Thursday, October 7, 1858
THE “IMMENSE” AUTHENCE that massed on the campus of Knox College in Galesburg for the fifth Lincoln-Douglas meeting was by some accounts the largest of the debates. It might have been even larger had not the perils of nineteenth-century rail travel conspired with the extremes of autumn prairie weather to inhibit attendance.
A twenty-two-car special train from Peoria, overflowing with 2,000 Galesburg-bound passengers, ran into mechanical problems that day, failing to arrive until the debate was nearly over. And after a day of downpours on October 6, the seventh dawned raw and cold. A strong sun failed to melt the “Arctic frost,” and cold winds whipped banners into shreds and sent Lincoln and Douglas signs flying “pell mell all over town.” But even bad weather, a journalist declared, failed to dampen the “political ardor.”
By midday, between 15,000 and 20,000 spectators had converged on the college from all directions. An eyewitness recalled the outskirts of town cluttered with the “tents of farmers, who had come