Recollection by Carl Schurz, Quincy Debate, October 13, 1858

    Source citation
    Charl Schurz, McClure's Magazine, Jan. 1907, in Edwin Erle Sparks, ed., The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1908), 446-448.
    Date Certainty
    Transcription adapted from The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 (1908), edited by Edwin Erle Sparks
    Adapted by Ben Lyman, Dickinson College
    The following transcript has been adapted from The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 (1908).

    "When we arrived at Quincy, we found a large number of friends waiting for him [Lincoln]; there was much hand-shaking, and many familiar salutations were exchanged. Then they got him into a carriage, much against his wish, for he said that he would prefer to 'foot it to Browning's,' an old friend at whose house he was to have supper and a quiet night. But the night was by no means quiet outside. The blare of brass bands and the shouts of enthusiastic and not in all cases quite sober Democrats and Republicans, cheering and hurrahing for their respective champions, did not cease until the small hours.

    The next morning the country people began to stream into town for the great meeting, some singly, on foot or on horseback, some in small parties of men and women and even children, in buggies or farm wagons; while others were marshaled in solemn procession from outlying towns or districts, with banners and drums, tricolored scarfs, who represented the Goddess of Liberty and the different states of the Union, and whose beauty was duly admired by everyone, including themselves.

    On the whole, the Democratic displays were much more elaborate and georgeous than those of the Republicans, and it was said that Douglas had plenty of money to spend for such things. He himself traveled in what was called in those days great style, with a secretary and servants and a numerous escort of somewhat loud companions, moving from place to place by special train, with cars especially decorated for the occasion, all of which contrasted strongly with Lincoln's extremely modest simplicity. There was no end of cheering and shouting and jostling on the streets of Quincy that day. But in spite of the excitement created by the political contest, the crowds remained very good natured, and the occasional jibs flung from one side to the other were uniformly received with a mere laugh.

    The great debate took place in the afternoon in the open square, where a large, pine-board platform had been built for the committee of arrangements, the speakers, and the persons they wished to have with them. I thus was favored with a seat on that platform. In front of it many thousands of people were assembled, Republicans and Democrats standing peacefully together, only chaffing one another now and then in a good-tempered way.

    As the champions arrived, they were demonstratively cheered by their adherents. The presiding officer agreed upon by the two parties called the meeting to order and announced the program of proceedings, Mr. Lincoln was to open with a speech of one hour. Senator Douglas was to follow with a speech of one hour and a half, and Mr. Lincoln was to close with a speech of a half hour. The first part of Mr. Lincoln's opening address was devoted to a refutation of some things Douglas had said at previous meetings. This refutation may, indeed, have been required for the settlement of disputed points, but it did not strike me as anything extraordinary, either in substance or in form.

    Neither had Mr. Lincoln any of those physical advantages which usually are thought to be very desirable, if not necessary, to the orator. His voice was not musical, being rather high-keyed and apt to turn into a shrill treble in moments of excitement ; but it was not positively disagreable. It had an exceeding penetrating, far-reaching quality. The looks of the audience convinced me that every word he spoke was understood at the remotest edges of the vast assemblage. His gestures were awkward. He swung his long arms sometimes in a very ungraceful manner. Now and then, to give particular emphasis to a point, he would bend his knees and body with a sudden downward jerk and then shoot up again with a vehemence that raised him to his tiptoes and made him look much taller than he really was—a manner of enlivening a speech which at that time was, and perhaps still is, not unsual in the West, but which he succeeded in avoiding at a later period.

    There was, however, in all he said, a tone of earnest truthfulness, of elevated, noble sentiment, and of kindly sympathy, which added greatly to the strength of his argument, and became, as in the course of his speech he touched upon the moral side of the question in debate, powerfully impressive. Even when he was attacking his opponent with keen satire or invective, which, coming from any other speaker, would have sounded bitter and cruel, there was still a certain something in his utterance which made his hearers feel that those thrusts came from a reluctant heart, and that he would much rather have treated his foe as a friend.

    When Lincoln had sat down amid the enthusiastic plaudits of his adherents, I asked myself with some trepidation in my heart, 'What will Douglas say now? ' Lincoln's speech had struck me as something very clear, logical, persuasive, convincing even, and very sympathetic; but not as something overwhelming. Douglas, I thought, might not be able to confute it, but by the cunning sophistry at his command, and by one of his forceful appeals to prejudice, he might succeed in neutralizing its effects.

    No more striking contrast could have been imagined than that between those two men as they appeared upon the platform. By the side of Lincoln's tall, lank and ungainly form, Douglas stood almost like a dwarf, very short of stature, but square-shouldered and broadchested, a massive head upon a strong neck—the very embodiment of force, combativeness, and staying power. On the stage at Quincy he looked rather natty and well-groomed, being clothed in excellently fitting broadcloth and shining linen. But his face seemed a little puffy, and it was said that he had been drinking hard with some boon companions either on his journey or since his arrival. The deep horizontal wrinkle between his keen eyes was unusually dark and scowling. While he was listening to Lincoln's speech, a contemptuous smile now and then flitted across his lips, and when he arose, the tough parliamentary gladiator, he tossed his mane with an air of overbearing superiority, of threatening defiance, as if to say: 'How dare any one dare stand up against me?'

    When the debate at Quincy was over, the champions were heartily cheered by their partisans, the assemblage dissolved peaceably, the brass bands began to play again—several of them within hearing of one another, so as to fill the air with discordant sounds—and the country people, with their wagons and their maidens in white, got in motion to return to their homes.

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