Debates `Lincoln, Douglas' Set for Cable TV

By Doug Pokorski 1994, Copley News Service | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), February 28, 1994 | Go to article overview
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Debates `Lincoln, Douglas' Set for Cable TV


Doug Pokorski 1994, Copley News Service, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


If you weren't in Illinois in 1858, you missed your chance to see the most famous series of political debates in U.S. history. Now, the C-SPAN cable TV network wants to give you another chance.

The Lincoln-Douglas debates in the Illinois senatorial campaign of 1858 made Abraham Lincoln a national political figure, setting the stage for his election as president two years later.

Despite their significance, and despite the fact that every schoolchild in the country for the past century or more has studied them, the debates themselves have been almost completely inaccessible - except for selected excerpts.

The 1993 book "The Lincoln-Douglas Debates: The First Complete Unexpurgated Text," by Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, gave the reading public a chance to review the words spoken by Lincoln and his opponent, Stephen A. Douglas.

Now C-SPAN, the cable industry's public affairs network, plans to televise the first-ever re-enactment of the entire series of seven debates, according to C-SPAN spokeswoman Rayne Pollack.

Pollack said the network has agreements with all seven communities where the original debates were held to re-enact each debate. Local actors will portray Lincoln, Douglas and the spectators, and the re-enactments will be broadcast live.

"The local communities are in charge of producing the debates," Pollack said. "We're not setting up our own event and then covering it. All we have asked for is that they use the most complete transcript and perform it in its entirety. Our goal is for it to appear as if C-SPAN was actually there in 1858."

Holzer's book was the impetus for the project, Pollack said. The book was featured on C-SPAN's "Booknotes" program, which is hosted by network head Brian Lamb.

Lamb saw the idea of re-creating the nation's most talked about debates as an educational service to the country and a project in keeping with the network's public affairs mission, Pollack said.

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