Recollection by A.A. Terrell, Freeport, August 27, 1858

Source citation
A.A. Terrell, "Lincoln and Douglas," Chicago (IL) Tribune, October 25, 1885, p. 25.  
Author (from)
Terrell, A.A.
Newspaper: Publication
Chicago Daily Tribune
Type
Newspaper
Date Certainty
Exact
Transcriber
Joanne Williams, Dickinson College
Transcription date
The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print. Spelling and typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.

Reminiscences of Their Great Joint Debate at

Freeport
Illinois.
------------------
How Douglas' Hasty Answer to Lin-
coln's Questions Ruined His Pres-
idential Chances
--------------------
Owen Lovejoy's Memorable Speech Re-
garding the Fugitive Slave Law

 

Cherokee, Ia., Oct. 22- Editor of The Tribune. Mr. Washburne's account of the great joint debate at Freeport, Ill., between Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Douglas, as recently given in the Tribune, brings to mind many other items of great interest connected with that event. I was present at that remarkable meeting, it being the first political gathering I had attended since my arrival West.

It will be remembered that Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Douglas had arranged for seven joint debates in the State, and, as each was regarded as the piont of his party, political excitement was soon at fever heat. The first of these joint debates was held, I believe at Ottawa, and at that meeting Judge Douglas propounded to Mr. Lincoln seven questions- of a political character of course- and demanded they be then and there answered. But Mr. Lincoln paid not the slightest attention to them, and did not attempt to reply to them at that time. After that joint debate was over, and before the second one took place at Freeport, the political party of that Judge Douglas represented heralded it all over the State and Nation that Mr. Lincoln dare not answer those questions, and even many prominent Republicans could not see just how Mr. Lincoln could answer them without killing himself politically, and his party also.

At Freeport Mr. Lincoln had the opening and closing of the debate, and when he arose to speak he referred to the questions Mr. Douglas had propounded to him at Ottawa and that it had been sent broadcast that he dare not answer them, but he said that he wanted it distinctly understood that he dare answer them, and, in order that they might have him on the record, he had written out the questions and his answers to them. Then he proceeded to read very slowly and distinctly, emphasizing his answers with much feeling and power. When he was through with them he turned to Mr. Douglas and said to him that he had answered his questions in fairness and candor, and said: “Now, Judge, I have seven questions that I want you to answer with the same frankness and candor that I have answered yours,” and he proceeded to read from a written manuscript he held the seven questions he wanted Judge Douglas to answer.

Those questions sealed the political doom of Mr. Douglas. Among these was this one in substance: “If the Constitution of the United States protected slavery in the Territories now was Popular Sovereignty to drive it out when it became a State, if a majority of the people did not want it? When Judge Douglas arose to occupy the time that was his everyone could see that he was excited beyond all control, and in his anger he tore off his collar and necktie, and like a gladiator entered upon his great speech. Here he made the great mistake of his life. Instead of taking time as Mr. Lincoln did to think over his replies and frame them carefully, he answered at once, giving such hasty and ill-considered replies as came to him on the spur of the moment. His reply to the above question was in substance that the people of a Territory or State could exclude slavery by “unfriendly legislation,” even as against the Constitution of the United States. That admission, then and there made, aroused a perfect cyclone of Indignation in the Southern States, and the Presidential star of Judge Douglas then and there set forever, and the Civil War followed as a result of it. If Judge Douglas had waited and consulted his party North and South before answering those questions they would have been answered differently, he would have been the candidate of his united part for President, and probably elected, and Mr. Lincoln would have remained in Illinois as a private citizen or Senator, and the Civil War, for years at least, have been avoided. Viewed in any light we please, the meeting at Freeport was one of the most remarkable events in the political history of this country.

Another even of that meeting was the presence of Owen Lovejoy. Judge Douglas knew he was there, and he charged that Lovejoy was guilty of moral perjury because, having taken the oath of a Congressman, he had publicly declared he would not be a party to enforcing the Fugitive Slave law. After the joint debate was over the vast sea of people assembled in front of the Brewster House. Calls were made for Lincoln and Douglas, and each came out and bowed to the people. At length some one saw Lovejoy, and such a yelling for him was enough to make a man deaf. Finally Lovejoy came out under the balcony and a platform of dry-goods boxes was hastily constructed, and as he raised his hand for silence the noise died away like the receding waves of the ocean. For pathos and the vehement power of deep conviction that speech excelled anything I ever heard, and his impassioned eloquence held his audience spellbound. He referred to the charge of moral perjury in refusing to help enforce the Fugitive Slave law, and I shall never forget these thrilling words as he hurled them like a thunderbolt upon that vast sea of people said: “If Judge Douglas wants to make a bloodhound of himself, and chase the fleeing fugitive across the free prairies of Illinois, and fasten his canine teeth in the quivering flesh of the fleeing bondman, he can do it, but thank Dog Almighty Owen Lovejoy never will.”

For a moment a spell rested over the vast throng and the stillness was stifling, but the great sea of people of people commenced to sway back and forth, a wild, wailing shout broke forth, and backwards and forwards over that moving mass of humanity went such cheering as I seldom heard in this world. Like the tide it would go and come and ebb and flow until it seemed as though it would never stop. The climax of human nature had been reached, and great the heart and conscience of the listening thousands had been aroused until a feeling akin to a divine revelation had taken possession of the vast multitude: and I don’t believe that there was a man in the vast sea of people who did not go home, carrying with him there and remaining until the present, a feeling that a higher power than man governed and controlled that memorable meeting in the beautiful City of Freeport. A.A. Terrell.

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