Lost Lincoln Lecture Found! Deseret News Unveils Historic Discovery

“All creation is a mine, and every man, a miner.” With these words, Abraham Lincoln embarked on one of his least-known yet profoundly insightful lectures, the “Lecture on Discoveries and Inventions,” which he delivered multiple times between April 1858 and April 1860. Lincoln, predominantly celebrated for his leadership during the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, also harbored a deeply philosophical side, particularly concerning the challenges facing democratic institutions amidst technological, ideological, and generational shifts.

Lincoln’s contemplations were remarkably influenced by the Hebrew Bible, despite him modestly dismissing his scholarly capabilities. His method of preparing speeches involved jotting down ideas on scraps of paper, suggesting a continuous engagement with profound questions beyond the pressing concerns of his time. These included inquiries into the foundational moments of the United States, the inherent truths (or falsehoods) articulated in the Declaration of Independence, and the capacity of a republic to withstand revolutionary impulses across generations.

Deeply woven into Lincoln’s philosophy was a concern about the double-edged sword of invention. Despite holding a patent himself and being a proponent of technological advancements—evident from his support for military innovations and interest in science—he questioned whether inventions could sometimes threaten human freedom instead of promoting it.

Lincoln’s “Lecture on Discoveries and Inventions” captures his nuanced perspective on technology and progress. He contested the overly optimistic view that political freedom and technological innovation are inherently symbiotic, suggesting instead that certain technologies could fundamentally alter human relations, governance, and our understanding of rights.

The lecture traverses a broad historical narrative, citing ancient inventions and their biblical mentions to argue that the essence of creativity and innovation has ancient roots, challenging the notion that modernity inherently signifies progress. Lincoln pointedly critiqued the cultural and political movement of Young America, which advocated for a radical break from the past, correlating this mindset with the disregard for the ethical and societal implications of unbridled technological and capitalist enthusiasm.

In a remarkable turn, Lincoln addressed the invention of racialized slavery as an example of morally bereft innovation, emphasizing that the categorization of race and the consequent institutionalization of slavery were inventions designed to justify and perpetuate racial inferiority for economic gain. This stands as a powerful reminder of the ethical responsibilities that accompany the act of invention.

More contemporary parallels were drawn to the cotton gin’s role in entrenching slavery in the American South, pointing to the complex interplay between technology, economic incentives, and moral values. Lincoln’s reflections extend into the present, prompting contemplation about modern technologies—especially social media—that profoundly impact democratic norms, personal relationships, and societal cohesion.

Lincoln’s discourse suggests a prescient understanding of the dilemmas facing modern democratic societies, where technological advancements often outpace ethical and regulatory frameworks, leading to unintended consequences that can undermine the very fabric of human freedom and dignity.

In essence, Lincoln advocates for a measured approach towards technological innovation, one that prioritizes humanistic and ethical considerations. His teachings implore us to critically assess whether new technologies enhance our humanity or diminish it, underscoring the enduring relevance of his philosophical insights in navigating the complexities of modernity. This examination of Lincoln’s lesser-known lecture not only broadens our understanding of his intellectual legacy but also invites a thoughtful reflection on the perennial challenges of technological progress and its implications for democracy and human values.


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