Abraham Lincoln: From His Own Words and Contemporary Accounts

By Roy Edgar Appleman; Abraham Lincoln | Go to book overview

above his head at an angle of about fifty degrees, hands open or clenched according to his feelings and his ideas.

HERNDON TO BARTLETT, JULY 19, 1887.


15. THE LINCOLN-DOUGLAS DEBATE: PROLOGUE TO DESTINY

In 1858, Abraham Lincolnwas the Republican, and Stephen A. Douglasthe Democratic, candidate for United StatesSenator from Illinois. Douglaswas serving as Senator at the time and was seeking reelection. Shortly after the campaign started, Lincoln, in a letter written at Chicago, July 24, challenged Douglasto a joint debate on, the issues before the people. Douglasaccepted and suggested that there be a joint meeting at one prominent point in each congressional district in the State, excepting the Second and Sixth, where each had already spoken. Douglasname seven places.

The great issue was over slavery and its constitutional and legal place in the Nation. The Dred Scott Decision, the Kansas-NebraskaBill, the extension of slavery into the Territories, were the points on which the great debate dwelt. Douglaswar considered the leader of the Democratic Party. His great talent and power in debate were acknowledged throughout the land. Compared with him, Lincolnwas unknown beyond the borders of his own State. The political and forensic contest waged by these two men in Illinoisthat year caught the attention of the entire Nation. After its close the name of Lincoln, for the first time, was not altogether unfamiliar in the country at large. Douglastraveled over the State during the debate in a special train equipped with a brass cannon. Lincolntraveled as an ordinary passenger in a common coach, and there were times when he could not even find a seat.

Close reasoning, iron logic, clear exposition, and honesty marked Lincoln's speeches. They may still be cited as masterpieces of political discussion. Yet Douglaswon the contest, as he war returned to the Senate by a close vote of the State Legislature.

In the first selection given below an old friend of Lincoln's tells about riding with him on the way to the first debate at Ottawa. In the second, Horace White, who reported the debates for the Chicago Tribune, relates some of his impressions of the contest.

I went from Chicago via the morning train, which reached Ottawa at noon. Lincoln got on board at Morris. The humblest commercial traveler did not travel so unostentatiously; he was entirely alone, and carried his little baggage in his hand. He did not have a director's car, with a great retinue of flunkeys and parasites and a platform car with a cannon on it, as his distinguished competitor did. He sat with me throughout the journey; and I am thus enabled to know for myself that this remarkable man exhibited not the slightest trace of excitement or nervousness at the threshold of one of the fiercest political contests in this or in any other country. We talked about matters other than the impending debate.

-16-

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