Lincoln-Douglas Debates

Saturday, August 21, 1858 to Friday, October 15, 1858

1958 U.S. postage stamp commemorating the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. Courtesy of the U.S. Government, Post Office Department.

A series of seven debates in an Illinois U.S. Senate race juxtaposes the views of Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln and Democratic incumbent Stephen Douglas. Lincoln, an obscure former state representative, argues that the nation would eventually encompass all slave states or all free states, and nothing in between. He cites the end of the Missouri Compromise and the Dred Scott decision as evidence that slavery is spreading into the Northern states. Meanwhile, Douglas attempts to tie Lincoln to radical abolitionists who would undermine national political stability to extend equality to African Americans. Douglas goes on to win the election (then determined by the state legislature, not by direct popular vote), but the debates give Lincoln some national name-recognition, which he leverages at the Republican Convention to secure the party's nomination for president of the United States in the 1860 elections


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