Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates That Defined America

Guelzo, Allen C. Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates That Defined America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008.
Source Type
Secondary
Year
2008
Publication Type
Book
Citation:
Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008), 85.
Body Summary:
Douglas had no objection to turning this “natural equality” doctrine into another misstep for Lincoln, on top of the House Divided speech. The senator was due in Springfield for the Democratic state committee meeting on the seventeenth, but he took his time getting there, chuffing down the Illinois Central, stopping to speak in Joliet and Bloomington, and luridly playing up Lincoln and “Negro equality.” Along the tracks, “all the stations were crowded to see Douglas.” At Bridgeport, immigrant Irish track workers “quit their work to cheer the senator as the train swept by,” and in Bloomington, he stopped to wave the race card in a speech on the steps of the McLean county courthouse to two thousand people. It was mostly a rerun of his Chicago speech, in which Douglas “declared himself the champion of popular sovereignty” and “indorsed…the Dred Scott decision.” But he now also “harped upon ‘Amalgamation,’ ‘Negro Equality,’ ‘a war of the sections’” for two and three-quarter hours.
Citation:
Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008), 85.
Body Summary:
By the time [Douglas] arrived in Springfield (in the middle of another of that summer’s drenching rains), he was unblushingly fondling every white racist prejudice he could summon and gleefully painting the bull’s-eye of “Negro equality” all over Lincoln’s back.
Citation:
Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008), 300.
Body Summary:
[Abraham Lincoln's] resiliency now came to his aid in the cave of defeat. Returning home the night of the election, “the path” he walked on his way back to the clapboard house at Eighth and Jackson streets “had been worn hog-backed & was slippering. My foot slipped from under me, knocking the other one out of the way, but I recovered myself & lit square: and I said to myself ‘It's a slip and not a fall.'" A slip and not a fall. By any other standards for measuring political shelf life, Lincoln's would, by this point, have been close to expiration. He had spent one term in the House of Representatives, mostly fruitless; he had failed in one bid for the Senate in 1855, switched parties, and now had been defeated again for the Senate when it had looked as though he had every expectation of winning. [Norman] Judd and the Republican state committee had run the campaign “upon the most economical plan” possible, but they still ended up $65,000 in the hole, with the Chicago Tribune mortgaged to the chin to generate the loans and another $2,5000 in borrowing made by the committee directly. Judd had no choice but to write out $300 assessments for each of the state committee members, and for Lincoln.
Citation:
Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008), 85.
Body Summary:
But instead of congratulating Lincoln for rebuking Greeley and catching the Douglasites off-guard, the reactions of the Illinois Republican leadership to the House Divided speech ranged from unease to irritation. Yes, Lincoln had certainly painted Douglas in the most dire proslavery colors, and that would keep the faint-hearts and celebrity-struck “sisters” from running after the Little Giant with their caps in hand. But he had forgotten that Douglas and the eastern Republicans were only one of his problems, and the House Divided speech sounded so much like an abolition tract that the critical Whig moderates Lincoln was counting on would turn away in disgust, even from a former Whig. Norman Judd, who had not been consulted in advance about the speech, told Lincoln that “had I seen the Speech I would have made you Strike out that house divided part.” Leonard Swett believed “these words were hastily and inconsiderately uttered” and “wholly inappropriate.” One visitor to Lincoln's office in Springfield told him plainly that "Lincoln, that foolish speech of yours will kill you—will defeat you in this Contest—and probably for all offices for all time to come.”
Citation:
Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008), 91.
Body Summary:
Lincoln was counting too heavily and too passively on the division of the Douglasites and Buchananites to hand him the election. Besides, the anti-Nebraska men on the state committee, who had lived most of their lives as Democrats in Douglas’s shadow, thirsted for something more from Lincoln than second-fiddle appearances in towns Douglas had just left “with a sort of Napoleon air.” And so, however reluctantly, Lincoln wrote to Douglas on July 24 to ask him “to make an arrangement for you and myself to divide time, and address the same audiences during the present canvass.” [Norman] Judd, taking no chances, insisted on delivering the letter personally.’ This was harder to do than Judd thought. Douglas was already preparing for his first major campaign tour into the vital midsection of the state, and it took three days for Judd to catch up with Douglas and present the letter to him. The Little Giant's first response was a contemptuous refusal. “What do you come to me with such a thing as this for?” he blazed at Judd, “and indulged in other equally ill-tempered remarks.” And James Sheahan's Chicago Times echoed Douglas's annoyance by running an editorial asking Judd why he didn’t look up the managers of the “two very good circuses and menageries traveling through the State” and persuade them, rather than Douglas, “to include a speech from Lincoln in their performances.”
Citation:
Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008), 85-86.
Body Summary:
But it was noticeable that Lincoln devoted far more of his Springfield speech to defending himself than to refuting Douglas – defending the House Divided speech, denying that he was preaching “consolidation and uniformity” in wanting to see slavery “placed in the course of ultimate extinction,” denying that he was inciting the North “to disturb or resist” the Dred Scott decision, denying (at the end) that he wanted “to make negroes perfectly equal with white men in social and political relations.” This was the kind of rhetorical posture that befitted a civil lawyer whose long suit was the logical analysis of torts and trespasses. But Lincoln was not in front of a jury now, and he was not facing a man for whom the fine points of consistency weighted much against the thrill of accusation. As in war, so in politics: the victory more often went not to those who conducted good defenses but to those willing to risk, to seize the initiative, and to hold it by any means necessary. On those terms, his follow-up on Douglas’s strategy was not working, and people were starting to tell him so. John Mathers, a brick manufacturer in Jacksonville, was a total stranger to Lincoln; yet even he wrote Lincoln that “if Douglass can only succeed in keeping you defending yourself all the time he will have accomplished his object…Would it not be better…to cease to defend, & occupy the side of the assailant, and keep this position until the close of the fight.”
Citation:
Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008), 130.
Body Summary:
But instead of disappointment, the prevailing mood seemed to be surprise. Although Douglas had carefully targeted his attacks by appealing to the worst fears of undecided Whigs, the remarkable fact of the day was how well Lincoln had done. “I can recall only one fact the debates,” one survivor of the audience said to Ida Tarbell four decades later, “that I felt so sorry for Lincoln while Douglas was speaking, and then to my surprise I felt so sorry for Douglas when Lincoln replied.” Even Lincoln sounded a little taken aback. He wrote Joseph Cunningham, the editor of the Urbana Union, “Douglas and I…crossed swords here yesterday; the fire flew some, and I am glad to know I am yet alive.” Robert Hitt remembered that the skeptics who “regarded the setting up of Lincoln” against the Little Giant as “farcical” were “confounded by the first debate” and by “the immense development of Lincoln’s resources.” And once Hitt's transcripts of the debate were published in the Chicago Tribune, and then reprinted across the country, letters began pouring in, asking “who is this new man?...You have a David greater than the Democratic Goliath or any other I ever saw.”
Citation:
Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008), xxii-xxiii.
Body Summary:
Both Lincoln and Douglas knew that the election of 1858 would be decided by swing voters in central Illinois counties where only three of the seven debates were held. The debates were, yes, a central feature of the campaigns of 1858, but in the narratives, they have come completely to eclipse the campaigners. That is, in large measure, the accident of print. It is one mark of the national stake in the 1858 senatorial contest that the rival Chicago newspapers – the Chicago Press & Tribune and the Chicago Times – hired stenographers trained in shorthand to take down every word of the debates as uttered, then used the state’s rail network to speed the debate transcripts into the newspapers’ copy rooms and so have them in print (and available to the new national wire service, the Associated Press) within forty-eight hours. This was an expensive and labor-intensive proposition, and neither newspaper was in a position to extend that kind of coverage to the balance of the candidates’ individual speaking stops. So the debates, simply on the basis of their availability, rapidly overshadowed the other speeches made by Lincoln and Douglas throughout the campaign, and when Lincoln assembled a scrapbook of newspaper cuttings from the campaign for publication in 1860, it was the texts of the debates, rather than any of the other speeches, which made up most of the book.
How to Cite This Page: "Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates That Defined America ," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, https://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/16072.