In 1858, Abraham Lincoln was nominated to run against incumbent Stephen A. Douglas for the U.S. Senate. After a few
speeches, Lincoln challenged Douglas to a series
of debates; Douglas accepted.
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.
Date and Location of Each
First -- August 21, 1858 -- Ottawa
Second -- August 27, 1858 -- Freeport
Third -- September 15, 1858 -- Jonesboro
Fourth -- September 18, 1858 -- Charleston
Fifth -- October 7, 1858 -- Galesburg
Sixth -- October 13, 1858 -- Quincy
Seventh -- October 15, 1858 -- Alton
Illinois in the Civil War www.illinoiscivilwar.org/debates.html
Lincoln Home National Historic Site
Stephen A. Douglas
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