Recollection by Edmond Beall, Alton Debate, October 15, 1858

    Source citation
    Edmond Beall, "Recollections of the Lincoln-Douglas Debate Held in Alton, Illinois, October 15, 1858," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society,5 no. 4 (January, 1913), 486-487.
    Author (from)
    Beall, Edmond
    Date Certainty
    Adapted by David Park, 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.

    It is now fifty-four years since this memorable debate took place and looking backward to that time, in my mind I can see the crowd and remember the events perfectly. The 15th day of October, 1858, was the day on which Lincoln and Douglas were to hold their seventh and final debate at Alton. Early in the morning the farmers began to arrive in the city in almost every kind of vehicle. By noon boats from St. Louis and trains from the North were beginning to arrive. It is estimated that there wore from six to ten thousand people present, which in those days was considered a very large assemblage. Lincoln and Douglas both arrived early in the morning. Lincoln was quartered at the Franklin House, now called the Lincoln Hotel, and Douglas at the Alton House, destroyed by fire many years ago. This hotel was on the corner of Front and Alby streets. Each had his friends and, during the morning, there were continual receptions at both hotels.

    The committee in charge of the arrangements had erected at the northeast corner of the City Hall a speaker's platform about sixteen feet long by twelve feet wide. About 12 :30 p. in. the crowd began to gather about the place. The enthusiasm was very great, many carrying banners, flags, and all kinds of devices to show the strength of their side. On Market street between Second and Third, on the side of this hill as it now is, there stood at that time an old frame market house, and, during those days, all meats and vegetables were sold only from the market house. No stores were allowed to keep anything of this kind, but all had to go to the market house for provisions of all kinds excepting groceries. Around this building was a railing where the farmers and those having country produce for sale hitched their teams. At that time, being a very small boy, I perched myself on the railing on the south side of the market house, just, you might say, across the street from where the speaking was to take place. About 1:30 Lincoln and Douglas took their seats on the stand, and as they mounted the steps on to the platform, I remember I never heard so much shouting and hurrahing in my life. The ovation they received was tremendous. Douglas was first introduced, and, when he rose to speak, I thought he had been rightly named "The Little Giant." He was not, if my recollection serves me right, over five feet four inches tall. Around the platform there was a railing made of two by fours, about four feet high, and this railing reached nearly to Douglas' shoulders. Just before he began speaking he was interrupted by a certain gentleman, but no attention was paid to him, so Douglas began his speech. He spoke for about an hour or an hour and a half. I noticed at the time that he spoke his words very distinctly, but in a very blustering manner, and so to speak "frothed at the mouth" when he became excited. During the speech Lincoln sat at the rear of the platform, leaning back against the wall of the City Hall, close to the spot where the Memorial Tablet is now placed. He did not look up, nor did he make notes of any remark that Douglas was making, but after Douglas finished speaking, Lincoln rose in a dignified manner, stood in about the same place that Douglas had stood, and looked over the audience. He appeared like a giant in comparison with Douglas. I understand he was six feet three inches in height. Every one was astounded at the difference in the height of the two men. Lincoln was tall and sparely built, Douglas short and fleshy. I could not distinguish a word that was spoken, but I remember there was a peculiar twang to Lincoln's words and that he was cool and collected. His general style and appearance were the same as that of the Honorable L. Y. Sherman of this State, and he looked more like him than any one I have ever seen since, only he was taller; otherwise he cut about the same figure as Sherman. The demonstration was great and both were applauded, but in those dark times of our nation, no one predicted what was before us. From that time on Lincoln rose to the highest pinnacle of fame.

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