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Lincoln-Douglas Debates: Words That Shaped a Political Lands

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Michael Normant

on 15 November 2013

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Transcript of Lincoln-Douglas Debates: Words That Shaped a Political Lands

Lincoln-Douglas Debates:
Words That Shaped a Political Landscape

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas ran against each other in a hotly contested battle for one of the Senate seats from the state of Illinois. The campaign centered on the issues of slavery and popular sovereignty and thrust Lincoln, the challenger, into the national spotlight. While Douglas eventually won reelection to the Senate, the election represented the true beginning of the national political career of Lincoln that would eventually lead him to the White House.

In the months leading up to the election, the two men agreed to participate in a series of organized debates. The seven debates would be located throughout the state and featured an alternating order of speakers. Both men were skilled orators and had moments of success and failure throughout the debates. Following each debate, newspapers throughout the state quickly took sides, glorifying or demonizing each candidate.

In this presentation, you will have a chance to read the transcripts of each debate and excerpts from newspapers published following each debate. You will then be asked to think about the focus of each debate and use the Word Clouds provided to see what themes and concepts were most prominent.

But first, watch a brief overview of the debates before you examine the text...

Ottawa Debate
August 21, 1858
It was dry and dusty, between 10,000 and 12,000 people were in attendance when the debate began at 2:00 p.m. There were no seats or bleachers.
Douglas charged Lincoln with trying to “abolitionize” the Whig and Democratic Parties. He also charged Lincoln had been present when a very radical “abolitionist” type platform had been written by the Republican Party in 1854.
Douglas accused Lincoln of taking the side of the common enemy in the Mexican War. Douglas also said Lincoln wanted to make Illinois “a free Negro colony.”
Douglas asked Lincoln seven questions.
Lincoln during his turn did not respond to the questions and was on the defensive denying the allegations Douglas had made. Lincoln charged Douglas with trying to nationalize slavery.
In his rebuttal Douglas concentrated on the charge that Lincoln had been present when a very radical “abolitionist” type platform had been written by the Republican Party in 1854.

Source: Neely, Mark E. Jr. 1982. The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc.

Freeport Debate
August 27, 1858
It was a cloudy, cool, and damp day. Special trains brought people from Galena, Chicago, Rockford, and other cities in northern Illinois. Estimates as high as 15,000 were reported in various newspaper accounts.
Lincoln answered the seven questions Douglas posed at Ottawa and then asked four of his own. Douglas' response became known as the Freeport Doctrine which had ramifications at the 1860 Democratic National Convention.

Source: Neely, Mark E. Jr. 1982. The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc.

Jonesboro Debate
September 15, 1858
Approximately 1,500 from the sparsely populated heavily Democratic area attended.
Most of those in attendance had moved to the area from slave-holding states or were descendants of people who had moved from slave-holding states. Douglas charged Lincoln and the Republicans said one thing in nothern Illinois, something different in central Illinois, and something all together different again in southern illinois. Douglas charged Lincoln stood for racial equality. Lincoln denied he said different things in different parts of the state and then quoted various documents and speeches by Democrats to prove they said different things in different parts of the states.

Source: Neely, Mark E. Jr. 1982. The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc.
Charleston Debate
September 18, 1858
Eleven railroad cars of people from Indiana were among the approximately 12,000 in attendance.
Answering Douglas' charge made in Jonosboro that he favored racial equality Lincoln explained his views on race. Lincoln then charged that Douglas was plotting to create a constitution for Kansas without allowing it to be voted upon by the people of Kansas. Lincoln gave a detailed "history" of the 'Nebraska Bill' [Kansas-Nebraska Act] and explained a conspiracy existed to nationalize slavery.
Douglas denied any conspiracy with Roger Taney, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanon and restated the charge that Lincoln favored equality of the races.

Source: Neely, Mark E. Jr. 1982. The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc.

Galesburg Debate
October 7, 1858
More than 15,000 people jammed the campus of Knox College. Heavy rain had fallen the day before and a raw wind blew during the debate.
Douglas went to great length to explain his opposition to the Lecompton Constitution and his opposition to any compromise on the subject. He made his typical statement concerning the Declaration of Independence being written by white men and meant to apply only to white men.
Lincoln emphasized the Declaration of Independence was meant to apply to all men.

Source: Neely, Mark E. Jr. 1982. The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc.
Quincy Debate
October 13, 1858
Many of the approximately 12,000 in attendance were 'Old Whigs' and they listened as both Lincoln and Douglas claimed to be the 'political descendent' of Whig Henry Clay.
Lincoln denied he said different things in different parts of the state. Lincoln emphasized that slavery was morally wrong and promised Republicans would attack slavery only where the Constitution allowed--in the territories.
Douglas denied there was a conspiracy to nationalize slavery and refused to argue whether slavery was right or wrong insisting that each local area should decide the slavery issue for itself.

Source: Neely, Mark E. Jr. 1982. The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc.

Alton Debate
October 15, 1858
People were charged one dollar for a round trip ticket to ride a steamboat from St. Louis. It was a cloudy day with only 5,000 in attendance despite the fact that the Chicago and Alton Railroad offered half price fare from Springfield and other locations.
Douglas attacked Lincoln's House Divided Speech and championed Popular Sovereignty.
Lincoln pointed out the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed Henry Clay's Missouri Compromise [many 'Old Whigs' in attendance]. Lincoln used Clay's statements that slavery was evil and Lincoln charged that by excluding the Negro from the Declaration of Independence Douglas de-humanized and took away from the Negro "the right of striving to be a man."

Source: Neely, Mark E. Jr. 1982. The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc.

Given the text of the debates,
what were the most important themes and concepts that arose?
Who do you think won this debate???
After reading the newspaper clippings, how were Lincoln and Douglas portrayed in the media after this debate? Is the article partial towards one candidate or the other? Does each article imply there was one winner and one loser of this debate?
After now examining all seven debates, newspapers, and word clouds, what are your overall assessments:
What were the key moments from the debates?
What were the most important topics raised by each candidate?
Who was the overall winner of the debates?
July 29. 1858

Hon. S. A. Douglas
Dear Sir
Yours of the 24th. in relation to an arrangement to divide time and address the same audiences, is received; and, in apology for not sooner replying, allow me to say that when I sat by you at dinner yesterday was not aware that you had answered my note, nor certainly, that my own note had been presented to you. An hour after I saw a copy of your answer in the Chicago Times; and, reaching home, I found the original awaiting me. Protesting that your insinuations of attempted unfairness on my part are unjust; and with the hope that you did not very considerately make them, I proceed to reply. To your statement that ``It has been suggested recently that an arrangement had been made to bring out a third candidate for the U. S. Senate who, with yourself, should canvass the state in opposition to me &c.'' I can only say that such suggestion must have been made by yourself; for certainly none such has been made by, or to me; or otherwise, to my knowledge. Surely you did not deliberately conclude, as you insinuate, that I was expecting to draw you into an arrangement, of terms to be agreed on by yourself, by which a third candidate, and my self, ``in concert, might be able to take the opening and closing speech in every case.''

As to your surprise that I did not sooner make the proposal to divide time with you, I can only say I made it as soon as I resolved to make it. I did not know but that such proposal would come from you; I waited respectfully to see. It may have been well known to you that you went to Springfield for the purpose of agreeing on the plan of campaign; but it was not so known to me. When your appointments were announced in the papers, extending only to the 21st. of August, I, for the first time, considered it certain that you would make no proposal to me; and then resolved, that if my friends concurred, I would make one to you. As soon thereafter as I could see and consult with friends satisfactorily, I did make the proposal. It did not occur to me that the proposed arrangement could derange your plan, after the latest of your appointments already made. After that, there was, before the election, largely over two months of clear time.

For you to say that we have already spoken at Chicago and Springfield, and that on both occasions I had the concluding speech, is hardly a fair statement. The truth rather is this. At Chicago, July 9th, you made a carefully prepared conclusion on my speech of June 16th.; twentyfour hours after I made a hasty conclusion on yours of the 9th.; you had six days to prepare, and concluded on me again at Bloomington on the 16th.; twentyfour hours after I concluded on you again at Springfield. In the mean time you had made another conclusion on me at Springfield, which I did not hear, and of the contents of which I knew nothing when I spoke; so that your speech made in day-light, and mine at night of the 17th. at Springfield were both made in perfect independence of each other. The dates of making all these speeches, will show, I think, that in the matter of time for preparation, the advantage has all been on your side; and that none of the external circumstances have stood to my advantage.

I agree to an arrangement for us to speak at the seven places you have named, and at your own times, provided you name the times at once, so that I, as well as you, can have to myself the time not covered by the arrangement. As to other details, I wish perfect reciprocity, and no more. I wish as much time as you, and that conclusions shall alternate. That is all.
Your obedient Servant

P.S. As matters now stand, I shall be at no more of your exclusive meetings; and for about a week from to-day a letter from you will reach me at Springfield. A. L.
To arrange the debates, Douglas and Lincoln
engaged in a series of letters to finalize the dates
and procedures that they would follow. Here is the
letter that Lincoln wrote to Douglas on July 29, 1858 to
confirm the final plans:
Neely, Mark E. Jr. 1982. The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc.
Guelzo, Allen. Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America, 2008.
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