17 August 2009

ch.6: The 1858 Debates

summary: Lincoln’s political career seemed over by 1850, but the Kansas-Nebraska bill and the ensuing sectional dispute offered him fresh opportunities. He became a leader of the new Republican Party in Illinois and was serious contender for a United States senate seat. Lincoln was narrowly denied the nomination in the 1854 senate contest; but as Kearns points out, “Lincoln expressed no hard feelings” after his defeat and his “magnanimity served him well.” In fact, she argues that Lincoln gained friends in defeat—something Seward and Chase had failed to do during their careers.

Lincoln’s chance came again in 1858 when he was the clear choice of the Republicans to face incumbent Democrat senator Stephen A. Douglas. At that time the “Little Giant” from Chicago was one of the most famous men in America—probably the most renown U.S. senator in the nation. And Douglas fully expected to be the Democratic nominee for president in 1860.

Lincoln’s initial strategy was to follow Douglas around and speak after the senator left the stage. Or Lincoln would announce to the crowd that he would speak the next day and answer Douglas’ arguments. There was really no reason for the more famous Douglas to debate or share the stage with the little-known lawyer from Springfield. Douglas could gain little from a series of debates.

But that’s just what happened in the fall of 1858. Douglas, sensing he would win the election anyway, agreed to seven debates around the state of Illinois. Each debate lasted three hours! As many as 15,000 people came to each of these venues. Because of the subjects being discussed and the importance of Illinois in the national electorate—the debates were followed nationwide. The New York media sent reporters and stenographers to record the words of Lincoln and Douglas. These shorthand "words” were wired back east and appeared in the newspapers for all to read.

Douglas won the election (remember, senators were selected by the state legislatures in those days, so Lincoln didn’t stand much of a chance since the statehouse had a Democratic majority); but Lincoln more than held his own against Douglas. And time after time, his arguments and assertions put Douglas on the defensive.

Lincoln had become a national figure, and he made a name for himself. But now what? He still did not hold office. His career appeared to be stalled once again.

This chapter, instead of Discussion Questions, I am going to post some terms to investigate. Here are five important events/groups of the late 1850s. See if you can find the meaning and significance of each.

1. Dred Scott decision
2. Freeport Doctrine
3. Bleeding Kansas
4. Know-Nothings
5. Sumner caning

Where Lincoln and Douglas debated in the fall of 1858. These towns represented seven of the nine Illinois congressional districts. The candidates decided not to debate in Chicago or Springfield (the two other districts) because they had spoken in each of those cities numerous times already.

1 comment:

  1. This book has many fasincating insights. However, the author's reference to Lincoln's "magnanimity served him well" must be considered Lincoln's greatest asset. Many of Lincoln's detrators acted, in some cases, with such utter contempt for the man himself - behavior that would have crushed the spirit of most political individuals. How Lincoln could turn that animosity around and win friends in the process would have even impressed Dale Carnegie.

    Tim Utter