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The first debate was held at Ottawa on August 21, 1858, the last at Alton on October 15. Each candidate spoke for an hour and a half. Large crowds attended, except at Jonesboro, in the southernmost part of the state. Newspapers reported the debates, and the two men drew national attention.
The debates centered on the extension of slavery into free territory. Douglas, a Democrat, had helped enact the Compromise of 1850, which had allowed Missouri to determine for itself whether to allow slavery or not. Lincoln, a Republican, argued that the United States could not survive as half-slave and half-free slaves, and that it was necessary for the nation as a whole to either allow or disallow slavery. Douglas ignored the moral question of slavery, but Lincoln regarded slavery "as a moral, social, and political evil."
In the election, Lincoln candidates for the Illinois Legislature received more popular votes than their opponents, but the state was divided into districts in such a way that Douglas men won a majority of the seats. As a result, Douglas was re-elected by a vote of 54 to 46. Although Lincoln lost the election, the debates made him a national figure and ultimately led to his being chosen by the Republican Party to be its candidate for President in the 1860 election.
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