The Lincoln-Douglas Debates

In this atmosphere of national confusion, relatively unknown former congressman Abraham Lincoln challenged Stephen Douglas to a series of public debates in their home state of Illinois. Lincoln, hoping to steal Douglas’s seat in the Senate in the 1858 elections, wanted to be the first to put the question of slavery to the voters. The “Little Giant” accepted and engaged Lincoln in a total of seven debates, each in front of several thousand people.

During the debates, Lincoln denounced slavery as a moral wrong and argued that the “peculiar institution” should be banned from the West permanently. At the same time, though, he also called for the preservation of the Union. Douglas accused Lincoln of being a radical abolitionist and articulated a new policy—the Freeport Doctrine—stating that popular sovereignty in the territories was the only democratic solution to resolving the slavery problem. Even though Lincoln lost the Senate race, the Lincoln-Douglas debates brought him to national prominence.

Popular pages: The Civil War 1850–1865