Recollection by Gustave Koerner, Alton Debate, October 15, 1858

    Source citation
    Thomas J. McCormack, ed., Memoirs of Gustave Koerner, 1809-1896 (2 vols; Cedar Rapids, IA: The Torch Press, 1909), 2: 66-68.
    Date Certainty
    Transcription adapted from Memoirs of Gustave Koerner, 1809-1896 (1909), edited by Thomas J. McCormack
    Adapted by Ben Lyman, Dickinson College
    The following transcript has been adapted from Memoirs of Gustave Koerner, 1809-1896 (1909).


    I attended only the last joint meeting, shortly before the election, at Alton. I arrived there in the morning, and found Lincoln in the hotel sitting-room. He at once said: '' Let us go up and see Mary." I had not seen Mrs. Lincoln, that I recollected, since meeting her at the Lexington parties, when she was Miss Todd. "Now, tell Mary what you think of our chances! She is rather dispirited." I was certain, I said, of our carrying the State and tolerably certain of our carrying the Legislature. St. Clair was perfectly safe. The outlook in Madison was good. We had just then been reading the St. Louis morning papers, where it was announced that more than a thousand Douglas men had chartered a boat to attend the Alton meeting, and that they represented the Free Soil party in Missouri and were enthusiastic for Douglas's election. We discussed fully the singular position that party had taken under the lead of Frank Blair, who had been the great champion of the cause of our party in Missouri, ever since the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. I found Lincoln a little despondent. He had come quietly down from Springfield with his wife that morning, unobserved, and it was not until an hour or so that his friends were made aware of his arrival. He was soon surrounded by a crowd of Republicans; but there was no parade or fuss, while Douglas, about noon, made his pompous entry, and soon afterwards the boat from St. Louis landed at the wharf, heralded by the firing of guns and the strains of martial music.

    The speaking commenced at two o'clock. The stand was on the public square. It was occupied by the speakers and by the Lincoln and Douglas Reception Committees of Alton. Mr. Lincoln took me with him on the platform. Here I met, for the first time since 1856, Judge Douglas, who in his genial manner shook hands with me, apparently quite cordially. But I was really shocked at the condition he was in. His face was bronzed, which was natural enough, but it was also bloated, and his looks were haggard, and his voice almost extinct. In conversation he merely whispered. In addressing his audience he made himself understood only by an immense strain, and then only to a very small circle immediately near him. He had the opening and conclusion. His speech, however, was as good as any he had delivered. Lincoln, although sun-burnt, was as fresh as if he had just entered the campaign, and as cool and collected as ever. Without any apparent effort he stated his propositions clearly and tersely, and his whole speech was weighted with noble and deep thoughts. There were no appeals to passion and prejudice.

    The Alton speech contained, by general admission, some of the finest passages of all the speeches he ever made. When Douglas's opening speech had been made, he was vociferously cheered. When, after Lincoln's speech, which made a powerful impression, Douglas made his reply, there was hardly any applause when he closed.

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