DEBATE AT ALTON
Friday, October 15, 1858
IN TERMS OF PURE DRAMA, the Lincoln-Douglas encounter at Alton paled before the memory of the violent confrontation that had made the river village infamous twenty-one years before. Back in 1837, abolitionist editor Elijah Lovejoy had been murdered here by a violent pro-slavery mob while trying to protect his printing press from destruction. The final debate of the 1858 Senate campaign seemed tame by comparison.
Because of Alton’s ugly history, however, and because the debate there was the very last meeting between the candidates, the debate at the Mississippi River town in southwestern Illinois was expected to attract a considerable authence. Steamboats offered one-dollar, round-trip discount fares from St. Louis, and the railroads advertised attractive excursion rates of their own. A local newspaper predicted: “There will be a great attendance.” It was a beautiful day—“one of the prettiest I have ever known in October,” an onlooker remembered—but although the usual retinue of spectators rolled in