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Lincoln Douglas Debates Essay

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Updated: Apr 26th, 2019

Lincoln Douglas debates are those debates between Stephen Douglas, who held the position of a Senator as a Democratic Party candidate, and Abraham Lincoln, who was the Republican candidate for Senate in Illinois. These two leaders were contesting for election into the U.S. Senate in 1858. Lincoln was opposing Douglas who wanted to be reelected. The two leaders were competing for control over Illinois legislature. The main topic that was argued in these debates was slavery.

Douglas was not popular on one hand while on the other hand Lincoln was popular since he had held campaigns earlier. They held seven main debates in their campaigns. One of the debates was held at Washington Square, Ottawa. They also held another debate in Freeport where more than 15,000 people attended (Lincoln-Douglas Debates 2). Other debates were held at Coles County Fairgrounds, Union County Fairgrounds, Broadway and Market Street, Old Main, and Washington Park.

Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas believed in opposing ideas. According to Lincoln, freedom and slavery can never be compatible (Murrin et al 549). In other words, Lincoln believed that there is no way we could have freedom and at the same time we have slavery. Each can only prevail at a time. This was the main theme for debates between Douglas and Lincoln in 1858.

In his campaigns, Lincoln used a common slogan that “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” (Murrin et al 549). He was implying that the sitting government could not prevail any longer. In other words, Lincoln argued that since the prevailing government system was half freedom and half slavery, it could not last permanently. It was about to collapse. These two opposing systems are unsustainable within the same government.

There was a fraction of the people who were advocating for legalization of slavery in all the states. On the other hand, the republicans were against slavery since they thought it was not feasible with freedom. They wanted to combat slavery completely. Lincoln commented that their aim was to avoid the growth of slavery as well as placing it in a situation where the public would be free and confident that it would never haunt them once more (Murrin et al 549).

In reaction to this, Douglas questioned Lincoln’s argument that slavery cannot coexist with freedom. Douglas commented that he didn’t know the reason which could prevent a country from surviving with both freedom and slavery since the same had already survived for 70years (Murrin et al 549).

Douglas explained that Lincoln’s argument was not realistic since it would trigger the Southern people to withdraw from the stable union. He commented that although he was not advocating for slavery, the people from the Southern states opted for it and thus it was their right to have it (Murrin et al 549).

In their heated debate, Lincoln questioned Douglas on the legality of his arguments. Lincoln asked Douglas whether there could be any way through which slavery couldn’t exist without violating the then constitution (Nicolay 90). Douglas responded that this could happen. People have a legal right to include or exclude slavery. According to Douglas, slavery could not exist unless supported by the police.

In their debates, Douglas argued that freeing of slaves in Illinois imply equality of all the people despite their race. By abolishing slavery, the Negroes would enjoy the rights and privileges of the citizenship. On raising this statement, the crowd showed a lot of opposition to the situation where Negroes would enjoy equal rights with the natives.

In response to Douglas’s claims, Lincoln commented that he was neither advocating for political nor the social equality of races. He argued that “ultimate extinction” cannot take place abruptly; slaves have to emigrate from the country” (Murrin et al 549).

In their debates, Lincoln and Douglas were differing in their views concerning the blacks who were mostly slaves. Lincoln advocated for the blacks while Douglas was against them. Lincoln argued that the blacks must be allowed to enjoy the natural rights which had been proposed through the declaration of independence. Every person had the right to liberty and slavery was a violation of the black’s liberty. Lincoln thought that there was no way this declaration could be adhered to with prevalence of slavery.

Lincoln criticized Douglas for showing less concern on the issue of slavery. In fact, Douglas claimed that he was not looking forward to seeing slavery come to an end. He insisted that this arrangement had to survive for the sake of the southern states. The prevailing solidarity among the states would be interfered with in case slavery institution was abolished.

In conclusion, this discussion has clearly analyzed Lincoln Douglas debates of 1858. The central theme of their debates as already seen was slavery. The two candidates used this as a slogan in their campaigns. Lincoln thought that the prevailing government where Douglas was the leader could not last since it integrated slavery and freedom. On the other hand, Douglas proposed that such a government could continue to survive since it had survived in the previous 70 years.

Works Cited

Lincoln-Douglas Debates. “Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858.” Illinoiscivilwar, 2007. 24 Feb. 2011. <>

Murrin, John et al. Liberty, Equality, Power, a History of the American People. 5th ed. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2007.

Nicolay, G. John. Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume 2. Middlesex: Echo Library, 2007.

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