First Debate With Stephen A. Douglas At Ottawa, Illinois:
CW, 3:14–18, 27–30
On July 24, 1858, Abraham Lincoln challenged Stephen A. Douglas to a series of debates. Douglas reluctantly accepted and insisted that they appear in each of the state's nine congressional districts—excepting Chicago and Springfield, where each candidate recently had delivered speeches. Douglas also named the towns for each event, and by July 31 the two had settled on the format. The first debate took place in the small north-central Illinois town of Ottawa, attended by a crowd of several thousand people. The historic debates, focusing on slavery and race, revisited the positions Lincoln had taken since adoption of the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act. By 1858, however, civil war in Kansas and especially the 1857 Dred Scott decision had changed the political landscape. Lincoln always condemned slavery as a “monstrous injustice,” but he insisted that only by adhering to the intentions of the Founding Fathers could the nation preserve democracy and safely rid itself of slavery and the unwanted slave. Lincoln singled out the 1820 Compromise as necessary to recognize the interests of slaveholders and the Fathers' intention of placing slavery on the road to extinction. Douglas's policies, Lincoln asserted, abandoned the legacy of the Founders. With a conciliatory tone, he carefully avoided holding Southerners responsible for the existence of slavery and reaffirmed his preference for emancipation and black resettlement in Liberia. He shared Douglas's popular racial attitudes: “There is a physical difference between the two, which in my judgment will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality.” He did not hesitate to refer to blacks as niggers. He also marked out a fundamental difference with his Democratic opponent on the race issue. While Douglas believed that blacks were best kept in slavery, Lincoln insisted that African Americans always had been included in the definition of equality offered by the Declaration of Independence.