DEBATE AT OTTAWA
Saturday, August 21, 1858
THE FIRST LINCOLN-DOUGLAS DEBATE began late. No one was prepared for the crush of humanity that poured into the overwhelmingly Republican village of Ottawa on that searingly hot day, and no one made adequate provisions to control the crowd. The result bordered on chaos, and Lincoln later confided of the “vast concourse of people” that there were “more than could [geet] near enough to hear.”
A canal town hugging the Fox and Illinois rivers midway between Chicago and Peoria in the northern part of the state, Ottawa could claim a permanent population of at most 7,000. But by debate day, between 10,000 and 20,000 more—estimates varied wildly—arrived in town from all directions to fill Ottawa to overflowing.
“Men, women, and children, old, and young,” as one reporter described the arrivals, flooded in on foot, on horseback, in ox-drawn