David Zarefsky, Lincoln, Douglas, and Slavery: In the Crucible of Public Debate (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990), 51.
The debates were both a serious discussion of the issues and a form of communal entertainment. People arrived early, held picnics and parades, and greeted the arrival of their candidate with frenzied enthusiasm. The debates themselves were carefully managed, however. Timekeepers were strict, and audience demonstrations of anger or applause were discouraged lest they consume time allocated to either candidate. The audiences, in general, did remain attentive for three hours of political debate.