Essay, Research Paper
In 1858, there was a great struggle within the state of Illinois for a seat in the Senate. The well know Stephen A. Douglas, the favored candidate, was excepted to win. Abraham Lincoln was not a well known candidate. In a struggle for the possible position, Lincoln proposed that he and Douglas organize a series of debates, so that both men might divide time, and address the same audiences during the same canvass. Douglas accepted, and he feared that he had everything to lose from a joint appearance, and yet to decline the challenge would have seemed unmanly in the West of the mid nineteenth century. Douglas then purposed dates and places; Lincoln complained that Douglas would have four opening and closings speeches whereas he would have only three, he wrote I accede, and thus close the arrangement. The first of seven debates was on Saturday, August 21, 1858 at Ottawa, which started an important part of the history of the United States of America, the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
The Ottawa debate set the format for the remaining six debates. Lincoln and Douglas agreed that the first speaker would speak for an hour, the second speaker for an hour and a half, and the first speaker again for half an hour. On August 21, excitement was in the air. The town s population of over 7,000 doubled overnight. At 2:30 p.m. Douglas began speaking and the battle was on! The Little Giant, Douglas, displayed the art that marked him as the master stump-speaker of his day. He first criticized Lincoln s background and political history. He talked about Black inferiority, and the social as well as political dangers of freeing Blacks.
The highlight of his speech was the surprising argument he threw at Lincoln in the form of the Springfield Resolutions of 1854. Douglas quoted the radical Codding and declared that Lincoln joined with abolitionists Giddings, Chase, Fred Douglass, and Parson Lovejoy had constructed this platform for the new Black Republican Party of Illinois. Douglas became so engrossed in the speech he had to be reminded of his time limit.
When Lincoln replied, he had no choice but to defend himself against the accusations. As Lincoln continued to debate, he displayed his ability as a rough-and-tumble debater, which had caused Douglas to say that he would have his hands full with Old Abe. He refuted Douglas accusations that he favored social and political equality with the Negro. Lincoln also attacked Douglas sensitive past history as a judge. Lincoln finished well within his time.
Douglas quickly went on attack. Once again, he brought up the Black Republican Party and Lincoln s connection to it. He argued that Lincoln did not deny being a part of that party. He talked of the Springfield convention and reminded Lincoln of his whereabouts on that day.
Now I want to remind Mr. Lincoln that he was at Springfield when that Convention was held and those resolutions adopted. The point I am going to remind Mr. Lincoln of is this: that after I had made my speech in 1854, during the fair, he gave me notice that he was going to reply to me the next day. I was sick at the time, but I staid over in Springfield to hear his reply and to reply to him. On that day this very Convention, the resolutions adopted by which I have read, was to meet in the Senate chamber. He spoke in the hall of the House and when he got through his speech my recollection is distinct, and I shall never forget it Mr. Codding walked in as I took the stand to reply, and gave notice that the Republican State Convention would meet instantly in the Senate chamber, and called upon the Republicans to retire there and go into this very convention, instead of remaining and listening to me.
He finished his attack with this comment:
The Black Republican party stands pledged but he cannot devise his answer; he has not made up his mind, whether he will or not. He talked about everything else he could think to occupy his hour and a half, and when he could not think of anything more to say, without an excuse for refusing to answer these questions, he sat down long before his time was out.
Douglas once again became so involved in the speech that he over ran his time limit. The first debate was over. Douglas had left the impression that Lincoln had not answered his questions. Douglas came out on top. The two candidates were schuduled to meet again six days later in Freeport.
For the next six days, Lincoln carefully worked out his answers to Douglas s questions and formed four questions of his own. All the questions were designed to emphasize the difference between the Little Giant and the Danties. Lincoln like Douglas traveled around the state making independent speeches; however, Douglas was suffering from a severe bronchial affection from which he had not yet entirely recovered. Douglas arrived in Freeport the day before the debates. A cheering crowd lined the street to his hotel greeted him. Lincoln on the other hand arrived at ten o clock the next morning and also was welcomed by a crowd of thousands.
The debate began at two o clock in the afternoon. Lincoln was the first to speak. He lost no time in taking up Douglas interrogatories.
I purpose to devote myself during the first hour to the scope of what was brought within the range of his half-hour speech at Ottawa. Of course there was brought within scope in that half-hour s speech something of his own speech. In the course of that opening argument Judge Douglas proposed to me seven distinct interrogatories. In my speech of an hour and a half, I attended to other parts of his speech, and incidentally, as I thought, answered one of the interrogatories then. I then distinctly intimated to him that I would answer the rest of his interrogatories on condition only that he should agree to answer as many for me I now propose that I will answer any of the interrogatories, upon condition that he will answer questions form me not exceeding the same number. I give him an opportunity to respond. The Judge remains silent. I now say to you that I will answer his interrogatories, whether he answers mine or not and that after I have done so, I shall profound mine to him.
Lincoln clearly devised Douglas down fall. He continued with the Asbury questions.
Question 1. I desire to know whether Lincoln to-day stands, as he did in 1854, in favor of the unconditional repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law?
Answer: I do not now, nor ever did, stand in favor of the unconditional
repeal of the fugitive slave law.
Question 2. I desire him to answer whether he stands pledged to-day, as he did in 1854, against the admission of any more slave states into the Union, even if the people want them?
Answer: I do not know, nor ever did, stand pledged against the admission of a new state into the Union.
Question 3. I want to know whether he stands pledged against the admission of a new state into the Union with such a constitution as the people of that state may see fit to make.
Answer: I do not stand pledged against the admission of a new state into the Union, with such a constitution as the people of that may see fit to make.
Question 4. I want to know whether he stand to-day pledged to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia?
Answer: I do not stand to-day pledged to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia.
Question 5. I desire him to answer whether he stands pledged to the prohibition of the slave trade between the different states?
Answer: I do not stand pledged to the prohibition of the slave trade between the different states.
Question 6. I desire to know whether he stands pledged to prohibit slavery in all the territories of the United States, north as well as south of the Missouri Compromise line?
Answer: I am impliedly, if not expressly. Pledged to a belief in the right and duty of Congress to prohibit slavery in all the United States territories.
Question 7. I desire him to answer whether he is opposed to the acquisition of any territory unless slavery is first prohibited therein.
Answer: I am not generally opposed to honest acquisition of territory; and, in any given case, I would or would not oppose such acquisition, accordingly as I might think such acquisition would or would not aggravate the slavery question among ourselves.
Following these questions, Lincoln also included his answers to the questions. His answers revealed not only his lawyer s approach to a question, but also his cautious conservatism. Lincoln finished his speech by refuting the accusation of being a part of the Black Republican Party. It was then Douglas turn to speak.
Douglas first took the initiative to answer Lincoln s questions.
I answer emphatically, as Mr. Lincoln has heard me answer a hundred times from every stump in Illinois, that in my opinion the people of a territory can, by lawful means, exclude slavery from their limits prior to the information of a state constitution He heard me argue the Nebraska Bill on that principle all over that state in 1854, in 1855, and in 1856, and he has no excuse for pretending to be in doubt as to my position on that question. It matters not what the Supreme Court may hereafter decide as to the abstract question whether slavery may or may not go into a territory under the Constitution, the people have the lawful means to introduce it or exclude it as they please, for the reason that slavery cannot exist a day or an hour anywhere, unless it is supported by local police regulations. Those police regulations can only be established by the local legislature, and if the people opposed to slavery they will elect representatives to prevent the introduction of it into their midst. If, on the contrary, they are for it, their legislation will favor its extension. Hence, no matter what the decision of the Supreme Court may be on that abstract question, still the right of the people to make a slave territory or a free territory if perfect and complete under the Nebraska Bill.
The third question which Mr. Lincoln presented is, if the Supreme Court of the United states shall decide that a state of this Union cannot exclude slavery from its own limits will I submit to it? I am amazed that Lincoln should ask such a question Mr. Lincoln s object is to cast an imputation upon the Supreme Court It is true that Washington Union, is an article in an article published on the 17th of last December, did put forth that doctrine, and I denounced the article on the floor of the Senate, in a speech which Mr. Lincoln now pretends was against the President. The Union had claimed that slavery had a right to go into free states and that any provision in the Constitution of laws of the free states to the contrary were null and void They left it to me to denounce it.
Douglas then went on to criticizing Lincoln on his responses. He accused Lincoln and Trumbull of having made a deal to divide the state s two Senate seats between them. His time was soon over and Lincoln rose for his rebuttal. Lincoln again defended himself against the notion of being a part of the Black Republican Party and defended against the charge that he did not fully answer Douglas purposed questions, especially on the admission of new slave states and there effect on the Union. With his remaining time, Lincoln addressed Douglas attack on the Washington Union charge that Douglas was the only person to denounce the doctrine. The second debate was over. However this debate left a negative effect on Doulgas future.
The questions that Lincoln devised become to be know as the Freeport Doctrine. Lincoln realized that the best way to jeopardize Douglas chances for the presidency in 1860 was to take him out of the Senate in 1858. However, this plan was not entirely Lincoln s. He got help from Henry Asbury. The two knew how Douglas would react to such questions.
Douglas did address the famous second question which asked whether the people of a territory could exclude slavery from their limits prior to the formation of a state constitution against what the people of that state wished. Douglas had chosen a path most people expected him to take. He answered the question in such a way that popular sovereignty would be upheld in new territories. Douglas knew that if Lincoln refuted popular sovereignty at this debate he would diminish any chances for a seat in the Senate.
Douglas decision to fight for a sure spot in the Senate lost his approval in the South. The Dred Scott decision had guaranteed the right of slave labor to move into the territories. Douglas stand on popular sovereignty did not directly oppose the right of moving slaves westward. However it did support the right of the people in the territories to exclude slavery by certain laws, and because of this, Southern Democrats refused to support him when he ran for the presidency which resulted in a lose to no other than Lincoln.
The debates continued with only five appearances left. The next debate was at Jonesboro on September 15. The next debates occurred at Charleston on September 18, Galesburg on October 7, Quincy on October 13, and two days later the last debate at Alton. Douglas attacked Lincoln s significance of begin a leader and the Springfield Resolution. He questioned the participation of Lincoln in the success of the Republican Party. And as always, Douglas discussed his support on the Dred Scott decision. He also talked about the importance of the existence of the Union and the only way to insure it was expansion. He argued about the importance of popular sovereignty and his views on slavery.
Lincoln on the other hand argued continually on the Freeport Doctrine. He continually compared his position with that of Douglas on the admission of new states into the Union. Lincoln also dealt with the issue of Negro equality. Both men in the end put up a great effort to help their own campaigns for a seat in the Senate.
While both Lincoln and Douglas had campaigned throughout the state Douglas in the end covered more ground and made more speeches. Lincoln gave sixty-three speeches as well as several short impromptu speeches. Douglas on the other hand made a total of 130 speeches.
On the day of elections, the final count of statewide votes stood Republicans 125,430, Democrats 121,609, and Buchanan Democrats 5,079. Then the legislature met on January 5 to choose a Senator. The vote was: Douglas 54 and Lincoln 41. Douglas had won. When White House asked Lincoln how he felt, he said, Well, it hurts too much to laugh, and I m too big to cry. However, his outlook would change. After all, the debates had turned out just as he expected. This was only the end of something just beginning.
In the aftermath, Douglas was left with a debt of $80,000, which he would take to the grave. Lincoln on the other hand used much of his own money. Even though he did not win a seat in the Senate, he received recognition from other states for his debates. But what was more important was that political figures from all over the country came to him for advice and counsel. Two years later, Lincoln was voted in office as the 14th President of the United States.
Douglas suffered much more after the debates. Soon after, the stress of the debates set in and his health began to deteriorated for a short period of time. But he was soon back on his feet. Two years later, he lost in this race for the presidency. What caused this defeat in particular was the Freeport Doctrine. Because of it he lost all support in the South which in turn cost him the presidency.
Lincoln in the end won the debates, not because he won on any one argument, and not because he later became a president, but because his arguments met the needs of his own time yet to the ages as well. Certainly the debates revealed a richer meaning. They provided valuable lessons. The debaters themselves illustrated successful patterns of argument and refutation. They brought to attention all public concerns of the mid-nineteenth century. Yet, the debaters revealed the importance for common values, language, and appeals at the very time that sectional pressures were driving North and South further apart. Both candidates were masters at selecting effective arguments from all the possibilities, making the most of the arguments they picked. And yet they were aware of what they said because they did not want to incriminate themselves.
The debates marked a turning point for the nation. Within three years it would undergo a bloody test of its ideals. Its subsequent history would be a struggle to bring to fruition the decision reached on the field of battle.
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