Lincoln-Douglas Debates. Format of the Debate.
Each debate followed a series of guidelines. “The first contestant spoke for an hour, followed by a one-and-a-half-hour response, after which the man who had gone first would deliver a half-hour rebuttal.” The massive crowds were immersed for the full three hours, often throwing in comments, applauding their campaigner, and “grumbling the jabs of his opponent.”Doris Goodwin, The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), 201
Douglas used the Dred Scott v. Sandford case to indicate that African Americans, slave or not, could not be an American citizen.
Douglas thought that black equality will lead to the demise and deconstruction of the Union.
Douglas was convinced that no candidate who admitted a belief in the equality of blacks and whites could ever carry Illinois, where an established set of Black Laws prevented blacks from “voting, holding political office, giving testimony against whites, and sitting on juries.”
Douglas argued that, “They are trying to array all the Northern States in one body against the South, to excite a sectional war between the free states and the slave states, in order that the one or the other may be driven to the wall.”
As Lincoln repetitively said in many conferences, “slavery was a violation of the Declaration Independence.
Throughout the debates, Lincoln carried a small note book that contained clippings along with his opening lines of paragraph of the Declaration of the Independence proclaiming that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”Ibid., 498-500
Lincoln referred back to his Springfield speech multiple times within the debate. His claim that “"A house divided against itself cannot stand.” He believed that a government cannot undergo “permanently half slave and half free.” He also affirms that he does not expect the “Union to be dissolved, but he expects it will be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.” Doris Goodwin, The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), 202
The seventh and last debate was held in Alton , Illinois.
Although there was little new in the Alton debate, many people believed that Lincoln’s speech included “some of the finest passages he ever made.” The “real issue”, Lincoln disputed, is the “eternal struggle between right and wrong”; the mutual rights of humankind that has been instilled into our nation by obligation to maintain natural rights for all.
November 2, 1858, voters of Illinois went to the polls. The names of Lincoln and Douglas did not appear on the ballot, since the state legislature would choose the next senator. Though the Republicans had won the popular vote, the Democrats had retained control of the state legislature, thereby ensuring Douglas’s reelection.
The Lincoln-Douglas debates served as a national catalyst for the white American public to witness Lincoln’s passionate views upon slavery and states’ rights. Lincoln had lost the election but he had won the war. He accomplished his goals that he was set out to do. The deliberated issues were of “critical importance to the sectional conflict over slavery and states' rights but also touched deeper questions that would continue to influence political discourse” As Lincoln said, the issues would be discussed long after "these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent."Ibid.,208