The following transcript has been adapted from Personal Recollections (1901).
Mr. Lincoln entered upon the contest of 1858 without the fullest confidence of even his own supporters. I remember the trepidation of the anti-slavery party, occasioned by his celebrated declaration that 'a house divided against itself cannot stand.' It was expected by many of those who desired his success that he would fail in his contest with Douglas, and it was only after repeated essays which he had given of his power that he established himself in the full confidence of his supporters. I think it is apparent in the earlier speeches of Mr. Lincoln that he felt the want of the full confidence of his party adherents, and I think it can be perceived that he grew bolder as he became more conscious of his own power and received a larger share of the confidence of his friends. I trust, in what I have said, as well as what I will say hereafter, I have kept within the line of just and proper appreciation of the intellectual and logical forces exhibited by these great leaders of the contest of 1858. I knew them both and esteemed them both, although I confess that, while the preliminaries of the discussion were being arranged, I doubted Mr. Lincoln's ability to cope with Mr. Douglas.
That series of discussions, which I have called a mere continuous debate, is historic, and it made history. Mr. Douglas, who had been the idol of the Democracy of Illinois, and was without doubt the greatest man of his party in the United States, yielding to the influences which surrounded him at Washington, and forgetful of what he so well said on another occasion, 'I never knew the Democratic party to fail in one of its principles, out of policy or expediency, that it did not pay the debt with sorrow,' attempted that which is always dangerous to a political party which is in the possession of power—he attempted to make a new issue for the consideration of American people. If it had been possible at that time to have made the question of slavery in the states, or of its extension, by the occult force of the constitution, into the territories, and had it admitted of exact definition and a clear declaration of its purposes, it might have succeeded; but it was apparent, even in 1858, that what was known as the slave power was determined to defend that system, even to the extent of the overthrow of the Union, and the North was aroused and equally determined that slavery in the United States should never be allowed to enter any of the territories. Between parties thus resolved, no compromise was possible, no makeshift, no scheme could be devised which would state the recognized propositions of the sections. In 1858, Mr. Lincoln by no means satisfied the extreme men who considered themselves to be his supporters, in that he failed, as much as Mr. Douglas did, to satisfy the southern element of his own political party. The debate defined the real points of difference between the advocates and opponents of slavery extension; it disclosed the chasm which separated sections.