The Lincoln-Douglas Debates
When the campaign for United States Senator began in Illinois, everyone expected Stephen A. Douglas to win easily. After all he was the best known politician and he was running for his third term in office. When the debating began, Douglas would soon learn that the win would not come so easy.
The debates traveled across much of the state of Illinois. Both Lincoln and Douglas would practice a form of politics that we are used to today. Each politician attempted to make the other look bad in the eye of the public. Lincoln tried to make Douglas appear more pro-slavery than he really was. Douglas attempted to push Lincoln into the category of abolitionist.
Neither side was giving in on the major issue of slavery in the territories. Lincoln, no matter how much Douglas tried to push him to an extreme position, believed that the territories should not include the institute of slavery. Douglas, no matter how much Lincoln tried to push him to an extreme position, believed the states should decide about the issue of slavery, also known as popular sovereignty.
When the debates concluded, the state of Illinois was divided. However, Douglas did win the election for the Senate in 1858. The once apparently easy win for Douglas was no more. Many people believe that Lincoln won many of the debates against his supposed superior opponent. The loss of the election may have kept Lincoln out of the Senate, but the win in the debates gave him a national reputation that many Americans would remember two years later in the presidential election of 1860.
-Lincoln started with his famous "House Divided" Speech
"I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and
half free" -June 16, 1858
-Douglas responded by saying the country could live divided because it had lived that way since it's birth.
-Many historians have commented on the debates, but many see them the same way.
"In their political effect, the debates were far-reaching importance
Through them, Douglas won another term in the Senate, but to achieve
that immediate victory he was forced to take positions that made him
unacceptable... and cost him...." "Lincoln, on the other hand, acquired the
nation-wide reputation without which he could not have been nominated
for the presidency two years later." Paul M. Angle
Back to Introduction
This website was created by
Back to History Homepage