A hero requires a worthy antagonist. Stephen A. Douglas was that antagonist for Abraham Lincoln in the period from 1854 to 1861. The struggle between Lincoln and Douglas was a struggle of values and public policy that had an lasting impact on the country. Douglas was born in Vermont, educated in New York, and came to fame in Illinois as a lawyer, judge, legislator and candidate for President. He was one of a series of remarkable men who came to political maturity in Illinois in the 1850s and 1860s. Douglas a nationalist, an activist and an advocate for the development of the American Midwest and West.
Beginning in the 1830s, Mr. Lincoln faced off against Douglas in courtrooms, in the legislature, and in debate. Lincoln law partner William P. Herndon wrote: "An erroneous impression has grown up in recent years concerning Douglas's ability and standing as a lawyer. One of the latest biographies of Lincoln credits him with many of the artifices of the 'shyster.' This is not only unfair, but decidedly untrue. I always found Douglas at the bar to be a broad, fair, and liberal-minded man. Although not a thorough student of the law his large fund of good commonsense kept him in the front rank. He was equally generous and courteous, and he never stooped to gain a case. I know that Lincoln entertained the same view of him. It was only in politics that Douglas demonstrated any want of inflexibility and rectitude, and then only did Lincoln manifest a lack of faith in his morals."1
There was respect if not admiration between the two Illinois leaders. Massachusetts Congressman John B. Alley wrote that "I happened to be in the Senate Chamber when Mr. Douglas received the telegram announcing Abraham Lincoln's nomination for President by the Republican Party. He went with me from the Senate Chamber to the House of Representatives, of which I was then a member, and a small squad of Republicans gathered around him to hear him read the telegram. After reading it, he paused for a few moments and then said of his great antagonist, 'Well, gentlemen, you have nominated a very able and a very honest man."22 During the1860 presidential race, Stephen Douglas, an erstwhile furniture craftsman, was campaigning in New Hampshire when a heckler interrupted him: "A-abe Lincoln, the r-rail-splitter!" The erstwhile furniture craftsman responded: "Yes, they call my friend Lincoln the rail-splitter. He has probably split as many rails as I have made secretary and bureau cases. I've met him at the bar, I've met him on the stump, and I want to say to you, my friend, that he's a hard man to get up against."3
Four years younger than Mr. Lincoln, Douglas got the quicker start in life and early moved farther ahead. Mr. Lincoln moved to Illinois when he was 21, Douglas when he was 20. Mr. Lincoln got to know Douglas when they served together in the state legislature in the late1830s in Vandalia and subsequently hung out together at night at the general storeowned by Joshua F. Speed in Springfield, There the issues of the day were debated. Lincoln scholar Joseph E. Suppiger wrote that "in December, 1839, he joined Douglas, Baker and several others in front of a roaring fire at Speed's store and proceeded to warm things up even more by debating the issues (bank, internal improvements, sub-treasury, etc.) again. Finally Douglas bounced out of his chair, declaring: 'Gentlemen, this is no place to talk politics. We will discuss the questions publicly with you. The Whigs took up the gauntlet, and on December 11thth made public their determination to debate the 'Locos' before the people. The following evening the two parties chose their spokesmen: 'Douglas, John Calhoun, Josiah Lamborn, and Jesse B. Thomas, Jr. for the Democrats; and Lincoln, Stephen T. Logan, Edward D. Baker, and Orville H. Browning for the Whigs ."4 It was a formidable group. For the final two weeks of the year, the opposing sides met regularly at the Second Presbyterian Church with Mr. Lincoln attacking the Van Buren Administration subtreasury scheme and Democratic corruption. The "great debate" served as a warm-up for the 1840 presidential campaign in which Douglas and Mr. Lincoln actively participated and for the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858.
It wasn't all economic policy that winter in Springfield, however. Abraham Lincoln and Douglas joined 14 other men in sending invitations to a "cotillion" on December 16, 1839 that was designed as a celebration of the state legislature's move from Vandalia to Springfield. Among the other signatories was Lincoln friend Joshua Speed and future Democratic Senator James Shields. Ninian Edwards, husband of Mary Todd's sister, was one of the sponsors and she may have met both Douglas and Mr. Lincoln at this event. Indeed, Douglas is said to have courted Miss Todd during this period.
Journalist Walter Stevens wrote that "Douglas had a run of luck almost without parallel in politics."5 In 1841 Dougas was elected to the Illinois Supreme Court, serving until he was elected to Congress in 1842. He served in the House until the Illinois State Legislature elected him to the Senate in 1847. That year, Abraham Lincoln began his single term of service in the House before retiring to practice law. While Mr. Lincoln opposed the Mexican-American War and the Polk Administration, Douglas biographer Clark Ezra Carr wrote: "Douglas was an earnest and most enthusiastic supporter of his party and of the administration of President James Polk in advocacy of the prosecution of a war with Mexico. He believed in the war, and did not object to the acquisition through the war of new territory. He looked with longing eyes toward the vast region west of that we had acquired by the Louisiana Purchase."6
Douglas continued his upward mobility in the state and nation, taking a Democratic leadership role in the Senate by the early 1850s. He took the lead in forcing the Compromise of 1850 through Congress. Historian F. H. Hodder wrote: "Douglas was chairman of the committee on territories almost from the time that he entered congress. In that position it became his duty to frame and report the bills for the organization of the new territory. He therefore introduced in the senate bills for the organization of Utah and New Mexico. These bills provided for the admission of California as a free state and for the organization of Utah and New Mexico without any provision as to slavery, leaving it to the people of each territory to admit or exclude it as they should see fit. Henry Clay now proposed a comprehensive plan for adjusting all questions relating to slavery that were disturbing the peace of the union, by a series of measures. Douglas' bills were referred to his committee and by him reported with slight changes to the senate. These changes were subsequently struck out and the bills were passed in the exact form in which they were originally proposed. Douglas may therefore be properly regarded as the author of all that part of the great compromise of 1850 that related to the organization of the new territory. It was based upon what he considered the great principle of allowing the people of a territory to regulate their own affairs in their own way. It had the additional advantage of quieting the country by removing the settlement of the slavery question from congress."7
Comparing Mr. Lincoln and Senator Douglas, Illinois attorney Joseph Gillespie wrote: "Douglass [sic] was bold and original & energetic Polotics [sic] with him was a trade. It was only an episode in Mr. Lincolns life. Douglass was idolized by his followers. Lincoln was loved by his. Douglass was the representative of his partizans. Lincoln was the representative man of the unsophisticated People. Douglass was great in the estimation of his followers. Lincoln was good in the opinion of his supporters. Douglass headed a party. Lincoln stood upon a principle."8 Historian Harry V. Jaffa wrote: "...Douglas was the very prototype of the American politician of the melting pot. As the most popular leader of America's largest and most downtrodden immigrant group before the Civil War, he demonstrated, no less than Lincoln, how and why the New World could offer hope to the people of the Old."9 On the other hand, Mr. Lincoln was as temperate - in politics and appetites - as Douglas was intemperate. Historian Stephen Oates wrote: "The Little Giant was a profane man. The newspapers of the time reported that his speeches were punctuated with vulgar expressions and plenty of "Goddamn's, 'hell's,' and 'by God's' that could be clearly heard in the galleries. One can imagine what he was like in private conversation."10 The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 would reflect the differing temperaments of the two antagonists.
Although both men were ambitious, Douglas was more drawn to money and power than was Mr. Lincoln. While Douglas made money from real estate, Mr. Lincoln stuck to the law. The contrast between the two began with the physical "There was the well-dressed Douglas turned out in what was in those days known as plantation style, complete with ruffled shirt, dark blue coat with shiny buttons, and a broad-brimmed felt hat. There was Lincoln with his old tall stovepipe hat and coat with the sleeves that were too short and the ill-fitting pants that stopped long before they reached the tops of his outsized boots.""11 Missouri Democrat Thomas Hart Benton once said, "He won't do, sir!' His legs are too short, sir. That part of his body, sir, which men wish to kick, is too near the ground!"12 Douglas and Mr. Lincoln were separated by a foot in height, but the separation in their attitude toward slavery was greater. Journalist Henry Villard probably exaggerated when he wrote in after the Ottawa debate on August 21, 1858: "Senator Douglas was very small, not over four and a half feet height, and there was a noticeable disproportion between the long trunk of his body and his short legs. His chest was broad and indicated great strength of lungs. It took but a glance at his face and head to convince one that they belonged to no ordinary man. No beard hid any part of his remarkable, swarthy features. His mouth, nose, and chin were all large and clearly expressive of much boldness and power of will. The broad, high forehead proclaimed itself the shield of a great brain. The head, covered with an abundance of flowing black hair just beginning to show a tinge of grey, impressed one with its massiveness and leonine expression. His brows were shaggy, his eyes a brilliant black."13
Lincoln scholar Paul Simon observed that ""There were numerous contrasts between the two," among which he listed:
Mr. Lincoln was the deeper thinker - more grounded in philosophy and ideas. Biographer Robert A. Johannsen noted that "Stephen A. Douglas was...was a pragmatic, professional politician, frequently bumptious and full of bluster, subject to outbursts of oratory that were not always designed to clarify the issues under discussion. His politics, nevertheless, were founded on certain deeply and sincerely held principles, and one of these was his profound faith in America's future. His concern for western development bordered at times on obsession; but, for Douglas, the West embodied all the hopes and aspirations that focused upon the young republic, and it was in the West that the nation's destiny was being revealed."15 Mr. Lincoln himself said that Douglas "was a very strong logician; that he had very little humor or imagination, but where he had right on side very few could make a stronger argument; that he was an exceedingly good judge of human nature, knew the people of the state thoroughly and just how to appeal to their prejudices and was a very powerful opponent, both on and off the stump."16
Douglas's ambition brought him to attention across the country. Mr. Lincoln acknowledged in 1856 that Douglas's "name fills the nation; and is not unknown, even, in foreign lands. I affect no contempt for the high eminence he has reached. So reached, that the oppressed of my species, might have shared with me in the elevation, I would rather stand on that eminence, than wear the richest crown that ever pressed a monarch's brow."17 At one point Mr. Lincoln said: "Senator Douglas is of world-wide renown. All of the anxious politicians of his party, or who have been of his party for years past, have been looking upon him as certainly, at no distant day, to be the President of the United States. They have seen, in his jolly, fruitful face, post offices, land offices, marshalships and cabinet appointments, chargeships and foreign missions, bursting and sprouting foth in wonderful exuberance, ready to be laid hold of by their greedy hands. On the contrary, nobody has ever expected me to be President. In my poor, lean, lank face nobody has ever seen that cabbages were sprouting out."18
The physical and mental of health of Douglas deteriorated after the death of his first wife in 1853 - leaving him to raise two young sons alone. (Douglas bounced back in 1856 when he married Adele Cutts.) After an extended trip through Europe to revive his body and spirits, Douglas returned to politics in the fall of 1854. He sought to rally his party for the 1853-54 congressional session and reinforce his chances for the 1856 presidential nomination. Historian Michael F. Holt wrote: "By the end of 1853...he had been flooded with warnings that discontent at Pierce's patronage allotment would wreck the Democratic Party unless Pierce or the Democratic majority in Congress struck on a policy initiative that was bold enough to rally all Democrats behind it."19
Douglas was filling a major vacuum in his own party, where southerners and southern-leaning northerners predominated. He was also caught in the crosscurrents of his own party, where southern influence was particular strong. President Franklin Pierce, who was as passive as Douglas was dynamic, proved incapable of piloting his own political craft. Douglas decided he needed to navigate the Democratic vessel if he was to arrive at his own desired presidential destination. But powerful and influential as he was, Douglas did not have control of the situation. "Stephen Douglas had consistently treated politics as a game where the stakes were often high, but never really considered matters of life or death by those who played the game best." wrote biographer Damon Wells.20
The territorial legislation to organize much of the remaining area of the Louisiana Purchase fell under Douglas's Senate Committee on Territories. Douglas was an unapologetic proponent of western expansion and territorial development. He was above all a nationalist, and his nationalism was essentially materialistic. He wanted to extend American development across the prairies and mountains to the Pacific - and that required population and development of the territories in between. It also required a railroad to connect the two coasts - which Douglas first proposed in 1845. Biographer Robert W. Johannsen wrote that "in order to encourage the settlement of the country through which the railroad would run, Douglas asked that western lands be donated in 160-acre tracts 'to the actual settler.'"21
"Douglas's motives in hastening the organization of Kansas and Nebraska are not always easy to fathom. His goal of a Pacific railroad and his desire, with one eye on the president to appease proslavery politicians like Missouri Senator David Atchison tell only part of the story. His deep and abiding belief in national expansion, probably the most consistent dynamic force in Douglas' long public life, helps to fill out the picture, but does not complete it," wrote Douglas biographer Damon Wells "Stephen Douglas seems to have been dominated by a love of action as an end in itself. He was a born doer and when his restless spirit was confronted with a problem his first response was most frequently to take some form of positive action. There were times when Douglas confused motion with action, and upon occasion he acted precipitately to the detriment of himself and his country."22 Historian Michael F. Holt wrote: "The good of the Democratic Party, not of the nation, was Douglas's top priority. As a Louisville, Kentucky, newspaper editor later assessed Douglas's reasons for introducing the bill, 'The politician constructed a new arena for party gladiators at the expense of the repose and temper of the nation."23
Douglas was much more flexible in his principles than Mr. Lincoln. Speaking of the Missouri Compromise in 1849, Senator Douglas said: "All the evidence of public opinion at that day seemed to indicate that this Compromise has become canonized in the hearts of the American people as a sacred thing, which no ruthless hand should attempt to disturb." But faced with southern pressure to repeal the Missouri Compromise as the price for support for organization of the Kansas-Nebraska Territory in 1854, Douglas ruthlessly dumped the canonized principle in favor of expediency. Douglas was a master of legislative legerdemain and rhetorical razzle-dazzle. Historian Harry V. Jaffa wrote: "Douglas...constantly identified the Missouri Compromise with the line of 36'30" and treated the line as if it were the 'principle' of that compromise. In the same way he found the popular-sovereignty provisions of the Utah and New Mexico territorial bills to contain the 'principle' of the Compromise of 1850. Lincoln categorically denied that either the line or the aforesaid provisions constituted any kind of principle whatever."24
Passage of Kansas-Nebraska was both a high-water and low-water mark for Senator Douglas and antebellum politics. Historian James A. Rawley wrote: "The condemnation of Douglas set in; anti-Nebraska parties formed in Wisconsin, Michigan, and elsewhere. Indignant speakers at meetings poured out their rage; editors lambasted the hapless senator. Historian Merrill D. Peterson wrote the Kansas-Nebraska Act "wiped out the middle and drove politicians to the extremes. It destroyed the Whig Party, it gave birth to the Republican party, and it led to a little civil war between pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers in Kansas."25 Across the North, there was widespread anger at Douglas. Historian F. H. Hodder wrote that the Kansas-Nebraska Act "brought down a storm of reproach upon its author. Douglas said that he could ride from Boston to Chicago by the light of his burning effigy by night and in sight of his hanging effigy by day. For the first time in his life he was unable to pacify the mob that greeted him upon his return to Chicago. He was confronted by three principal charges: first, that he had wantonly destroyed the peace that the compromise of 1850 had brought: second, that the repeal of the Missouri compromise was a violation of a solemn compact between the sections and a gross breach of faith; and third, that his object was to secure the support of the South and by means of it win for himself the presidency. Douglas replied that the organization of the territories was a necessity and that the only means of effecting it was to refer the question of slavery to the people fo the territories, that the Missouri compromise was subject to repeal like any other act of congress, and that the North had violated its letter by resisting the admission of Missouri in 1821 and had repudiated its spirt by refusing the extend the compromise line to the Pacific."26
At Chicago on September 1, 1854, Douglas kicked off his defense of the Kansas-Nebraska legislation. He advised Charles H. Lanphier, the editor of the Illinois State Registe r , "I speak to the people of Chicago on Friday next Sept 1stst on Nebraska. They threaten a mob but I have no fears. All will be right."27 All wasn't right. His supporters were out shouted by opponents of the legislation. Douglas attempted to speak above the din but eventually gave up. Chicago journalist Horace White recalled: "Senator Douglas made his first appearance in Illinois after the passage of his bill on the evening of September 1, 1854, at Chicago. Here he attempted to defend his course in repealing the Missouri Compromise. He had a chilling reception, and his friend asserted that he had been refused a hearing and that the meeting had been broken up by an Abolitionist mob," White later wrote: "I was on the platform as a reporter, and my recollection of what happened is still vivid. There was nothing like violence at any time, but there was disorder growing out of the fact that the people had come prepared to dispute Douglas's sophisms and that Douglas himself was far from conciliatory when he found himself facing an unfriendly audience. The meeting was certainly a failure, and Douglas decided to make no more speeches in that part of the State during the campaign."28
After the Chicago debacle, Douglas took his defense of the Kansas-Nebraska act through the rest of Illinois, moving gradually south and arriving in Springfield in time for the annual State Fair. Douglas biographer Allen Johnson wrote: "Douglas spoke to a large gathering in the State House on October 3d. Next day the Fusionists put forward Lincoln to answer him; and when Lincoln had spoken for nearly four hours, Douglas again took the stand and held his audience for an hour and a half longer. Those were the days when the speaking powers of speakers were equaled only by the patience of their hearers."29 Lincoln contemporary John Bunn recalled that after Douglas' Springfield speech, Mr. Lincoln asked Bunn what he thought of the address. "Hard to answer & hard to beat," replied Bunn. Mr. Lincoln rejected that contention, saying Douglas "made two statements or laid down 2 propositions that are untrue & cannot maintain a structure on a weak foundation."30 Mr. Lincoln repeatedly looked for the logical and factual errors in Douglas persuasive rhetoric.
Douglas spread the gospel of popular sovereignty to give a democratic structure to his "indifference" to the morality of slavery. Douglas biographer Gerald M. Capers wrote: "The broad issue upon which the Little Giant now took his stand was not the issue of slavery. It was rather the right of local self-government and the related concept of strict construction of the Constitution: specifically the denial of the power of Congress over local institutions. The strong national appeal of his position was indicated by the fact that Greeley and eastern Republicans at once rallied to his support, even though their motives were largely partisan. In the North, and particularly in the Northwest, local self-government was one of the fundamental tenets of the American democratic faith. This principle was equally dear to the South, with its insistence upon state rights, and for that reason Douglas hoped to maintain much of his southern popularity though he fought the admission of Kansas as a slave state. He merely extended the right of self-government to the territories as well as the states. Congressional noninterference was the fundamental premise of popular sovereignty as he defined it."31
Mr. Lincoln had begun in August to make speeches against Kansas-Nebraska even before Douglas started his tour of the state. Bloomington resident James S. Ewing recalled: "Mr. Lincoln made a speech a few days after Mr. Douglas' speech, in the old Courthouse in this town. I was present and heard it. In my judgment it was the most remarkable speech I ever heard. The statement of the facts leading up to the enactment of the Missouri compromise, the conditions which brought about the compromise of 1850, the things that the North got and the things that the South got by that omnibus bill, which was called the compromise bill of 1850 - all of that was so clearly and so logically put by Mr. Lincoln that I could almost state it now as he stated it them then. The chief characteristics of Mr. Lincoln's mind was that wonderful clearness of statement."32 The first direct confrontation was in Springfield on October 3-4, 1854. The second came in Peoria on October 16. Because Mr. Lincoln wrote out this speech for publication, it is considered the definitive statement of the campaign.
"Lincoln concluded the Peoria speech by tracing his republican pedigree. His credentials were based upon the legacy handed down to him by his elderly siblings, Clay and Webster, and, ultimately, from George Washington, the father of the republican family," political scientist Joseph R. Fornieri wrote. "His final paragraph reaffirmed the 'national axioms and dogmas of American republicanism' as a necessary condition of shared public life. Without a shared consensus on the meaning of the first principles there could be no real civic life. Thus, Lincoln explained, 'To deny these things is to deny our national axioms, or dogmas, at least; and it puts and end to all argument.' Indeed, Lincoln was ominously correct in this prediction, for in rejecting the 'ancient faith' of equality in favor of a new faith of human inequality the South would put an end to all argument by firing upon Fort Sumter six years later."33
Controversy surrounds what happened after Peoria. Historian George Fort Milton wrote: "At Peoria, some Lincoln authorities contend, Douglas 'flattered' Lincoln as 'giving him more trouble than all his opponents in the Senate combined,' and proposed that neither should speak again. According to the story, Lincoln accepted, but two days later Douglas broke the faith and spoke. But Lincoln's most recent biographers term this tale thin. Certainly for Douglas to have sought such a truce with Lincoln would have been quite as uncharacteristic of the Little Giant as would have been his immediate breach of plighted word."34 Nevertheless, there were not subsequent confrontations between Douglas and Mr. Lincoln, who reportedly acknowledged Douglas's shaky voice as a reason to desist when they met the day in Lacon.
Douglas claimed to be indifferent to the issue of slavery and its status in the territories, but he repeatedly took the side of racial prejudice in his debates with Mr. Lincoln. Historian James Oakes wrote: "Lincoln was disgusted by the race-baiting of the Douglas Democrats. At one point, for example, Senator Douglas joked that 'in all contests between the negro and the white man, he was for the white man, but that in all questions between the negro and the crocodile he was for the negro.' Lincoln was so shocked by the remark that he quoted it over and over as an example of just how depraved the Democrats had become in their contemptuous denial of the humanity of blacks."35 Historian Stephen B. Oates wrote that Lincoln "complained bitterly that race was not the issue between him and Douglas. The issue was whether slavery would ultimately triumph or ultimately perish in the United States. But Douglas understood the depth of anti-Negro feeling in Illinois and he hoped to whip Lincoln by playing on white racial fears."36
In November 1854 anti-Nebraska candidates won a narrow majority in the State Legislature but Democrats still outnumbered Whigs. Mr. Lincoln won election to the lower legislative house but immediately relinquished his seat in order to seek election to the U.S. Senate seat held by Douglas ally James Shields. Lincoln biographers John G. Nicolay and John Hay wrote: "At last, upon full deliberation, Lincoln resigned his seat, relying upon the six or seven hundred majority in Sangamon County to elect another Whig. It was a delusive trust. A reaction in the Whig ranks against "abolitionism" suddenly set in. A listless apathy succeeded the intense excitement and strain of the summer's canvass. Local rivalries forced the selection of an unpopular candidate. Shrewdly noting all these signs the Democrats of Sangamon organized what is known in Western politics as a "still-hunt." They made a feint of allowing the special election to go by default. They made no nomination. They permitted an independent Democrat, known under the sobriquet of "Steamboat Smith," to parade his own name. Up to the very day of election they gave no public sign, although they had in the utmost secrecy instructed and drilled their precinct squads. On the morning of election the working Democrats appeared at every poll, distributing tickets bearing the name of a single candidate not before mentioned by any one. They were busy all day long spurring up the lagging and indifferent, and bringing the aged, the infirm, and the distant voters in vehicles. Their ruse succeeded. The Whigs were taken completely by surprise, and in a remarkably small total vote, McDaniels, Democrat, was chosen by about sixty majority. The Whigs in other parts of the State were furious at the unlooked-for result, and the incident served greatly to complicate the senatorial canvass."37 Mr. Lincoln had no better luck in the February 1855 election for the Senate. Douglas pushed hard for Shields and Mr. Lincoln had the highest tally on the first ballot, but his block of supporters progressively dwindled until Mr. Lincoln threw his support to anti-Nebraska Democrat Lyman Trumbull.
Senator Shields' defeat started a bad run of political luck for Senator Douglas - who lost the 1856 Democratic nomination for President to James Buchanan, who in turn defeated Republican John C. FrÃ©mont on the strength of southern votes. Buchanan sought to quiet the slavery issue by encouraging the U.S. Supreme Court to quickly rule on the case of Dred Scott, a black slave who sought his freedom as a result of sojourns in states where slavery was illegal. The Supreme Court, in a decision by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, ruled that Scott was not entitled to freedom and ineligible for citizenship. Douglas supported the Dred Scott decision even though it undermined popular sovereignty. Lincoln scholar Harry V. Jaffa wrote: "Douglas would not repudiate one word of Taney's opinion. He not only accepted the subhuman constitutional status of the Negro asserted by Taney, but also (unlike Taney) asserted it without qualification. For Douglas to accept what Taney said about the Negro as property, however, while insisting upon the sovereign authority of the territories or the states to deny slave property protection was a logical, moral, and ultimately a political impossibility. The nation would indeed have to become all slave if the conception of the Negro as a subhuman chattel prevailed. Lincoln pounded Douglas on this point remorselessly."38
Historian Graham Alexander Peck argued: "Douglas's response to the Supreme Court's March 1857 Dred Scott decision created a tremendous opportunity for Lincoln to step to the force....In a June 1857 speech Douglas validated the Supreme Court's denial of citizenship rights to blacks and deliberately aligned northern Democratic ideology with a growing southern consensus on black rights. The country's early history 'clearly shows,' he claimed that the founders regarded blacks 'as an inferior race, who, in all ages, and in every part of the globe, and under the most favorable circumstances, had shown themselves incapable of self government, and consequently were under the protection of those were capable of providing for and protecting them in the exercise of all the rights they were capable of enjoying, consistent with the good safety of society.' This line of reasoning was congenial to Douglas partly because he agreed with Taney, whose opinion in large measure rested on an analysis of blacks' low status in the founding era, partly because he wished to find common ground with the South, and partly because, as Lincoln observed, he desired to 'fasten the odium' of black equality on the Republicans."39
Kansas, meanwhile, dissolved into intermittent violence as pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions vied to control the machinery of government. Douglass opposed the Buchanan Administration for its support of the pro-slavery "Lecompton" constitution. The Lecompton affair covered Stephen Douglas's partisanship with a veneer of principle. It also shifted his political focus from pacification of the South, which had been his purpose in the Kansas-Nebraska legislation to restoring his political popularity in the North. Historian Michael F. Holt wrote: "Because of Douglas's new popularity as a foe of Lecompton, Lincoln desperately needed an issue to draw a line between himself and Douglas and to show that his credentials as an anti-Southern candidate were superior. To establish that distinction, he argued that he believed black slavery was immoral and should be placed on the road to 'ultimate extinction'; Douglas, Lincoln charged, did not care whether it spread or not so long as the local majority got its way."40 Historian David M. Potter wrote: "Lincoln understood correctly that the Lecompton contest was what had destroyed Douglas's standing in the South and that he knew it. 'Douglas cares nothing for the South; he knows he is already dead there.'"41 Historian Damon Welles wrote: "Douglas began to understand the so-called Kansas crisis was in fact three different but simultaneous crises. The first concerned the violence that was tearing apart that unfortunate land. The second dealt with the admission of Kansas to statehood. The last involved the adoption of the Lecompton Constitution."42
Historian David M. Potter argued: "But Douglas, for all his tactical opportunism, all his consorting with spoilsmen, all his scorn for moralists in politics, was deeply committed to certain attitudes which had become, with him, matters of principle."43 However, Douglas biographer Wells wrote: "Although Lecompton provided the occasion for the formal break between Douglas and Buchanan, a conflict of personalities had been going on quietly between the two men years before the political clash erupted. They had almost nothing in common. There was Douglas, young, pushing, aggressive; Douglas, the extrovert; Douglas, to whom thought and action were synonymous; Douglas, whose boundless self-confidence and teeming imagination propelled him at times toward greatness and at time to the brink of folly."44
Douglas was a party loyalist who became a party breaker. Historian William C. Harris wrote: "Douglas, despite his break with President Buchanan, was still a powerful and skillful political leader as well as a dynamic campaigner. He was hardly the 'dead lion' that Lincoln wishfully labeled him in the beginning of the 1858 campaign. Indeed, most observers outside of the partisan Republican ranks in Illinois expected Douglas to win, especially because, with his opposition to the Lecompton constitution, he seemed to be moving toward a nonexpansionist position on slavery in the territories."45
The classic confrontation between Douglas and Mr. Lincoln came in 1858 when Mr. Lincoln was designated as the Republican Party's nominee against the state's senior U.S. senator. Historian Ethan S. Rafuse wrote "Lincoln's political career was to a great extent defined by his opposition to Douglas, and he was keenly sensitive to the contrast between his and Douglas's respective fortunes in the political arena. Yet prospects for deposing his old rival in 1858 initially appeared promising. Discontent with Douglas was high in Illinois, the Buchanan administration was working to undermine him, and the Dred Scott decision and upheaval in Kansas had heightened public receptiveness to Republican criticism of the Slave Power and the Northern Democratic Party."46 Lincoln scholar Christopher N. Breiseth wrote: "To the Douglas camp early in 1858...the response of Republicans was less critical than that of the Illinois Democracy. The uncompromising stand by Douglas, the independent man of the new Northwest, against James Buchanan, the old man of Pennsylvania and supporter of the slave South, could prove disastrous for Douglas and his party in Illinois."47
Lincoln and Illinois Republicans were incensed that Horace Greeley and other Eastern Republican leaders thought that Republicans should support Douglas for reelection. Senator Lyman Trumbull wrote Lincoln; "Some of our friends here act like fools in running after & flattering Douglas. He encourages it & invites such men as Wilson, Seward, Burlingame, Parrot &c. to come & confer with him & they seem wonderfully pleased to go."48 Historian Gerald M. Capers wrote: "At first they gave the Lincoln canvass little support. Illinois leaders refused to admit the slightest possibility that Douglas was sincere, and were unwilling to walk the plank to strengthen their party national. One of Trumbull's correspondents noted during the Lecompton
fight: 'The Republican papers in Chicago and elsewhere are denouncing Douglas and his friends...for fear they maybe left without a party. To talk of such men being anxious to defeat the measure above all things is a mockery. They would sacrifice it Kansas a thousand times rather than forget a party advantage."49
Despite the reservations of these Republicans, Illinois Republicans rallied behind Mr. Lincoln at their state convention in Springfield on June 16. They approved a resolution that stated "That Abraham Lincoln is the first and only choice of the Republicans of Illinois for the United States Senate, as the successor to Stephen A. Douglas."50 In the House Divided speech that followed, Mr. Lincoln directly addressed Senator Douglas and his supporters: "There are those who denounce us openly to their own friends, and yet whisper us softly, that Senator Douglas is the aptest instrument there is, with which to effect that object. They do not tell us, nor has he told us, that he wishes any such object to be effected. They wish us to infer all, from the facts, that he now has a little quarrel with the present head of the dynasty; and that he has regularly voted with us, on a single point, upon which, he and we, have never differed."
They remind us that he is a very great man, and that the largest ofus are very small ones. Let his be granted. But a living dog is better than a dead lion." Judge Douglas, if not a dead lion for this work, is at least a caged and toothless one. How can he oppose the advances of slavery? He don't care anything about it. His avowed mission is impressing the "public heart" to care nothing about it.
A leading Douglas Democratic newspaper thinks Douglas' superior talent will be needed to resist the revival of the African slave trade.
Does Douglas believe an effort to revive that trade is approaching. He has not said so. Does he really think so? But if it is, how can he resist it? For years he has labored to prove it a sacred right of white men to take negro slaves into the new territories. Can he possibly show that it is less a sacred right to buy them where they can be bought cheapest? And, unquestionably they can be bought cheaper in Africa than in Virginia.
He has done all in his power to reduce the whole question of slavery to one of a mere right of property; and as such, how can he oppose the foreign slave trade--how can he refuse that trade in that "property" shall be perfectly free" - unless he does it as a protection to the home production? And as the home producers will probably not askthe protection, he will be wholly without a ground of opposition.
Senator Douglas holds, we know, that a man may rightfully be wiser to-day than he was yesterday - that he may rightfully change when he finds himself wrong. But, can we for that reason, run ahead, and infer that he will make any particular change, of which he, himself, has given no intimation? Can we safely base our action upon any such vague inference?
Now, as ever, I wish to not misrepresent Judge Douglas' position, question his motive, or do ought that can be personally offensive to him. Whenever, if ever, he and we can come together on principle so that our great cause may have assistance from his great ability, I hope to have interposed no adventurous obstacle.
But clearly, he is not now with us he does not pretend to be he does not promise to ever be.
Our cause, then, must be intrusted to, and conducted by its own undoubted friends--those who hands are free, whose hearts are in the work who do care for the result.
Two years ago the Republicans of the nation mustered over thirteen hundred thousand strong.
We did this under the single impulse of resistance to a common danger, with every external circumstance against us.
Of strange, discordant, and even hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds, and formed and fought the battle through, under the constant hot fire of a discipline, proud, and pampered enemy.
Did we brave all then, to falter now? - now - when that same enemy is wavering, dissevered and belligerent?
The result is not doubtful. We shall not fail--if we stand firm, we shall not fail.
Wise councils, may accelerate or mistakes delay it, but sooner or later the victory issure to come.51
Many contemporaries and some historians believe that the "House Divided" speech hurt Lincoln's campaign chances. "The 'house divided' image was politically risky and later cost Lincoln some needed votes, but 'ultimate extinction' was a product of sheer political genius. It could mean tomorrow or a thousand years hence, depending upon the hearer or reader," wrote historian Elbert B. Smith. "This is not to say that Lincoln was consciously cynical in his choice of words. He had often expressed a moral revulsion against slavery, but as a child of the upland South, and, indeed, of his times, he considered the Negro race inferior, and was painfully aware of the problems which would accompany the disappearance of the institution. He had no discernible ambition to tamper with South at the risk of further sectional conflict, but up until the Kansas-Nebraska act he had apparently found comfort in a faith that at some point in the distant future some new set of circumstances would permit its peaceful destruction. By his own public testimony, at least, it was the moral indifference implied in popular sovereignty rather than its practical results that had roused Lincoln's ire."52 Former Congressman Isaac N. Arnold contended that "the speech of Lincoln published, circulated, and read throughout the Free States did more than any other agency in creating the public opinion, which prepared the way for the overthrow of slavery."53
In a major reply to Lincoln in Chicago on July 9, 1858, Senator Douglas said: "In other words, Mr. Lincoln asserts, as a fundamental principle of this government, that there must be uniformity in the local laws and domestic institutions of each and all the States of the Union; and he therefore invites all the non-slaveholding States to band together, organize as one body, and make war upon slavery in Kentucky, upon slavery in Virginia, upon the Carolinas, upon slavery in all of the slaveholding States in this Union, and to persevere in that war until it shall be exterminated. He then notifies the slaveholding States to stand together as a unit and make an aggressive war upon the free States of this Union with a view of establishing slavery in them all; of forcing it upon Illinois, of forcing it upon New York, upon New England, and upon every other free State, and that they shall keep up the warfare until it has been formally established in them all. In other words, Mr. Lincoln advocates boldly and clearly a war of sections, a war of the North against the South, of the free States against the slave States -- a war of extermination -- to be continued relentlessly until the one or the other shall be subdued, and all the States shall either become free or become slave."54
Lincoln friend Henry C. Whitney wrote: "On the morning of July 9thth 1858, I was in Tucker's bank, corner of Lake and Clark streets, when I saw Lincoln coming up Lake street, evidently from the Tremont House, his stopping-place when in Chicago. He was, for the first time that I never saw him so, well dressed; he evidently was gotten up for some occasion. I joined him in the street, and I recollect that we walked as far as Market street; thence to Randolph, and so on to my office in the Metropolitan Block. In this walk, we passed the naked lot where the celebrated wigwam was afterward located; in which, two years later, he was nominated for the Presidency. He informed me that his business there, was, to argue a motion for a new trial against Judge Lyle T. Dickey, before Judge Drummond, the next morning. This was, however, evidently, only one-half truth: Douglas was to reach Chicago on that day from the East, amid a great flourish of trumpets, to commence his canvass for the new term of the senatorship; and I have no doubt that he designed to put himself in his way for a political tournament."55
Mr. Lincoln's speech that night, was "the poorest effort I ever heard Lincoln make," according to Whitney. "In the first place, I think he felt ill at ease from having intruded upon what was properly Douglas's occasion: the latter had just returned to commence his canvass; and my opinion is that Lincoln, who despaired everything that savored at all of unfairness, felt that it was not quite the thing to be right at his feels at he first moment of his constituents' welcome." Mr. Lincoln was also perturbed by the failure of a fellow attorney to show for a court appearance that morning. Mr. Lincoln further "was not in his accustomed sphere; he was not in the habit of addressing city audiences and I have no doubt felt considerably chilled on that account."56 Douglas biographer George Fort Milton wrote: "Lincoln brought laughter by his treatment of the contention that Douglas was the man now to lead the anti-slavery forces of Illinois. He admitted that Douglas might be a great man; however, 'a living dog is better than a dead lion,' and even if Douglas were not a dead lion for the work of freedom, he was 'at least a caged and toothless one.' This was an unfortunate comparison; in the months to come we shall hear much from Douglas partisans about the 'dead lion; during the debates nearly ever effective Douglas sally would bring shouts: 'the lion isn't dead,' and hit the living dog again.'"57 Nevertheless, noted historian William C. Harris, "Returning to Springfield, Lincoln confidently told his friends that he had won the first battle in the campaign against Douglas."58
Douglas himself set out the difference between himself and Lincoln. Speaking in Springfield on July 17, Douglas said: "In his Chicago speech Lincoln says in so many words that Negroes were endowed by the Almighty with the right of equality with the white man, and therefore that that right is divine - a right under the higher law; that the law of God makes them equal to the white man, and, and therefore that the law of the white man cannot deprive them of that right....I do not doubt that he in his conscience, believes that the Almighty made the negro equal to the white man. He thinks that the negro is his brothers. Laughter. I do not think the negro is any kin o mine at all. Laughter and cheers. And here is the difference between us."59
According to historian Elbert B. Smith, Douglas "used the 'house divided' speech to show that Lincoln was promoting sectional conflict over a meaningless question since slavery could expand no further under any circumstances. Douglas shamelessly appealed to racial prejudice. Lincoln accepted the validity of racial supremacy and denied that he had ever advocated or believed in political or social equality for Negroes. There was, however, a strong difference in the tone of the two racial philosophies, however similar, and Lincoln at least contradicted himself occasionally by insisting that all men regardless of race or color should have an equal right to earn a living."60 Historian Graham A. Peck wrote: "To Lincoln, the Taney and Douglas racial doctrine culminated a retreat from the idea of equality since the Revolution and provided an intellectual and legal capstone to the nation's increasingly discriminatory racial practices. By contrast, Lincoln discerned progressive possibilities in Republican racial doctrine and antislavery policy."61
"Lincoln spoke to a large Republican crowd that evening," wrote historian William C. Harris. "In his speech, Lincoln assumed the role of the underdog against Douglas and announced that Republicans - and by implication his own candidacy - labored under the disadvantage of a legislative apportionment made in 1852."62 Lincoln went on the describe Douglas' political prominence. He asserted that Democratic politicians "have seen in his round, jolly, fruitful face, postoffices, landoffices, marshalships, and cabinet appointments, chargeships and foreign missions, bursting and sprouting out in wonderful exuberance ready to be laid hold of by their greedy hands."63
Historian George Fort Milton wrote: "The three speeches at Chicago, Bloomington and Springfield set Douglas before the people of his State. Their essence was a strict Popular Sovereignty position. Whatever leanings he might once have had toward Republicanism had been cast aside. The Republicans did not know whether to be pleased or concerned over his failure to use his Lecompton record to win Republican votes. And they were distinctly troubled by his failure 'to tread heavily on Buchanan's toes.'"64 Douglas himself charged that the Republicans and Buchanan's supporters were cahoots to engineer his defeat. During July and early August, Mr. Lincoln often appeared in the same towns as Douglas. Fellow attorney Lawrence Weldon recalled that he asked Mr. Lincoln to visit Clinton when Senator Douglas was scheduled to speak shortly after his Springfield speech. As Douglas spoke, recalled Weldon, "We went over a little to one side of the crowd and sat down on one of the boards, laid on logs for seats. Douglas spoke over three hours to an immense audience, and made one of the most forcible political speeches I ever heard. As he went on he referred to Lincoln's Springfield speech, and became very personal, and I saw to Mr. Lincoln:
"Do you suppose Douglas knows you are here?"
"Well,' he replied, 'I don't know whether he does or not; he has not looked in this direction. But I reckon some of the boys have told him I am here."
When Douglas finished there was a tremendous shout for 'Lincoln,' which kept on with no let-up. Mr. Lincoln said: 'What shall I do? I can't speak here."
"You will have to say something," I replied. "Suppose you get up and say you will speak this evening at the courthouse yard."
Mr. Lincoln stood up on one of the rough seats and was quickly recognized with cheers. He told the crowd: "This is Judge Douglas's meeting. I have no right, therefore, no disposition to interfere. But you ladies and gentlemen desire to hear what I have to say on these questions, and will meet me this evening at the courthouse yard, east side, I will try to answer the gentleman." As Weldon described it: "Douglas had taken off his cravat, for it was extremely warm, and he was now putting it on as he turned in the direction of Mr. Lincoln. Both became posed in a tableau of majestic power. The scene was a meeting of giants, a contest of great men; and the situation was dramatic in the extreme. Lincoln made a speech that evening which in volume did not equal the speech of Douglas, but for sound and cogent argument was the superior."65
Speaking of the campaign against Douglas, Mr. Lincoln told Ohio journalist David Ross Locke: "You can't overturn a pyramid, but you can undermine it; that's what I have been trying to do."66 Asked by Locke why his speeches showed more variation than speeches given by Douglas, Mr. Lincoln said "for his own part, he could not repeat a speech the second time, although he might make one bearing some similarity to a former one. The subject with which he was charged was crowding for utterance all the time; it was always enlarging as he went on from place to place." Mr. Lincoln said "that Douglas was not lacking in versatility, but that he had formed a theory that the speech which he was delivering at his small meetings was the one best adapted to secure votes, and since the voters at one meeting would not likely to hear him at any other, they would never know that he was repeating himself, or if they did know, they would probably think it was the proper thing to do."67
Mr. Lincoln came to Fulton County August 17, one day after Senator Douglas. John W. Proctor wrote: "It is history that Mr. Lincoln followed Douglas throughout that campaign, 'camping on his trail,' but it is not so well known that Mr. Lincoln was thoughtful of the proprieties and careful to do nothing which Mr. Douglas might think discourteous.
"Mr. Lincoln came, was my guest, and delighted a fine audience with a speech that was an excellent forerunner of the great debates later,' said Mr. Proctor. 'Late in that wonderful political year, at my request, he came once more into our county and spoke at Vermont, October 31. It was a cool day. The rain fell steadily. But he spoke from under an umbrella for more than an hour to over a thousand people.'68
Mr. Lincoln had prepared diligently for this confrontation with Douglas. William H. Herndon wrote: "During the canvass Mr. Lincoln in addition to the seven meetings with Douglas, filled thirty-one appointments made by the State Central Committee, besides speaking at many others times and places not previously advertised. In his trips to and from over the States, between meetings, he would stop at Springfield sometimes, to consult with his friends or to post himself up on questions that occurred during the canvass. He kept me busy hunting up old speeches and gathering facts and statistics at the State library. I made liberal clippings bearing in any way on the questions of the hour from every newspaper I happened to see, and kept him supplied with them; and on one or two occasions, in answer to letters and telegrams, I sent books forward to him. He had a little leather bound book, fastened in front with a clasp, in which he and I both kept inserting newspaper slips and newspaper comments until the canvas opened."69
Journalist Walter B. Stevens wrote that "Douglas was one of the most measured of American orators. He was strongly regular; he was distinct; he paused between sentences; he used short sentences; he rarely exceeded 120 words a minute." But comparison, noted Stevens, Mr. Lincoln's voice was clear, almost shrill. Every syllable was distinct. But his delivery was puzzling to stenographers. He would speak several words with great rapidity, come to the word or phrase he wished to emphasize and let his voice linger and bear hard on that; and that he would rush to the end of the sentence like lightning. To impress the idea on the minds of his hearers was his aim; not to charm the ear with smooth, flowing words. It was very easy to understand Lincoln; he spoke with great clearness. But his delivery was very irregular. He would devote as much time to the word or two which he wished to emphasize as he did to half a dozen less important words following it."70
Lincoln scholar Saul Sigelschaffer wrote: "In the bruising give-and-take and dodges and twists of ordinary debate, Douglas had no peer. An out-and-out political brawl was what he loved. Though Lincoln, too, knew all the tricks of the hustings, it was in the realm of the ethical that his genius and strength lay."71 Mr. Lincoln needed his barbed wit to debate with Douglas. For example, in the Ottawa Debate on August 21, 1858, Mr. Lincoln was queried from the crowd about popular sovereignty. He responded that "my understanding is that Popular Sovereignty, as now applied to the question of Slavery, does allow the people of a Territory to have Slavery if they want to, but does not allow them not to have it if they do not want it. Applause and laughter. I do not mean that if this vast concourse of people were in a Territory of the United States, any one of them would be obliged to have a slave if he did not want one; but I do say that, as I understand the Dred Scott decision, if any one man wants slaves, all the rest have no way of keeping that one man from holding them."72
"In the last analysis, Lincoln challenged to take a stand on slavery itself," wrote historian Christopher N. Breiseth. "Beyond the moral dimensions of the challenge clarification by Douglas of his position was politically untenable. Any suggestion that slavery should ultimately be extinguished was utterly unacceptable to Southern Democrats whom Douglas needed for the presidential contest in 1860. On the other hand, any suggestion that the expansion of slavery into the territories ought to be guaranteed by the federal government, which Southerners were demanding, was utterly unacceptable to free-soil opinion in the North."73
Henry Clay Whitney noted that Douglas felt that "he had a national fame, which attracted great audiences, while Lincoln's reputation was merely local; and that by series of joint-debates, Douglas and his superior drawing powers would be giving Lincoln the benefit of the audiences which Douglas could, and Lincoln could not, attract; but to the inner circle, he confessed that on the slavery question, Lincoln was the greatest champion the opposition had in the whole nation; and the hardest to deal with."74
Senator Lyman Trumbull, who had been elected to the Senate in 1855 over Mr. Lincoln, played a pivotal role in the 1858 conflict between Senator Douglas and Mr. Lincoln. Lincoln scholar David Zarefksy wrote that in 1858, "Trumbull was better known than Lincoln and had a reputation of taking the offensive; his presence would be a real boost to the campaign....He delivered a rousing speech in early August, in which he charged that Douglas had conspired to word the Kansas-Nebraska Act so as to deprive Kansas of a referendum between slavery and freedom."75 The Trumbull-Douglas conflict threatened to overshadow the Lincoln-Douglas confrontation. Historian George Fort Milton wrote: "The theme was another Douglas 'plot' against Kansas. The time was 1856, the occasion the Toombs bill, originally providing for submitting to the people any constitution which might be framed. When the bill emerged from Douglas' Committee on Territories, Trumbull charged, this clause had been stricken from it and Douglass was responsible! 'I will force the truth down any honest man's throat until he cannot deny it,' Trumbull shouted, 'and to the man who does deny it, I will cram the lie down his throat until he shall cry enough.' Douglas had done this deed, and it was 'the most damnable effrontery that man ever put on, to concoct a scheme to defraud and cheat a people out of their right, and then claim credit for it.'"76 Douglas was incensed by Trumbull's allegations and sought to refute them - both before and during the Lincoln-Douglas debates - charging that his Senate colleague was a liar. Contemporary I. M. Short noted that in these early campaign speeches, Douglas spent much of his "time...to Judge Trumbull, who had been denominated a 'veritable thorn in the side of Douglas. So much of the Douglas attention and newspaper comment became centered upon Trumbull that Lincoln considered himself ignored and without delay, he sought to counteract that influence by securing a series of joint debates with Douglas."77 Once the debates began, Douglas sought to shift attention from Lincoln to Trumbull. At Freeport, Douglas asserted that in the "last session of Congress. Mr. Trumbull would not consent, under any circumstances, to let a State, free or slave, come into the Union until it had the requisite population. As Mr. Trumbull is in the field, fighting for Mr. Lincoln, I would like to have Mr. Lincoln answer his own question and tell me whether he is fighting Trumbull on that issue or not."78
Senator Douglas did not want to debate Abraham Lincoln in 1858. He knew the risks. He knew from prior experiences in 1854 that Mr. Lincoln was a formidable speaker - less flamboyant than himself but a practitioner of closer logic. And his experience in July demonstrated that he could not shake his Republican opponent from the campaign trail. Mr. Lincoln was bound and determined to follow him around the state and deliver his competing message. "I shall have my hands full," Douglas told John W. Forney about the upcoming campaign with Lincoln. Douglas really had very little choice in facing his Republican opponent since Mr. Lincoln was bound to follow him anyway - creating the appearance of cowardice on Douglas' part. Lincoln reportedly said: "I never engaged in any enterprise with such reluctance and grave apprehension as in that contest. Douglas was the idol of his party, and justly so, for he was a man of great ability. He was reckless in many of his statements, but 'Judge Douglas said so' clinched the argument and ended the controversy. I soon found that my simple denial carried no weight against the imperious and emphatic style of his oratory. Night after night Douglas reiterated that while I was in Congress, I had voted against the Mexican War and against all recognition of the gallant conduct of those who had imperiled their lives in it. I knew it was useless to reply till I could adduce such proof as would settle the question forever."79
Scholar David Zarefsky wrote: "The challenge put Douglas in a dilemma. As the better-known candidate, he had nothing to gain by debating, and he risked disappointing supporters whose invitations for him to speak would be preempted by the debates. On the other hand, the frontier West had long employed stump speaking and debates, and Douglas risked serious loss of face if he declined a challenge."80
Douglas biographer Damon Wells wrote: "There was a deeper reason for Douglas' reluctance to accept Lincoln's challenge. Douglas' ultimate success in political joint debate had been limited. Although he usually won the argument, he sometimes lost the campaign."81 Having agreed to a seven-match series, Douglas and Lincoln went through some warmup exercises in central Illinois. Illinois editor Jeriah Bonham wrote: "From the time this arrangement for joint meetings was made to the first meeting at Ottawa was near three weeks. During this time the two great men, - Illinois' gifted intellectual gladiators, kept themselves in training by practice games in the cities in different parts of the state, - they engaged zealously in independent work."82 Douglas had the edge in southern Illinois and Lincoln had the advantage in northern Illinois where Douglas lived. The battleground was central Illinois.
Just after his first debate at Ottawa, Mr. Lincoln wrote: "Douglas and I, for the first time this canvass, crossed swords here yesterday; the fire flew some, and I am glad to know I am yet alive."83 Within a month, Mr. Lincoln was worn out. He confessed his exhaustion to the Rev. Julian M. Sturtevant: "If it were not for one thing, I would retire from the contest. I know that if Mr. Douglas's doctrine prevails, it will not be fifteen years before Illinois itself will be a slave state."84 Both candidates worked tirelessly; nothing was taken for granted in the contest. Reporting on the 1858 Senate contest, Chester P. Dewey of the New York Evening Post wrote: "Douglas is working like a lion. He is stumping the state, everywhere present and everywhere appealing to his old lieges to stand by him. Never did feudal baron fight more desperately against the common superior of himself and his retainers."
Lincoln, too is actively engaged. His senatorial nomination has sent him to the field, and he is working with an energy and zeal which counter-balance the spirit and dogged resolution of his opponent. Lincoln is battling for the right and Douglas is desperately struggling to save himself from utter political ruin. He is losing strength daily, while Lincoln is surely gaining upon him.85
The decision to engage in the Lincoln-Douglas debates probably changed American history. "The seven joint discussions which the candidates had in different parts of the State have become a part of the political history of the country," recalled Illinois Congressman Elihu B. Washburne. "It was a battle of the giants. The parties were rallied, as one man, to the enthusiastic support of their respective candidates, and it is hard for any one not in the State at the time to measure the excitement which everywhere prevailed. There was little talk about Republicanism and Democracy, but it was all 'Lincoln and Douglas,' or 'Douglas and Lincoln."86
The debates were great political theater for spectators. Scholar William Garrott Brown wrote: "Elevated side by side on wooden platforms in the open air, thrown into relief against the low prairie skyline, the two figures take strong hold upon the imagination: the one lean, long-limbed, uncommonly tall; the other scarce five feet high, but compact, manful, instinct with energy, and topped with its massive head. In voice and gesture and manner Douglas was incomparably the superior, as he was, too, in the ready command of a language never, indeed, ornate or imaginative, and sometimes of the quality of political commonplace, but always forcible and always intelligible to his audience. Lincoln had the sense of words, the imagination, the intensity of feeling, which go to the making of great literature; but for his masterpieces he always needed time. His voice was high and strained, his gestures ungraceful, his manner painful, save in the recital of those passages which he had carefully prepared or when he was freed of his self-consciousness by anger or enthusiasm."87 Biographer Damon Wells wrote: "Although the issues involved went to the very foundations of American Life, the conclusion is irresistible that for those fortunate enough to be there, the debates must have been a great deal of just plain fun."88.
"The State for once, woke up during these debates. Men left their occupations to follow the debaters about and constitute a gallery of devoted admirers. Newspapers became enterprising and sent their best writers to keep the contestants company. Processions greeted the orators on their route and frenzied applause attended their efforts," wrote historian Don C. Seitz. "The Lincoln paraders were the more vehement and sported mottoes like the following:
Westward the star of empire takes its way;
The girls link on to Lincoln, their mothers were for Clay.
Abe the Giant Killer.
Edgar County for the Tall Sucker.
Free Territories and Free Men,
Free Pulpits and Free Preachers,
Free Press and a Free Pen,
Free scholars and Free Teachers.89
Historian David M. Potter wrote: "A note of festivity prevailed, and the occasions have been compared to the day of the Big Game in any American college town. Band music stirred the sultry air, and the candidate enlivened these face-to-face encounters, the rivals sometimes assailed each other with the blunt combativeness of men who believed in their cause and were not afraid of a fight, but always in the American fashion of being able to shake hands after they had traded blows." It was political drama at its American best. "All seven places were small towns; the largest of them, Quincy, had a population of not much more than 10,000. All the towns were relatively new," wrote historian Philip Van Doren Stern. "The debates were not simply one-day shows - they were important events to be talked about before they happened and then discussed long afterward, with endless elaboration of the points made by the speakers, and with great argument as to whether the 'Tall Sucker' or the 'Little Giant was the better man."90
Adlai Stevenson recalled that the debates "were held in the open, and at each place immense crowds were in attendance. The friends of Mr. Lincoln largely preponderated in the northern portion of the state; those of Mr. Douglas in the southern, while in the center the partisans of the respective candidates were apparently equal in numbers. The interest never flagged for a moment from the beginning to the close. The debate was upon a high plane, each candidate was enthusiastically applauded by his friend and respectfully heard by his opponents. The speakers were men of dignified presence, their bearing such as to challenge respect in any assemblage. There was nothing of the 'grotesque' about the one, nothing of the 'political juggler about the other. Both were deeply impressed with the gravity of the questions at issue, and of what might prove their far-reaching consequence to the country. Kindly reference by each speaker to the other characterized the debates from the beginning. 'My friend Lincoln' and 'My friend the Judge' were expressions of constant occurrence during the debates. While each mercilessly attacked the political utterances of the other, good feeling in the main prevailed."91
Each candidate attempted to portray the other as a political extremist. Racism was a fact of life in Illinois - as it was in the rest of the North and South Scholar David Zarefsky wrote: "Like most Republicans, Lincoln recognized that his political survival depended on avoiding the abolitionist label. As a result, he made strong statements - which his supporters today find embarrassing - disclaiming any support for Negro equality."92 Stephen Douglas repeatedly tried to link Frederick Douglass to Abraham Lincoln, according to historian James Oakes. Senator Douglas "did it all the time during his famous debates with Lincoln in 1858. In their second encounter, at Freeport in late August, Douglas the senator claimed that Douglass the abolitionist was one of Lincoln's closest advisers. When the crowd hooted at this, the senator pressed his point further."93 Douglas took a little fact and embroidered it into a lie that would be offensive to his racially prejudiced listeners. Douglas said: "I had reason to recollect that some people in this country think that Fred. Douglass is a very good man. The last time I cam here to make a speech, while talking from the stand to you, people of Freeport, as I am doing to-day, I saw a carriage and a magnificent one it was drive up and take a position on the outside of the crowd; a beautiful young lady was sitting on the box seat, whilst Fred. Douglass and her mother reclined inside, and the owner of the carriage acted as driver."94
Douglas was confident but concerned, writing a fellow Democrat on August 29 after the first two debates: "Your favor of the 2th inst. is received. It is important, that Gen. Usher Linder should take the stump immediately, and the genteel thing" will be done with him. Tell him to meet me at my first appointment, wherever it may be, after his return from Indiana, prepared to take the stump from that time until the election. I have no such fears as you seem to entertain that it will not be possible for me to sustain my position against Trumbull, Lincoln, Carpenter, Breeze, Reynolds, Dougherty and the infamous sheet to which you allude? The Democracy are thoroughly aroused, and well united, and a glorious triumph awaits us as certain as the day of election comes. Yet our friends should not be idle but should put forth efforts that will overcome those that are made against us. It is all important that we should carry the representative from your country and the senator from your district. I trust that our friends will spare no effort to secure a triumph."95
A crucial confrontation came during the second debate. Historian James Rawley noted: "In their debate at Freeport in northwest Illinois, Lincoln exploited the inconsistency between the Dred Scott ruling that Congress could not outlaw slavery in the territories and Douglas's doctrine that the people of a territory, before statehood, could outlaw slavery. Douglas responded with what became known as the 'Freeport Doctrine.' 'It matters not what the Supreme Court may hereafter decide,' he loftily declaimed, the territory may exclude slavery by not passing local laws to support it."96 The "Freeport Doctrine" helped assure the reelection of Douglas but also acted to prevent any southern support for his election as President.
Douglas was essentially insensitive to the moral issues of slavery whereas Mr. Lincoln could not be "indifferent" to involuntary servitude. For Douglas it was simply a political issue. Scholar David Zarefsky wrote that Douglas's "beliefs were those of the late 1840s, when it was widely thought that the slavery question - and any other domestic issue, for that matter - was a minor problem that would be subsumed by territorial expansion, which was, after all, the nation's manifest destiny. Popular sovereignty was above everything else a formula for removing a sticky question from the national forum so the country could get on with its more important business. What Douglas failed to recognize was that the status of the slavery issue had changed. It had become, as Lincoln said at Alton, 'the very thing that every body does care the most about."97 Abraham Lincoln pounded away at the inconsistencies in Douglas' position. At Alton, he said: "The first thing I ask attention to is the fact that Judge Douglas constantly said, before the Dred Scott decision, that whether the people of the Territories] could or not exclude slavery, was a question for the Supreme Court."
Journalist Henry Villard recalled:
"The first joint debate between Douglas and Lincoln which I attended (the second in the series of seven) took place on the afternoon of August 27, 1858, at Freeport, Illinois. It was the great event of the day, and attracted an immense concourse of people from all parts of the state. Douglas spoke first for an hour, followed by Lincoln for an hour and a half; upon which the former closed in another half hour. The Democratic spokesman commanded a strong, sonorous voice, a rapid, vigorous utterance, a telling play of countenance, impressive gestures, and all the other arts of the practiced speaker. As far as all external conditions were concerned, there was nothing in favor of Lincoln. He had a lean, lank, indescribably gawky figure, an odd-featured, wrinkled, inexpressive, and altogether uncomely face. He used singularly awkward, almost absurd up-and-down and sidewise movements of his body to give emphasis to his arguments. His voice was naturally good, but he frequently raised it to an unnatural pitch. Yet the unprejudiced mind felt at once that, while there was on the one side a skillful dialectician and debater arguing a wrong and weak cause, there was on the other a thoroughly earnest and truthful man, inspired by sound convictions in consonance with the true spirit of American institutions. There was nothing in all Douglas's powerful effort that appealed to the higher instincts of human nature, while Lincoln always touched sympathetic chords. Lincoln's speech excited and sustained the enthusiasm of his audience to the end. When he had finished, two stalwart young farmers rushed on the platform, and, in spite of his remonstrance's, seized and put him on their shoulders and carried him in that uncomfortable posture for a considerable distance. It was really a ludicrous sight to see the grotesque figure holding frantically to the heads of his supporters, with his legs dangling from their shoulders, and his pantaloons pulled up so as to expose his underwear almost to his knees. Douglas made dexterous use of this incident in his next speech, expressing sincere regret that, against his wish, he had used up his old friend Lincoln so completely that he had to be carried off the stage. Lincoln retaliated by saying at the first opportunity that he had known Judge Douglas long and well, but there was nevertheless one thing he could not say of him, and that was that the Judge always told the truth." Villard thought Douglas should be reelected, writing "I shared the belief of a good many independent thinkers at the time, including prominent leaders of the Republican party, that, with regard to separating more effectively the anti-slavery Northern from the pro-slavery Southern wing of the Democracy, it would have been better if the reelection of Douglas had not been opposed."
The party warfare was hotly continued in all parts of the state from early summer till election day in November. Besides the seven joint debates, both Douglas and Lincoln spoke scores of times separately, and numerous other speakers from Illinois and other states contributed incessantly to the agitation. The two leaders visited almost every county in the state. I heard four of the joint debates, and six other speeches by Lincoln and eight by his competitor. Of course, the later efforts became substantial repetitions of the preceding ones, and to listen to them grew more and more tiresome to me. As I had seen something of political campaigns before, this one did not exercise the full charm of novelty upon me. Still, even if I had been a far more callous observer, I could not have helped being struck with the efficient party organizations, the skillful tactics of the managers, the remarkable feats of popular oratory, and the earnestness and enthusiasm of the audiences I witnessed. It was a most instructive object-lesson in practical party politics, and filled me with admiration for the Anglo-American method of working out popular destiny.
In other respects, my experiences were not altogether agreeable. It was a very hot summer, and I was obliged to travel almost continuously. Illinois had then only about a million and a half of inhabitants, poorly constructed railroads, and bad country roads, over which latter I had to journey quite as much as over the former. The taverns in town and country, as a rule, were wretched; and, as I moved about with the candidates and their followers and encountered crowds everywhere, I fared miserably in many places. Especially in the southern part of the state, then known as "Egypt" and mostly inhabited by settlers from the Southern states, food and lodging were nearly always simply abominable. I still vividly remember the day of semi-starvation, and the night with half-a-dozen room-mates, I passed at Jonesboro', where the third joint debate took place.
I saw more of Illinois than I have since seen of any other state in the Union, and I acquired a thorough faith, based on the immeasurable fertility of her prairies, in the great growth that she has since attained. I also formed many valuable acquaintances, a number of which have continued to this day. It was then that I first saw my lifelong friend Horace White, who accompanied Mr. Lincoln as the representative of the Chicago Tribune, and R. R. Hitt, the official stenographer of the Republican candidate. He was one of the most skilled shorthand writers in the country, and his success as such led in due time to his appointment as reporter of the United States Supreme Court. This position he resigned for a successful career as diplomat and Congressman."98
Villard recalled: "I firmly believe that, if Stephen A. Douglas had lived, he would have had a brilliant national career. Freed by the Southern rebellion from all identification with pro-slavery interests, the road would have been open to the highest fame and position for which his unusual talents qualified him. As I took final leave of him and Lincoln, doubtless neither of them had any idea that within two years they would be rivals again in the Presidential race. I had it from Lincoln's own lips that the United States Senatorship was the greatest political height he at the time expected to climb. He was full of doubt, too, of his ability to secure the majority of the Legislature against Douglas. These confidences he imparted to me on a special occasion which I must not omit to mention in detail before leaving this subject."99
The debates were about only one subject - slavery. Douglas biographer Damon Wells noted: "To audiences still shaken from the financial panic of the year before, neither Lincoln nor Douglas had anything to say about money, banking, or securities reform. In a world only recently made smaller by the laying of the Atlantic cable, no mention was made of trade, tariff, foreign policy, or immigration. In a state not many years removed from the frontier, nothing was said about homestead lands or the Pacific railroad."100 Mr. Lincoln consistently denounced the indifference of Douglas to slavery, saying that Douglas "says he 'don't care' whether it is voted up or vote down in the Territories. Any man can say that who does not see anything wrong in slavery, but no man can logically say it who does see a wrong in it; because no man can logically say he don't care whether a wrong is voted up or voted down, but he must logically have a choice between a right thing and a wrong thing. He contends that whatever community wants slaves has a right to have them. So they have if it is not a wrong. But if it is a wrong, he cannot say people a right to do wrong."101 Historian William C. Harris wrote: " Douglas and the Democrats, Lincoln was convinced, had undermined the virtuous republic of the Founding Fathers by permitting, if not encouraging, the extension of slavery and refusing to take a moral stand against the institution."102 But there were definite political limits to how far Lincoln could push the slavery issue. Historian Michael Vorenberg wrote:"Lincoln stood firmly against popular sovereignty and the extension of slavery that it would allow, but his stance left him politically vulnerable to Douglas's charge that he favored racial equality. Racism was prevalent in the Midwest in the 1850s. When Douglas tried to portray Lincoln as the friend of blacks, Lincoln countered, as he did in a speech at Peoria, Illinois, by denying that he saw blacks as equals and by advocating the colonization of freed slaves in Liberia."103
Historian David M. Potter wrote that "Lincoln succeeded in making the debates an open and direct examination of the place of slavery in American society. He and Douglas fell short in a number of ways, but they came closer than any two public men of their generation to confronting the need for a consideration of the slavery anomaly in its relation to American democratic thought."104 Ohio journalist David Locke recalled that in mid-October 1858: "I found Mr. Lincoln in a room of a hotel, surrounded by admirers, who had made the discovery that one who had previously been considered merely a curious compound of genius and simplicity was a really great man. When Lincoln was put forward as the antagonist of the hitherto invincible Douglas, it was with fear and trembling, with the expectancy of defeat; but this mature David of the new faith had met the Goliath of the old, and had practically slain him. He had swept over the State like a cyclone â€“ not a raging, devastating cyclone, the noise of which equaled its destructive power, but a modest and unassuming force, which was the more powerful because the force could not be seen. It was the cause which won, but in other hands than Lincoln's it might have failed. Therefore, wherever he went crowds of admiring men followed him, all eager to worship at the new shrine around which such glories were gathering." Locked recalled
At the time, he said he should carry the State on the popular vote, but that Douglas would, nevertheless, be elected to the Senate, owing to the skillful manner in which the State have been districted in his interest. 'You can't overturn a pyramid, but you can undermine it; that's what I have been trying to do.'
He undermined the pyramid that the astute Douglas had erected, most effectually. It toppled and fell very shortly afterward.
The difference between the two men was illustrated the next day in their opening remarks. Lincoln said (I quote from memory):
'I have had no immediate conference with Judge Douglas, but I am sure that he and I will agree that your entire silence when I speak and he speaks will be most agreeable to us.'
Douglas said at the beginning of his speech: 'The highest compliment you can pay Me is by observing a strict silence. I desire rather to be heard than applauded.
The inborn modesty of the one and the boundless vanity of the other could not be better illustrated. Lincoln claimed nothing for himself â€“ Douglas spoke as if applause must follow his utterances.
The character of the two men was still better illustrated in their speeches. The self-sufficiency of Douglas in his opening might be pardoned, for he had been fed upon applause till he fancied himself a more than Caesar; but his being a popular idol could not justify the demagogy that saturated the speech itself. Douglas was the demagogue all the way through. There was no trick of presentation that he did not use. He suppressed facts, twisted conclusions, and perverted history. He wriggled and turned and dodged; he appealed to prejudices; in short, it was evident that what he was laboring for was Douglas and nothing else. The cause he professed was lost sight of in the claims of its advocate. Lincoln, on the other hand, kept strictly to the questions at issue, and no one could doubt but that the cause for which he was speaking was the only thing he had at heart; that his personal interests did not weigh a particle. He was the representative of an idea, and in the vastness of the idea its advocate was completely swallowed up.
Lincoln admitted frankly all the weak points in the position of his party in the most open way, and that simple honesty carried conviction with it. His admissions of weakness, where weakness was visible, strengthened his position on points where he was strong. He knew that the people had intelligence enough to strike the average correctly. His great strength wain his trusting the people instead of considering them as babes in arms. He did not profess to know everything. The audience admired Douglas, but they respected his simple-minded opponent.105
"In arranging for the joint meetings and managing the crowds Douglas enjoyed one great advantage," wrote Lincoln law partner William H. Herndon. " He had been United States Senator for several years, and had influential friends holding comfortable government offices all over the State. These men were on hand at every meeting, losing no opportunity to applaud lustily all the points Douglas made and to lionize him in every conceivable way. The ingeniously contrived display of their enthusiasm had a market effect on certain crowds - a fact of which Lincoln frequently complained to his friends. One who accompanied him during the canvass (Henry C. Whitney) relates this: 'Lincoln and I were at the Centralia agricultural fair the day after the debate at Jonesboro. Night came on and we were tired, having been on the fair grounds all day. We were to go north on the Illinois Central railroad. The train was due at midnight, and the depot was full of people. I managed to get a chair for Lincoln in the office of the superintendent of the railroad, but small politicians would intrude so that he could scarcely get a moment's sleep. The train came and was filled instantly. I got a seat near the door for Lincoln and myself. He was worn out, and had to meet Douglas the next day at Charleston. An empty car, called a saloon car, was hitched on to the rear of the train and locked up. I asked the conductor, who knew Lincoln and myself well, - we were both attorneys of the road, - if Lincoln could not ride in that car; that he was exhausted and needed rest; but the conductor refused. I afterwards got him in by a stratagem. At the same time George B. McClellan in person was taking Douglas around in a special car and special train; and that was the unjust treatment Lincoln got from the Illinois central railroad. Every interest of that road and every employee was against Lincoln and for Douglas."106
Attorney Jonathan Birch recalled taking a train with Mr. Lincoln at Bloomington. He "entered the same car in which I was seated, wearing this same linen coat and carrying the inevitable umbrella. On his arm was the cloak that he was said to have worn when he was in Congress nine years before. He greeted and talked freely with me and several other persons whom he happened to know, but as night drew on he withdrew to another part of the car where he could occupy a seat by himself. Presently he arose, spread the cloak over the seat, lay down, somehow folded himself up till his long legs and arms were no longer in view, then drew the cloak about him and went to sleep. Beyond what I have mentioned he had no baggage, no secretary, no companion even. At the same time his opponent, Judge Douglas, was traveling over the State in his private car surrounded by a retinue of followers and enjoying al the luxuries of the period."107 Another attorney, Ward Hill Lamon, recalled: "On one occasion, in going to meet an appointment in the southern part of the State,--that section of Illinois called Egypt,- Mr. Lincoln and I, with other friends, were traveling in the 'caboose' of a freight train, when we were switched off the main track to allow a special train to pass in which Mr. Lincoln's more aristocratic rival was being conveyed. The passing train was decorated with banners and flags, and carried a band of music which was playing 'hail to the Chief.' As the train whistled past, Mr. Lincoln broke out in a fit of laughter and said, 'Boys, the gentleman in that care evidently smelt no royalty in our carriage.'"108
Throughout the campaign, Senator Douglas rode in pomp while Mr. Lincoln traveled in near poverty. Part of Douglas's advantage was provided by the operating head of the Illinois Central, George B. McClellan, who was a zealous supporter of Douglas. Ward Hill Lamon remembered: "In 1858, when Mr. Lincoln and Judge Douglas were candidates for the United States Senate, and were making their celebrated campaign in Illinois, General McClellan was Superintendent of the Illinois Central Railroad, and favored the election of Judge Douglas. At all points on the road where meetings between the two great politicians were held, either a special train or a special care was furnished to Judge Douglas; but Mr. Lincoln, when he failed to get transportation on the regular trains in time to meet his appointments, was reduced to the necessity of going as freight. There being orders from headquarters to permit no passenger to travel on freight trains, Mr. Lincoln's persuasive powers were often brought into requisition. The favor was granted or refused according to the politics of the conductor."109
Indiana lawyer Dillard C. Donnohue told Lincoln biographer Jesse W. Weik "that while at Charleston he was a guest of the Capitol House where Mr. Lincoln was also quartered before and after the debate. Of course the latter was always surrounded by a crowd of listeners and as contended by Donnohue, was thoroughly out of patience with Douglas because of his conduct that day. He made no concealment of his indignation." Mr. Lincoln alluded to Douglas' regular companion when he said: "I flatter myself that thus far my wife has not found it necessary to follow me around from place to place to keep me from getting drunk."110 Donnohue recalled that at the time of the Charleston debate, Mr. Lincoln told him "if Douglas angered him he would state 'that he (L.) Did not have to have his wife along to keep him sober.'"111
Attorney Clifton H. Moore recalled: "On the day Mr. Lincoln delivered his speech at Clinton during the campaign of 1858 he was in my office; and I shall always remember with regret one thing he said about Douglas, which was this: 'Douglas will tell a lie to ten thousand people one day, even though he knows he may have to deny it to five thousand the next.'"112 Indeed, Lincoln's relationship with Douglas was strained by Lincoln's contempt for Douglas' lack of integrity. Whereas Lincoln revered the truth, Douglas disdained it. Such dishonesty infuriated Mr. Lincoln - such as the time during the 1858 campaign when Douglas alleged that Mr. Lincoln had operated a "grocery" in New Salem, selling liquor. Mr. Lincoln responded to Douglas' allegations:
The Judge is woefully at fault about his early friend Lincoln being a 'grocery keeper.' Laughter. I don't know as it would be a great sin, if I had been, but he is mistaken. Lincoln never kept a grocery anywhere in the world. Laughter. It is true that Lincoln did work the latter part of one winter in a small still house, up at the head of a hollow. Roars of laughter. And so I think my friend, the Judge, is equally at fault when he charge me at the time when I was in Congress of having opposed our soldiers who were fighting in the Mexican war.113
Historian Damon Wells wrote: "Each man sought to take the offensive while keeping his opponent on the defensive. Each man tried to occupy and hold the high ground of principle while forcing his adversary to conduct his attack from less noble terrain. Yet, of the two, Douglas found it more difficult to mount a strong offensive. In his role as incumbent, his actions restricted by the responsibilities of his high office, Douglas knew that his campaign would be essentially a holding action. Douglas' arguments were marked by an occasional brilliant sally in the direction of the enemy camp, but for the most part he was content to remain within his own lines."114
The most important lines were those recorded for the newspapers. Journalist Walter B. Stevens wrote: "The way in which the reporting and the publishing of the debates was done was very different from the methods of to-day. Two phonographers did the actual reporting - Mr. Hitt for the Republicans and Mr. Sheridan for the Democrats. The wires were not used. An attempt to telegraph one of those joint debates would have paralyzed the telegraph company of that period, and debates would have bankrupted the newspaper. As soon as a debate was finished the reporters took the first train they could get and traveled to Chicago. En route, and after their arrival, they wrote out the speeches, which were published the second day after the debate took place. The reports appeared simultaneously. Each paper seemed to be satisfied not to be behind the other. No heroic effort was made by one to beat the other. But to accomplish publication by the second day after the debate was a feat which strained the resources of the two offices. On more than one of the seven occasions the newspapers contained apologies to their readers for being late in the morning because of the extra effort to get in the Lincoln and Douglas speeches in full."115
Douglas persistently sought to twist Lincoln's words. At Ottawa, Douglas spoke of his opponent: "I mean nothing personally disrespectful or unkind to that gentleman. I have known him for nearly twenty-five years. There were many points of sympathy between us when we first got acquainted. We were both comparatively boys and both struggling with poverty in a strange land. I was a school teacher in the town of Winchester and he a flourishing grocery-keeper in the town of New Salem. (Applause and laughter). He was more successful in his occupation than I was in mine, and hence more fortunate in this world's goods. Lincoln is one of those peculiar men who perform with admirable skill everything which they undertake. I made as good a school teacher as I could, and when a cabinet-maker I made a good bedstead and table, although my old boss said I succeeded better with bureaus and secretaries than anything else; but I believe that Lincoln was always more successful in business than I, for his business enabled him to get in the Legislature. I met him there, however, and had a sympathy with him because of the up-hill struggle we both had in life. He was then just as good at telling an anecdote as now. ("No doubt." He could beat any of the boys wrestling or running a foot race, pitching quoits or tossing a copper; could ruin more liquor than all the boys in town together, and the dignity and impartiality with which he presided at a horse race or fist fight excited the admiration and won the praise of everybody that was present and participated. I sympathized with him because he was struggling with difficulties and so was I."116
It was a marathon contest for both men as they crisscrossed the state, giving individual speeches and participating in the seven formal debates. Journalist Walter Stevens wrote: "Douglas and Lincoln did not travel together during the campaign. They saw very little of each other until they met upon the platforms at the appointed places. The first debate, at Ottawa, was on the 21stst of August. The seventh was at Alton, on the 15thth of October. The others were scattered along between these dates. The candidates had other engagements which kept them apart. They were moving nearly all of the time. Lincoln made over sixty speeches and Douglas made even more."117
The campaign took its toll on Douglas whose bass voice was not as durable an instrument as the more high-pitched voice of Abraham Lincoln. The Republican candidate also took better care of his body than did Douglas. Historian Richard Allen Heckman wrote: "As the canvass neared its conclusion, the intensity of the campaign began to tell upon Douglas. Gustave Koerner, a prominent Illinois politician who saw the debate at Alton late in the campaign, commented in his Memoirs: 'His face was bronzed, which was natural enough, but it was also bloated, and his looks were haggard, and his voice almost extinct."118
The Senate contest elicited local and national interest. According to a New York Evening Post report on the campaign: "It is astonishing how deep an interest in politics this people take. Over long dreary miles of hot and dusty prairie, the processions of eager partisans come - on foot, on horseback, in wagons drawn by horses or mules; men, women and children, old and young, the half sick just out of the last 'shake'; children in arms, infants at the maternal front, pushing on in clouds of dust and beneath a blazing sun; settling down at the town where the meeting is, with hardly a chance for sitting, and even less opportunity for eating, waiting in anxious groups for hours at the places of speaking, talking, discussing, litigious, vociferous, while the roar of the crowds, as delegation after delegation appears; the cry of pedlars, vending all sorts of wares, from an infallible [sic] cure for 'Agur' to a monster watermelon in slices to suit purchasers - combine to render the occasion one scene of confusion and commotion."119
For both candidates, the campaign was grueling - but particularly so for Douglas who took less care of his health. Lincoln scholar Saul Sigelschiffer wrote: "Not only had he suffered great voice strain, by physically he was exhausted and required rest. He spent the weeks following the canvass recuperating from his ordeal. Lincoln, on the other hand, had thrived on the experience. It was like a tonic. His voice not only grew stronger, but he himself put on some weight."120
Despite winning a majority of votes for the state legislature, Douglas defeatd in the Illinois State Legislature by a margin of 54-46. Nicolay and Hay wrote: "The main cause of Lincoln's defeat was the unfairness of the existing apportionment, which was based upon the census of 1850. A fair apportionment, based on the changes of population which had occurred, would have given northern Illinois a larger representation; and it was there the Republicans had recruited their principal strength in the recent transformation of parties. The Republicans estimated that this circumstance caused them a loss of six to ten members."121 Lincoln scholar Harry V. Jaffa wrote that "while losing the election to the U.S. Senate in the Illinois legislature, Lincoln nonetheless demonstrated his ability to defeat Douglas in a presidential election, where only the statewide popular vote would count."122
Lincoln biographers John Hay and John Nicolay wrote: "After a hundred consecutive days of excitement, of intense mental strain, and of unremitting bodily exertion, after speech-making and parades, music and bonfires, it must be something of a trial to face at once the mortification of defeat, the weariness of intellectual and physical reaction, and the dull commonplace of daily routine. Letters written at this period show that under these conditions Mr. Lincoln remained composed, patient, and hopeful. Two weeks after election he wrote thus to Mr. Judd, a member of the Legislature and Chairman of the Republican State Central Committee: 'I have the pleasure to inform you that I am convalescing and hoping these lines may find you in the same improving state of health. Doubtless you have suspected for some time that I entertain a personal wish for a term in the United States Senate; and had the suspicion taken the shape of the direct charge I think I could not have truthfully denied it. But let the past as nothing be. For the future my view is that the fight must go on. We have some 120,000 clear Republican votes. That pile is worth keeping together. It will elect a State ticket two years hence.;"123
After the election, Mr. Lincoln saw the value of preserving the 1858 debates and wrote Henry C. Whitney: "Being desirous of preserving in some permanent form, the late joint discussions between Douglas and myself, ten days ago I wrote to Dr. Ray requesting him to forward to me, by express, two sets of Nos. of the Tribune, which contain the reports of those discussions. Up to date I have no word from him on the subject. Will you, if in your power procure them and forward them to me by Express? If you will, I will pay all charges, and be greatly obliged to boot.124
On mid-December 1858 Mr. Lincoln wrote Senator Lyman Trumbull: "Since you left, Douglas has gone South, making characteristic speeches, and seeking to re-instate himself in that section. The majority of the democratic politicians of the nation mean to kill him; but I doubt whether they will adopt the aptest way to do it. Their true way is to present him with no new test, let him into the Charleston Convention, and then outvote him, and nominate another. In that case, he will have no pretext for bolting the nomination, and will be as powerless as they can wish. On the other hand, if they push a Slave code upon him, as a test, he will both at once, turn upon us, as in the case of Lecompton, and claim that all Northern men shall make common cause in electing him President as the best means of breaking down the Slaver power. In that case, the democratic party go into a minority inevitably; and the struggle in the whole North will be, as it was in Illinois last summer and fall, whether the Republican party can maintain it's identity, or be broken up to form the tail of Douglas' new kite. Some of our great Republican doctors will then have a splendid chance to swallow the pills they so eagerly prescribed for us last Spring. Still I hope they will not swallow them; and although I do not feel that I owe the said doctors much, I will help them, to the best of my ability, to reject said pills. The truth is, the Republican principle can, in no wise live with Douglas, and it is arrant folly now, as it was last Spring, to waste time, and scatter labor already performed, in dallying with him.125
In September 1859, Mr. Lincoln and Douglas confronted each other again, this time in Ohio but never in the same place or at the same time. Mr. Lincoln was invited to speak as a way to counter Douglas' impact on the Ohio gubernatorial race. In Columbus, Lincoln asked of Douglas: "Is it not a most extraordinary spectacle that a man should stand up and ask for any confidence in his statements, who sets out as he does with portions of history calling upon the people to believe that it is true and fair representation, when the leading part, and controlling feature of the whole history, is carefully suppressed." Lincoln once again attacked popular sovereignty and Douglas's indifference to slavery, saying: He is so put up by nature that a lash upon his back would hurt him, but a lash upon anybody else's back does not hurt him. Laughter. That is the build of the man, and consequently he looks upon the matter of slavery in this unimportant light."126
Douglas' political fortunes were deteriorating. Unfortunately for him, the 1860 Democratic National Convention was held in South Carolina. After several tumultuous days in April, the convention broke up over the issue of slavery. Historian David M. Potter wrote that it was that Douglas supporters "received a rude shock when the chairman of the convention, Caleb Cushing, ruled that two-thirds of the original number of delegate votes was still required to nominate, and an even ruder shock when the New York delegation, which was otherwise supporting Douglas, cast 35 decisive votes to help sustain the decision of the chair, 144 to 108."127 Despite this victory, many Democrats from the Deep South walked out in a conflict over the paty platform. When Democrats reconvened in Baltimore in June, they walked out again. This convention nominated Douglas but breakaway southern Democrats met in Richmond and nominated Vice President John C. Breckinridge in a move that doomed the Douglas ticket.
Douglas nevertheless threw himself into the campaign while Mr. Lincoln remained home in Springfield. Douglas crisscrossed the country alone, first in the North and then in the South as he violated the American political traditions that dictated that he should remain at home as Abraham Lincoln did. Historian Allan Nevins wrote: "Beginning his campaign as a battle for the Presidency, he shortly converted it into one for the Union. Only for the first two months was the Douglas branch of the Democratic Party able to cherish any hopes. Then it became clear that the ticket would run second to Lincoln in most Northern States, to Breckinridge in most Southern, and to bell in the borderland - that the party was fated to a crushing defeat in the electoral college. But Douglas, indomitable, indefatigable, never so formidable as when meeting hopeless odds, turned to a far greater object than popular sovereignty - the cause of national unity., Fiery, ready and able as ever, he imparted this combative spirit to followers."128 Mr. Lincoln was unmoved. In 1860 Mr. Lincoln told a journalist that Senator Douglas "has the most audacity of in maintaining an untenable position. Thus, in endeavoring to reconcile popular sovereignty and the Dred Scott decision, his argument, stripped of sophistry, is: 'It is legal to expel slavery from a territory where it legally exists.' And yet he has bamboozled thousands into believing him."129
The evidence that Douglas was not invincible began to show itself in early October that Republicans would triumph in the North. Most important, Mr. Lincoln carried Pennsylvania and Illinois, which Democrats had carried in 1856. Although Douglas came in second in popular votes, he won only 12 votes in the Electoral College. Douglas was disturbed by the implications of the Lincoln's victory for the country. After the 1860 election Senator Douglas wrote: "No man in America regrets the election of Mr. Lincoln more than I do; none made more strenuous exertions to defeat him; none differ with him more radically and irreconcilably upon all the great issues involved in the contest. No man living is more? prepared to resist, by all the legitimate means, sanctioned by the Constitution and laws of our country, the aggressive policy which he and his party are understood to represent. But, while I say this, I am bound, as a good citizen and law-abiding man, to declare my conscientious conviction that mere election of any man to the Presidency by the American people, in accordance with the Constitution and laws, does not of itself furnish any just cause or reasonable ground for dissolving the Federal Union."130
Speaking in Columbus, Ohio, on his way to Washington, President Lincoln said:
"Knowing, as I do, that any crowd, drawn together as this has been, is made up of the citizens near about, and that in this county of Franklin there is great difference of political sentiment, and those agreeing with me having a little the shortest row, (laughter,) from this, and the circumstances I have mentioned, I infer that you do me the honor to meet me here without distinction of party. I think this is as it should be. If Senator Douglas had been elected to the Presidency in the late contest, I think my friends would have joined heartily in meeting and greeting him on his passage through your Capital, as you have me to-day."131 Douglas himself sought conciliation. Biographer George Fort Milton wrote: "Douglas exerted himself to keep the Radicals from securing control of Lincoln's mind. On the evening of February 27 he had a 'private, earnest talk with Lincoln, and besought him to recommend the 'instant calling of a national convention,' but could not get him to the point of decision."132 Unsuccessfully, Douglas sought Lincoln's support for compromise.
An incident occurred during the inauguration which has become part of American folklore - except that it was reported at the time by Murat Halstead of the Cincinnati Commercial, "One of the Representatives of this State in Congress reports an interesting and rather funny incident of the Inauguration, which, not having seen in print, we record. On approaching the platform where he was to take his oath and be inducted into the office of Chief Executive, Mr. Lincoln removed his hat and held it in his hand as he took the seat assigned him. The article seemed to be a burden. He changed it awkwardly from one to another, and finally, despairing of finding for it any other easy position, deposited it upon the platform near him. Senators and judges crowded in, and to make room for them removed nearer the front of the stage, carrying his tile with him. Again it was dandled uneasily, and as Senator Edward Baker approached to introduce him to the audience he made a motion to replace the tile on the stage under the seat, when Douglas, who had been looking on quietly, and apparently with some apprehensions of a catastrophe to the hat, said, 'Permit me, sir,' and gallantly took the vexatious article, and held it during the entire reading of the Inaugural! Douglas must have reflected pretty seriously during that half hour, that instead of delivering an inaugural address from the portico, he was holding the hat of the man who was doing it."133
Journalist Joseph Howard, Jr., wrote: "There had always been a feeling of friendship existing between Mr. Lincoln and Judge Douglas; and the manner in which the latter acted just prior to the Inauguration, and the gallant part he sustained at that time, as well as afterwards, served to increase their mutual regard and esteem. It was my good fortune to stand by Mr. Douglas during the reading of the Inaugural of President Lincoln. Rumors had been current that there would be trouble at that time, and much anxiety was felt by the authorities and the friends of Mr. Lincoln as to the result. 'I shall be there,' said Douglas, 'and if any man attacks Lincoln, he attacks me, too. As Mr. Lincoln proceeded with his address, Judge Douglas repeatedly remarked, 'Good!' 'That's fair!' 'No backing out there!' 'That's a good point!' etc., indicating his approval of its tone, as subsequently he congratulated the reader and endorsed the document."134 Douglas biographer Allen Johnson wrote: "The ready tact of Mrs. Douglas admirably seconded the initiative of her husband. She was among the first to call upon Mrs. Lincoln, thereby setting the example of the ladies of the opposition. A little incident, to be sure; but in critical hours, the warp and woof of history is made up of just such little acts of thoughtful courtesy. Washington society understood and appreciated the gracious spirit of AdÃ©le Cutts Douglas; and even the New York press commented upon the incident with satisfaction."135
Senator Douglas told Navy Secretary Gideon Welles of President Lincoln: 'Lincoln is honest and means well. He will do well if counseled right. You and I are old Democrats,' he continued, 'and I have confidence in you, though we have differed of late. I was glad when I learned you were to be one of the Cabinet, and have told Lincoln he could safely trust you. William H. Seward has too much influence with him."136 Douglas acted as a force for compromise in the month after Mr. Lincoln's inauguration - especially in efforts to key Virginia in the Union. Historian Nelson D. Lankford noted: "Nothing did more to mollify opinion in the upper South than the rumors about evacuating Fort Sumter that began to filter out of Washington shortly after the inauguration. Stephen Douglas suggested as much in a speech that - even if it was wishful thinking on the senator's part - energized southern unionists." But after Sumter, Douglas changed, according to Lankford: "Douglas, who for so long had counseled compromise, now demanded a resort to overwhelming military force. He personified the transformation of many, though by no means all, wary northern Democrats into advocates of all-out war against secession."137
Douglas still had one more service to perform for President Lincoln. "On Sunday, April 14, 1861, Washington was agitated by the spread of the information of the fall of Fort Sumter, the news of which had arrived the night before," recalled George Ashmun, who decided to enlist Douglas's help for the Lincoln Administration. "On driving to his house, I found him surrounded by quite a number of political friends, whom he, however, soon dismissed with an easy grace on a suggestion of the errand which had brought me there. Our interview lasted an hour or more, and in the course of it the whole nature of his relations to Mr. Lincoln's administration, and his duty to the country, were fully discussed. His first impulse was decidedly against my purposes. I desired him to go with me at once to the President, and made a declaration of his determination to sustain him in the needful measures which the exigency of the hour demanded, to put down the Rebellion which had thus fiercely flamed out in Charleston harbor. I well remember his first reply: 'Mr. Lincoln had dealt hardly with me in removing some of my friends from office, and I don't know as he wants my advice or aid.' My answer was that Mr. Lincoln had probably followed Democratic precedents in making removals; but that the question now presented rose to a higher dignity than could belong to any possible party question; and that it was now in his (Mr. Douglas's) power to render such a service to his country as would not only give him a title to its lasting gratitude, but would at the same time show that in the hour of his country's need he could trample all partisan considerations and resentments under foot."138
Pressured by his wife, Douglas agreed to accompany Ashmun to the White House. "We fortunately found Mr. Lincoln alone, and upon my stating the errand on which we had come, he was most cordial in his welcome, and immediately prepared the way for the conversation which followed, by taking from his drawer and reading to us the draft of the proclamation which he had decided to issue, and which was given to the country the next morning."
As soon as the reading was ended, Mr. Douglas rose from the chair and said: 'Mr. President, I cordially concur in every word of that document, except that instead of a call for seventy-five thousand men I would make it two hundred thousand. You do not know the dishonest purposes of those men (the Rebels) as well as I do' and he then asked us to look with him at the map which hung at one end of the President's room, where in much detail he pointed out the principal strategic points which should be at once strengthened for the coming contest. I venture to say that no two men in the United States parted that night with a more cordial feeling of a united, friendly and patriotic purpose than Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Douglas."139
"Of all the occurrences of this memorable day, this interview between Lincoln and Douglas strikes the imagination with most poignant suggestiveness," wrote Douglas biographer Allen Johnson. "Had Douglas been a less generous opponent, he might have reminded the President that matters had come to just that pass which he had foreseen in 1858. Nothing of the sort passed Douglas's lips. The meeting of the rivals was most cordial and hearty. They held converse as men must when hearts are oppressed with a common burden." ."140 On his way home, Douglas agreed with Ashmun to prepare a press release on the meeting. They went to Ashmun's room at Willard's Hotel where Douglas wrote out his dispatch: "Mr. Douglas called on the President this evening and had an interesting conversation on the present condition of the country. The substance of the conversation was that while Mr. Douglas was unalterably opposed to the administration on all its political issues, he was prepared to sustain the President in the exercise of all his constitutional functions to preserve the Union, and maintain the government and defend the Federal capital. A firm policy and prompt action was necessary. The capital of our country was in danger and must be defended at all hazards, and at any expense of men and money. He spoke of the present and future without reference to the past."141
Douglas biographer Robert W. Johannsen wrote: "The fall of Fort Sumter and Douglas's public avowal of support to the Lincoln administration climaxed several years of struggle during which the Illinois Senator sought to forestall the sectionalization of politics and the disunion he felt would inevitably follow. The breakup of the Democratic party in the spring of 1860, the futility of his campaign for the Presidency, and the secession of the lower South were events of tragic proportions to Douglas. The high office toward which his entire career had pointed had been denied him, his party was a shambles, and disunion had become an accomplished fact. 'All that in years past he had looked for,' observed one of Douglas's close friends, 'all he had struggled for, seemed put forever beyond his reach; and he was from that hour a different man.'"142
Douglas returned to Illinois, preaching support for the Union before and after he arrived. He met with Governor Richard Yates in Springfield and then proceeded to his home him Chicago where he spoke in the same Wigwam where Abraham Lincoln had been nominated by the Republican Party for President. Illinois editor Jeriah Bonham recalled that Douglas's speech 'was an effort worthy of the patriot statesman's life. It was oracular, prophetic, commanding, beseeching and persuading. Its arguments were unanswerable. It was like the words of the prophets of old, appealing to conscience, the heart, and love of country..."The present secession movement is the result of an enormous conspiracy formed more than a year ago. There are only two sides to the question. Every man must be for e the United States or against it. There can be no neutrals in this war; ONLY PATRIOTS - or traitors. I express it as my conviction before God that it is the duty of every American citizen to rally round the flag of his country. Illinois has a proud position, united, firm, determined never to permit the government to be destroyed."143 Historian Mark E. Neely, Jr., noted that "Douglas rushed to pledge fealty to the Union and to denounce partisanship after the fall of Fort Sumter. 'There are but two parties,' he said, 'the party of patriots and the party of traitors. Democrats belong to the first.' That rare example of lofty eloquence from the practical Douglas would often be quoted during the war."144
Senator Douglas and Mr. Lincoln nevertheless retained an unusual esteem for each other. Douglas biographer Gerald M. Capers wrote: "In political fights they hit each other with all they had, but they actually held a genuine regard and respect for one another....Right after the debates the victor wrote a personal letter to President Walker of Harvard, which Lincoln's son Robert had just entered, recommending the lad as the son of his friend Abraham Lincoln 'with whom I have lately been canvassing the State of Illinois.'"145 Illinois Congressman Isaac N. Arnold wrote that "he was a courteous and generous opponent, as is illustrated by the following beautiful allusion to his rival, made in 1858, in one of their joint debates. 'Twenty years ago, Judge Douglas and I first became acquainted; we were both young then; he a trifle younger than I. Even then, we were both ambitious, I perhaps quite as much as he. With me, the race of ambition has been a splendid success. His name fills the nation, and it is not unknown in foreign lands. I affect no contempt for the high eminence he has reached; so reach, that the oppressed of my species might have shared with me in the elevation, I would rather stand on that eminence than wear the richest crown that ever pressed a monarch's brow."146 In his eulogy for Douglas on the floor of Congress, Arnold said that the "personal relations" between Douglas and Mr. Lincoln had been "cordial and friendly."
Lincoln friend Joseph Gillespie recalled that Mr. Lincoln "always admitted that Douglass [sic] was a wonderfully great political leader and with a good cause to advocate he thought he would be invincible."147 A fellow Illinois lawyer recalled Mr. Lincoln's analysis of Douglas: "a very strong logician, that he had very little humor or imagination; but where he had right on his side very few could make a stronger argument; that he was an exceedingly good judge of human nature, knew the people of the state thoroughly and just how to appeal to their prejudices and was a very powerful opponent, both on and off the stump."148