Abraham Lincoln Debate Master

LiveAuctionTalk.com:  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Profiles in History.

It was dry and dusty in Ottawa, Illinois on Aug. 21, 1858.  About 10,000-12,000 people showed up for the first senate seat debate between Stephen A Douglas and Abraham Lincoln

The debate attracted the attention of the whole country. 

There were no seats or bleachers for the onlookers that day and it didn’t seem to matter.  Spectators and newspapermen came from all around the state and surrounding states to witness the historic event.  They traveled by train, buggy, canal boat, wagon, horseback, and on foot.     

Douglas was the most intimidating politician in America in 1858.  And Abraham Lincoln was hungry to capture his Illinois senate seat.

Our people are a white people; our State is a white State. We do not believe in the equality of the Negro, socially or politically, with the white man.  In Illinois, we mean to preserve the race pure, without any mixture with the Negro.
— Stephen A. Douglas, 1853

Although he was short Douglas had a Napoleon complex which translated into a forceful, influential powerhouse in the Senate.  People listened when he spoke.   

The seven debates planned between Douglas and Lincoln were billed as great political theater worthy of the attention of all thinking men across the country.

The audience chipped in by shouting out their questions, cheering the debaters, applauding and laughing.     

As late as 1900, Ida Tarbell’s book “Life of Abraham Lincoln” based on the accounts of people who knew Lincoln personally called the debates a “technical knockout” for Lincoln.

Slavery was the big issue. 

“Our people are a white people; our State is a white State,” Douglas declared in 1853.  “We do not believe in the equality of the Negro, socially or politically, with the white man.”  In Illinois, “we mean to preserve the race pure, without any mixture with the Negro.”

Douglas wanted individual states to decide for themselves whether slavery should be legalized.  Lincoln took a moral stand.  He said slavery was a violation of moral law as well as an infringement on the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness pledged to citizens in the Declaration of Independence.

Douglas insisted blacks were not part of the founding fathers declaration.  The debate threatened the existence of the whole Union.

When Lincoln received the Republican nomination to run against Douglas, he said in his acceptance speech that “A house divided against itself cannot stand” and that “this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.”

Douglas dismissed Lincoln as a radical.    

One candidate spoke for 60 minutes and the other 90.  Then the first candidate was given a 30 minute “rejoinder.”  The candidates alternated speaking first.  As the incumbent, Douglas spoke first in four of the debates.    

Lincoln lost the election but the debates catapulted him into national prominence which led to his election as President of the United States in 1860.   

The Lincoln-Douglas debates were printed into a book in 1860 and used in the presidential campaign which pitted Republican Lincoln against Democrat Douglas one more time.

A first edition, first issue presentation copy of “Political Debates between Hon. Abraham Lincoln and Hon. Stephen A. Douglas, in the Celebrated Campaign of 1858 in Illinois” inscribed and signed by Lincoln went on the block on Nov. 15 in the Historical Document auction held by Profiles in History in Calabasas, Calif.

The text sold for $102,000.

Abraham Lincoln

Autograph Endorsement; signed A. Lincoln; as President; two pages; written to Sec. of War Edwin M. Stanton; endorsing William D. Whipple for position on Gen. John E. Wool’s staff;  $5,100.

Civil War-era Autograph Album; containing over 200 signatures including Lincoln;  $7,200.

Manuscript Document; signed A. Lincoln; as President; 2 pages; authorizing discharge of young prisoner of war;  $7,200.

Historic Document; signed Abraham Lincoln; as President; one page; Lincoln calls up 2,021 troops from Fourth District in the state of Connecticut five days after Battle of Gettysburg;   $15,600.


Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her LiveAuctionTalk.com website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

James Bond's Death-Defying Antics

James Bond's Death-Defying Antics

Mr Spock Rallies On

Mr Spock Rallies On