Matters of Debate

Article excerpt

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IN THIS BICENTENNIAL YEAR of Lincoln's birth, one of the hundreds of offerings about the 16th president brings his voice to life with particular power: BBC Audiobooks has released a 16-hour audio recording of the famous debates between Abraham Lincoln and his great rival, Stephen Douglas, for the Illinois Senate seat in 1858. The seven debates, each held in a different Illinois congressional district, would prove a major force in propelling Lincoln to the presidency two years later.

The set of 14 CDs--featuring David Strathairn as Lincoln and Richard Dreyfuss as Douglas--presents the marathon engagements unabridged, bringing them to auditory life in a way the printed page can't achieve. The inescapable topic, of course, was slavery--particularly whether it would be allowed to spread into the new territories. Lincoln had launched his campaign against the incumbent Douglas in June 1858 with his famous "A House Divided" speech to the Illinois Republican Convention. A good portion of the debates consists of Douglas accusing Lincoln of being a radical abolitionist, with Lincoln counterattacking that Douglas's doctrine of "popular sovereignty" was both morally wrong and politically untenable. …