’s writings, from his years as a young Illinois politician to the last great speeches of his life: the supreme value of self-government. Everything depended on this idea, “our ancient faith,” which itself was “absolutely and eternally right.” But its endurance was never guaranteed. From the start of his career, Lincoln foresaw how American democracy might end — not through foreign conquest, but by our own fading attachment to its institutions. “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher,” he said in 1838. “As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”
Neuroscientists call these two modes diffuse mode and focus mode. Diffuse mode is something like a pinball machine: there’s a lot of mental space for your thoughts to bounce around and make connections. Focus mode is like a bowling lane with bumpers. Your thoughts are locked in on one goal and there’s not a lot of wiggle room.