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Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln-Douglas Debates (American National Biography)

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James M. McPherson, "Lincoln, Abraham," American National Biography Online, February 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/04/04-00631.html.

Lincoln challenged Douglas to a series of debates. Douglas accepted, and the two met in seven three-hour debates in every part of the state. Why could the country not continue to exist half slave and half free as it had for seventy years? asked Douglas. Lincoln's talk about the "ultimate extinction" of slavery would drive the South into secession. Douglas also upbraided Lincoln for his alleged belief in "negro equality." Sensing a winning issue in Illinois, Douglas shouted questions to the crowd: "Are you in favor of conferring upon the negro the rights and privileges of citizenship?" Back would come the response, "No, No!"…The popular vote for Republican and Democratic legislators was virtually even in 1858, but because apportionment favored the Democrats, they won a majority of seats and reelected Douglas….

In retrospect, Lincoln was the real winner of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. His famous question at Freeport forced Douglas to enunciate the "Freeport Doctrine" that settlers could keep slavery out of a territory despite the Dred Scott decision by refusing to enact and enforce a local slave code. The Freeport Doctrine further alienated Douglas from southern Democrats and kindled their demand for a federal slave code in the territories. This issue split the Democratic party in 1860, virtually assuring the election of a Republican president. The national visibility achieved by Lincoln in the debates caused his name to be increasingly mentioned as the possible Republican nominee.

How to Cite This Page: "Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln-Douglas Debates (American National Biography)," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/17752.