Following Lincoln as He Followed Douglas

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Douglas had first encountered each other at the Illinois state legislature in the mids. They were transplants to Illinois, young lawyers interested in politics yet opposites in many ways. Stephen A. Douglas rose quickly, becoming a powerful US Senator. Lincoln would serve a single unsatisfying term in Congress before returning to Illinois in the late s to concentrate on his legal career. Lincoln may never have returned to public life if not for Douglas and his involvement in the notorious Kansas-Nebraska Act.

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Lincoln's opposition to the potential spread of slavery brought him back to politics. Abraham Lincoln worked hard to secure the nomination of the young Republican Party to run for the Senate seat held by Stephen A. Douglas in At the state nominating convention in Springfield, Illinois in June Lincoln delivered a speech which became an American classic, but which was criticized by some of Lincoln's own supporters at the time.

Invoking scripture, Lincoln made the famous pronouncement, "A house divided against itself cannot stand. Lincoln had been speaking out against Douglas since the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Lacking an advance team, Lincoln would show up when Douglas would speak in Illinois, talking after him and providing, as Lincoln put it, a "concluding speech. Lincoln repeated the strategy in the campaign.

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On July 9, Douglas spoke on a hotel balcony in Chicago, and Lincoln responded from the same perch the following night with a speech that received a mention in the New York Times. Lincoln then began to follow Douglas about the state. Sensing an opportunity, Lincoln challenged Douglas to a series of debates. Douglas accepted, setting the format and choosing seven dates and venues.

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  • Lincoln didn't quibble, and quickly accepted his terms. According to the framework created by Douglas, there would be two debates in late August, two in mid-September, and three in mid-October. The first debate was held in the small town of Ottawa, which saw its population of 9, double as crowds descended on the town the day before the debate. Before a huge crowd assembled in a town park, Douglas spoke for an hour, attacking a startled Lincoln with a series of pointed questions. According to the format, Lincoln then had an hour and a half to respond, and then Douglas had a half-hour to rebut.

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    Douglas engaged in race-baiting that would be shocking today, and Lincoln asserted that his opposition to slavery did not mean he believed in total racial equality. Before the second debate, Lincoln called a meeting of advisers. They suggested he should be more aggressive, with a friendly newspaper editor emphasizing that the wily Douglas was a "bold, brazen, lying rascal. Leading off the Freeport debate, Lincoln asked his own sharp questions of Douglas.

    One of them, which became known as the "Freeport Question," inquired whether people in a US territory could prohibit slavery before it became a state. Lincoln's simple question caught Douglas in a dilemma. Douglas said he believed a new state could prohibit slavery. That was a compromise position, a practical stance in the senate campaign. Yet it alienated Douglas with southerners he would need in when he ran for president against Lincoln. The initial September debate only drew about 1, spectators.

    And Douglas, leading off the session, attacked Lincoln by claiming that his House Divided speech was inciting warfare with the south. Douglas also claiming Lincoln was operating under the "black flag of Abolitionism," and went on at some length asserting that blacks were an inferior race. Lincoln kept his temper in check.

    Stephen A. Douglas

    He articulated his belief that the nation's founders had been opposed to the spread of slavery into new territories, as they were anticipating "its ultimate extinction. The second September debate drew a crowd of about 15, spectators in Charleston. A large banner sarcastically proclaiming "Negro Equality" may have prompted Lincoln to begin by defending himself against charges that he was in favor of mixed-race marriages.

    This debate was noteworthy for Lincoln engaging in strained attempts at humor. He told a series of awkward jokes pertaining to race to illustrate that his views were not the radical positions ascribed to him by Douglas. Douglas concentrated on defending himself against charges made against him by Lincoln supporters and also boldly asserted that Lincoln was a close friend of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

    At that point, the two men had never met or communicated. But the Republican president-elect soon gave him pause.

    Stephen A. Douglas

    Indeed, in spring , Douglass, though throughout most of his life an opponent of such schemes, grew so wary of President Lincoln that he planned a week trip to Haiti to ponder emigrating there himself he eventually canceled the trip. With the stroke of a pen, Lincoln, acting in his role as commander in chief, had elevated the war effort from a fight to preserve a political nation-state, the Union, into a moral campaign against human bondage.

    The proclamation did not abolish American slavery, nor did it free all American slaves. Its meaning to me was the entire abolition of slavery, wherever the evil could be reached by the Federal arm, and I saw that its moral power would extend much further. It was, in my estimation, an immense gain to have the war for the Union committed to the extinction of slavery, even from a military necessity. He found the tall president seated in a low chair, surrounded by books and papers. Douglass, I know you; I have read about you, and Mr. Lincoln, in turn, asked Douglass how the Union Army might more effectively recruit former slaves now in Union-occupied parts of the South.

    As their exchange drew to a close, Senator Samuel C. Stanton intended to commission Douglass adjutant-general to Gen. Lorenzo Thomas. The commission would authorize Douglass to travel down the Mississippi and recruit former slaves into the army.