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Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Overview (Guelzo, 2008)

Scholarship

Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008), xxii-xxiii.

Both Lincoln and Douglas knew that the election of 1858 would be decided by swing voters in central Illinois counties where only three of the seven debates were held. The debates were, yes, a central feature of the campaigns of 1858, but in the narratives, they have come completely to eclipse the campaigners. That is, in large measure, the accident of print. It is one mark of the national stake in the 1858 senatorial contest that the rival Chicago newspapers – the Chicago Press & Tribune and the Chicago Times – hired stenographers trained in shorthand to take down every word of the debates as uttered, then used the state’s rail network to speed the debate transcripts into the newspapers’ copy rooms and so have them in print (and available to the new national wire service, the Associated Press) within forty-eight hours. This was an expensive and labor-intensive proposition, and neither newspaper was in a position to extend that kind of coverage to the balance of the candidates’ individual speaking stops. So the debates, simply on the basis of their availability, rapidly overshadowed the other speeches made by Lincoln and Douglas throughout the campaign, and when Lincoln assembled a scrapbook of newspaper cuttings from the campaign for publication in 1860, it was the texts of the debates, rather than any of the other speeches, which made up most of the book.
How to Cite This Page: "Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Overview (Guelzo, 2008)," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/16641.