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Full text of "The Lincoln and Douglas debates; an address before the Chicago Historical Society, February 17, 1914"

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FEBRUARY 17. 1914 



3 1129 00435 6069 




Copyright 1914 By 
Chicago Historical Society 

All Rights Reserved 

Published July 1914 

Composed and Printed By 

The University of Chicago Press 

Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. 


The subject of this lecture is the Lincohi and Douglas 
debates. These debates took place in the year 1858. They 
grew out of the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. Doubt- 
less some of you know what the Missouri Compromise was 
and others do not. It is best that all should know, since 
without such knowledge the debates themselves would 
have Httle meaning for you. Fifty-six years have passed 
since those debates took place. One hundred and ten 
years have passed since President Jefferson bought Louisi- 
ana from Napoleon Bonaparte. Missouri Territory^ was a 
part of the Louisiana Purchase. Without that purchase 
H there would have been no IMissouri Compromise, and no 
W"- repeal of it in 1854, and no Lincoln and Douglas debates 
on account thereof. 

But there was a remoter and deeper cause for that 
encounter. President Jefferson might have bought Louisi- 
ana with its vast hinterland, and his successors might have 
carved Missouri out of it and admitted her to the l)nion as 
a state, without any disturbance, had not African slavery 
existed in this country. That direful curse was ingrafted 
upon us in the year 16 10 at Jamestown, Virginia, where a 
Dutch warship, short of provisions, exchanged fourteen 
negroes for a supply thereof. Few persons of the present 
day reahze how shocking a comlition of society slaver} was. 
It was a condition in which some millions of human beings 
had no rights whatsoever, among whom the marriage relation 

did not exisi, and where the privilege of virtue was 
denied to women. This institution was common to all 
the American colonies until the end of the Revolutionary 
War. Then began an emancipation movement of which 
Thomas Jefferson was the most ardent and inffucntial 
advocate. He did not, however, gain sufficient support 
for it in Virginia or in Maryland to aboHsh slavery 
there, but in all the states north of Maryland measures 
were initiated for that purpose before the end of the 
eighteenth century. 

After the emancipation movement came to a pause, at 
the southern border of Pennsylvania, the fact became ap- 
parent that there was a dividing line between free states 
and slave states, and a feeling existed in both sections that 
neither of them ought to acquire a preponderance of power 
and mastery over the other. The slavery question was not 
then an issue in poHtics, but a habit grew up of admitting 
new states to the Union in pairs, in order to maintain a 
balance of power in the national Senate. Thus Kentucky 
and Vermont offset each other, then Tennessee and 
Ohio, then Louisiana and Indiana, »^then Mississippi and 

In 1819 Alabama, a new slave state, was admitted to the 
Union and there was no free state to balance it. The terri- 
tory of Missouri, in which slavery existed, also was apply- 
ing for admission. While Congress was considering the 
Missouri bill, Mr. Talmadge of New York, with a view to 
preserving the balance of power, off"ered an amendment 
providing for the gradual emancipation of slaves in the 
proposed state, and prohibitmg the introduction of addi- 
tional slaves. This amendment was adopted by the House 
by a sectional vote, nearly all the northern members voting 
for it and the southern ones against it, but it was rejected 
by the Senate. 

In the following year the Missouri question came up 
afresh and Senator Thomas of Illinois proposed, as a 
compromise, that Missouri should be admitted to the 
Union vdth slavery, but that in all the remaining territory 
north of 36°3o' north latitude slavery should be forever 
prohibited. This amendment was adopted and the bill 
was passed. The Missouri Compromise was generally 
considered a victory for the South, but Thomas Jefferson 
considered it the death knell of the Union. H6 was still 
living, at the age of seventy-seven. He saw what this 
sectional rift portended, and he wrote to John Holmes, one 
of his correspondents, under date of April 22, 1820: 

This momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened 
me and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of 
the Union. It is hushed, indeed, for the moment. But this is a 
reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding 
with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and 
held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated and 
every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper. 

In short, there was already an irrepressible conflict in 
our land. There was a fixed opinion in the North that 
slavery was an evil which ought not to be extended and 
enlarged. There was a grovvdng opinion in the South that 
such extension was a vital necessity and that the South, 
in contending for it, was contending for existence. The 
prevailing thought in that quarter was that the southern 
people were on the defensive, that they were resisting aggres- 
sion. In this feeling they were sincere and they gave 
expression to it in very hot temper. 

Two treaties with Mexico following the war with that 
country- in 1846-48 brought into our possession, partly by 
conquest and partly by purchase, the territory now embraced 
in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and Cali- 
fornia. Slaver}' did not exist in any part of this region, 

having been abolished and prohibited by the constitution 
of Mexico, but as it had been introduced into Texas in 
spite of the local law, pubhc sentiment in the North was 
keenly aUve to the danger of a similar result elsewhere. 
So when a bill came before Congress in 1846 to appropriate 
money preliminary to the first treaty, a proviso was moved 
by Mr. Wiimot, of Pennsylvania, to the effect that neither 
slavery nor involuntary servitude should ever exist in any 
territory to be thus acquired. The House promptly adopted 
it but it was rejected by the Senate, and the fight over the 
Wiimot Pro\'iso continued for several years. Abraham 
Lincoln was a member of Congress during two of those 
years and he voted for the Wiimot Proviso in one form or 
another about forty times. 

The discovery of gold in Cahfornia in 1848 caused such 
a rush of immigrants to the Pacific Coast that, while 
Congress was stiU wrangling over the Wiimot Pro\dso and 
the spoils of the ivlexican War, the new settlers in California 
came together in June, 1849, formed a state constitution 
prohibiting slavery, and apphed for admission to the Union. 
Here was an accomplished fact, which could not be ignored 
or postponed. Henr>^ Clay brought forward a series of 
bills, which, when finally passed, became known^as the 
Compromise Measures of 1850. They included, among 
other things, the admission of Cahfornia as a free state and 
the organization of all the other territory in dispute, with- 
out either the prohibition or the admission of slavery therein. 
It was Mr. Clay's opinion that slavery was already prohibited 
there by the law of Mexico. It was Mr. Webster's opinion 
that it was prohibited also by the law of nature; that is, by 
climate and topographical conditions. 

The Compromise Measures of 1850 were assumed by 
all political parties to be a final settlement of the slaver>' 
question as far as Congress was concerned. The Demo- 

crats carried the presidential election of 1852, and the in- 
coming president, Franldin Pierce, in his first message to 
Congress, declared that the repose which those measures 
had brought to the public councils should not be disturbed 
during his term of office, if he had power to prevent it. 
This was a vain conception, for within sixty days there- 
after he had agreed to support a bill to repeal the Missouri 
Compromise. This agreement was made at the instance of 
Senator Douglas of Illinois, supported by Jefferson Davis, 
secretary of war, at an interv-iew in the White House on 
Sunday, January- 22, 1854. 

Douglas was then forty-one years of age. He had been 
in Congress ten years and had reached the foremost place 
there, his great predecessors, Webster, Clay, Calhoun, and 
John Quincy Adams, having just passed away. Born in 
Vermont in 18 13, he had drifted westward at the age of 
twenty to seek his fortune. He effected lodgment at Jack- 
sonville, Illinois, in 1833. Nobody ever began the battle 
of life in humbler surroundings or with smaller pecuniary- 
resources. Yet his advance was so rapid that it seemed as 
though he had only to ask anything from his fellow-citizens 
in order to have it given to him more abundantly than he 
desired. He had filled the offices of State's Attorney, 
Member of the Legislature, Secretary of State, Judge of the 
Supreme Court, Representative in Congress, and Senator 
of the United States, and had been a formidable candidate 
for the presidency in the Democratic National Convention 
of 1852 which nominated Pierce. In the Democratic party 
he had forged to the front by \irtue of boldness in leadership, 
untiring industr>^, boundless ambition and self-confidence, 
engaging manners, gi-eat capacity as a party organizer, and 
unsurpassed powers as an orator and debater. He had a 
large head, surmounted by an abundant mane, which gave 
the appearance of a lion prepared to roar or crush his 

prey, and the resemblance was not seldom confirmed when 
he opened his mouth on the stump or in the Senate 
chamber. Although patriotic beyond a doubt, he was 
color blind to moral principles in politics, and if not 
stone blind to the evils of slavery was deaf and dumb 
to any expression concerning them. In stature he 
was only five feet four inches high, but he had earned 
the title of "Little Giant" before he ever held a public 
office, and he kept it undisputed till the day of his death. 
WTien he began his pubHc career he had for competitors 
and rivals in his near neighborhood, Abraham Lincoln, 
Lyman Trumbull, Edward D. Baker, O. H. Browning, 
Richard Yates, and several other men who gained 
national reputation and position, all of whom he distanced 
in the race for preferment up to the time when he linked his 
fortunes with the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. Ln 
1854 he filled the public eye in larger measure than any other 
American, not excepting President Buchanan. He was the 
only man then living who could have carried that measure 
through Congress. He was the only northern man who 
would have had the audacity to propose it. Nor would any 
southern statesman have ventured to take such a step then 
if he had not led the way. 

On the 5th of December, 1853, Senator Dodge, of Iowa, 
introduced a bill to organize the Territory of Nebraska, 
embracing all the unorganized country west of the state of 
Missouri and north of 36°3o' north latitude. It said nothing 
about slavery. It was referred to the Committee on Terri- 
tories, of which Douglas was chairman. Douglas reported 
it back with an amendment pro\iding "that all questions 
pertaining to slavery in the territories, and in the new states 
to be formed therefrom are to be left to the decision of the 
people residing therein through their appropriate repre- 
sentatives." In a report accompanying the bill he said: 

Stephen Arnold Douglas 
From a photograph supposed to have been made in 1858 

The principles established by the Compromise Measures of 1850, so 
far as they are applicable to territorial organizations, are proposed 
to be affirmed and carried into practical operation within the limits 
of the new territory. 

This was an unexpected revelation and a ver>' startling 
one to the people of the free states, who had never imagined 
that the Compromise of 1850 reached backward as well as 
forward so as to render the Missouri Compromise of 1820 
nugatory and void. Yet a careful reading of Douglas' 
amendment shows that it did not repeal the Missouri Com- 
promise, for it did not open the door to the admission of any 
slaves. It was merely a provision that if the people of the 
territory should ask to be admitted to the Union as a slave 
state, without ever having had a slave in their borders, they 
should be allowed to come in. It was hardly possible that 
such a thing could happen. 

Senator Dixon of Kentucky, the successor of Henry 
Clay, saw the point at once. He moved an amendment to 
Douglas' bill so as to repeal the Missouri Compromise 
outright and admit slavery to the new territory if any 
slave-owners desired to carry them there. Douglas was 
disconcerted by this motion. He went to Dixon's seat and 
urged him to withdraw it, saying that it w^ould most prob- 
ably defeat the bill and prevent the organization of the 
territory altogether. Dixon was inflexible. Douglas hesi- 
tated a few days but finally accepted Dixon's amendment, 
and after a desperate struggle in Congress and amid intense 
excitement throughout the country it eventually passed 
both houses and was approved by President Pierce. 

When the biU actually became a law there was a poHti- 
cal explosion in every northern state. The old parties 
were rent asunder and a new one began to fonn in order to 
prevent the extension of slavery into the new territories. 
Abraham Lincoln was at this time a country lawyer in 


Springfield, Illinois, with a not very lucrative practice, but 
he was a very popular story-teller. In fact, he was not 
exactly the leader of the bar. To reach the front rank in 
the legal profession one must give his undi\'ided attention 
and best energies to it. Lincoln never did so. He was, 
first of all, a poHtician, using this phrase in its best sense — a 
man absorbed in the contemplation of pubhc affairs and 
the desire to participate therein. He had been a member of 
Congress one term, but in 1854 he was practically shelved, 
without a hope of obtaining any higher place than the one 
he had filled last, or even of obtaining that one again. He 
belonged to the Whig party, which was the minority party 
in Illinois. He had followed Clay and Webster in sup- 
porting the Compromise Measures of 1850, including the 
fugitive slave law of that period, for although a hater of 
slavery he believed that the Constitution required the 
extradition of slaves escaping into the free states. 

He was startled by the repeal of the Missouri Com- 
promise. Without that awakening, which came like an 
electric shock to all the northern states, he would doubtless 
have remained in comparative obscurity. He would have 
continued riding the circuit in central Illinois, making a 
scanty living as a lawyer, entertaining tavern loungers 
with funny stories, and would have passed away unhonored 
and unsung. He was now roused to new activity. For the 
first time the thought broke upon him that this country 
could not permanently endure haK slave and half free. He 
enunciated it to a friend and fellow-circuit-rider, Mr. T. 
Lyle Dickey, shortly after the news arrived of the passage 
of the Nebraska bill. Dickey persuaded him not to give 
public expression to that thought at present, since Douglas 
and his supporters would construe it as a hope that the 
free states might be separated from the slave states and the 
Union come to an end. Lincoln promised to be careful of 

his words for the time being; but to his partner, Herndon, 
he said that the day of compromise had now passed, that 
either slavery or freedom must conquer, that they were 
deadly antagonists which had thus far been held apart, but 
that some day they would break their bonds and come to 
a death grapple, and then the great question would be 

Douglas' Nebraska bill was based upon the principle of 
''popular sovereignty" or "sacred right of self-government" 
or "right of the people to govern themselves" — three names 
for the same thing. Yet it was not a new thing. It l^ad 
been expounded by General Cass, the Democratic nominee 
for president in 1848. It was then termed "squatter sover- 
eignty." " Popular sovereignty " was a more orotund phrase 
and Douglas was a more orotund speaker than Cass. He 
made such skilful and incessant use of it and rang so many 
changes on it, that he finally called it "my great principle" 
and led many unthinking people to believe, not merely that 
he had been the first to apply it to our outlying territories, 
but that he was the original inventor of it as a form of 
human government. It constituted the backbone, the piece 
de resistance, of his speeches in Congress and everjrwhere, 
including the joint debates with Lincoln. 

Obviously the first thing to be done in any controversy 
with him touching the Nebraska biU would be to expose 
the ignis fatuus of Popular Sovereignty. 

The Lincoln and Douglas debates, as commonly under- 
stood, are those of 1858, seven in number, when the two 
champions were candidates for the United States Senate. 
But in fact, the debates of 185S were only a continuation of 
the debate between the same champions in 1854, when the 
repeal of the Missouri Compromise was a fresh subject of 
dispute and when the poHtical elements from which the 
Republican party was cast were in the boiling and bubbling 

stage. It was my good fortune to hear the debates of both 

Douglas came home in September, 1854, to defend his 
course in repealing the Missouri Compromise. He first 
made an attempt to do so at Chicago but the people were 
intensely hostile to him and literally hooted him from the 
platform. His next appearance was at Springfield, Octo- 
ber 3, where the state fair was in progress. He spoke in the 
Representative hall of the state house. His speech was, for 
the most part, a repetition of his arguments in the Senate on 
the Nebraska bill, a seductive presentation of the doctrine 
of Popular Sovereignty, and an attempt to show that the 
Missouri Compromise had been repealed in principle by the 
Compromise Measures of 1850. 

On the followdng day Lincoln replied to Douglas in the 
same hall (Douglas himseK being present) in a great speech, 
one of the world's masterpieces of argumentative power and 
moral grandeur. This was the first speech made by him 
that gave a true measure of his qualities. It was the first 
pubhc occasion that laid a strong hold upon his conscience 
and stirred the depths of his nature. It was the first 
speech of his that I was privileged to hear. I was then 
twenty years of age. The impression made upon me was 
overwhelming and it has lost nothing by the lapse of time. 
I have read it often since, and always with thankfulness that 
we had the right man in the right place at that critical 
juncture, to uphold the banner of righteousness and make a 
rallying-point for the lovers of freedom in the Northwest. 
It was a profoundly serious speech. The thought impressed 
upon its hearers was their solemn responsibility to God and 
man and future generations, to uphold the principles of free 
government, without flinching or doubting or wavering. 
In the whole twenty-nine pages of the speech there is 
not a line of levity, nothing to provoke a smile, although 

Mr. Lincoln was an unrivaled master of humor on all proper 
occasions. He was at this time forty-five years of age, at 
the prime of life, at tht maturity of his powers. He never 
made a better speech than this one, although the Cooper 
Institute speech is on the same plane with it. Of the latter 
Horace Greeley said that it was the greatest speech he had 
ever listened to, although he had heard several of Webster's 
best. In Mr. Lincoln's complete writings the speech we 
have been considering is styled the Peoria speech, because 
it was delivered at Peoria twelve days later, and soon after- 
ward published from his own manuscript, although he did 
not use any notes whatever when speaking. 

Before coming to the joint debates of 1858, 1 will briefly 
note Mr. Lincoln's answer to Douglas' Popular Sovereignty 
dogma, or "sacred right of self-government." He said that 
the right of self-government was absolutely and eternally 
right but that whether it included the right to hold negroes 
as slaves in Nebraska, or anywhere, depended upon whether 
a negro was, or was not, a man. If he was not a man. he 
might be reduced to servitude without any violation of the 
doctrine of self-government; but if he was a man, he, too, had 
the right to govern himself. To deny him that right was a 
total destruction of the doctrine of self-government. "If 
it is a sacred right for the people of Nebraska," he added, 
"to take and hold slaves there, it is equally their sacred 
right to buy them where they can buy them cheapest, and 
that will undoubtedly be on the coast of Africa, provided 
you consent not to hang men for going there to buy them." 
In his later debates Mr. Lincoln applied to this Popular 
Sovereignty humbug a more crisp, sententious definition, 
saying it meant that "if A wanted to make a slave of B, no 
third man had a right to object." 

Between the debates of 1854 and those of 1858 two things 
of importance occurred. One was the Kansas war between 

the Free State men and the Pro-slavery men. Included in 
this strife were the raids of non-residents, commonly called 
"border ruffians," from Missouri into Kansas, to seize the 
ballot boxes and control the elections. The other was the 
attempt of the Pro-slavery party in 1857 to get Kansas 
admitted to the Union as a state under the Lecompton 
Constitution, without submitting it to the people for rati- 
fication or rejection. In this attempt President Buchanan 
sided with the Lecomptonites, although he had assured the 
governor of the territory, Robert J. Walker, that the Con- 
stitution should be so submitted. Douglas took the con- 
trary view and insisted that the Constitution ought to be 
submitted to the vote of the people at a fair election, and 
that any different course would be a barefaced fraud upon 
Kansas, and a national crime. To this position he adhered 
in spite of the whole power of the administration, but he 
said repeatedly that he cared not whether slavery was voted 
up or voted down. His opposition to the Lecompton meas- 
ure did not change the majority in the Senate, but it did 
have that effect in the House. It killed Lecompton. His 
course in this matter was so great a reinforcement to the 
Republicans — it took such a burden of apprehension and 
dread off their minds, and it held out such promise of future 
assistance — that the leaders of the party in the eastern 
states, including Seward and Greeley, strongly favored the 
policy of joining forces to re-elect Douglas, w^hose senatorial 
term was about to expire. The Republicans of Illinois, 
however, did not think that Douglas could be trusted under 
all possible circumstances. They had to judge of his future 
course by his past, and they accordingly rejected the advice 
of their eastern friends and nominated Lincoln as their 
candidate for the Senate. If they had followed the advice 
of their eastern friends, the Lincoln and Douglas debates 
of 1858 would never have taken place, Lincoln would not 


,3^^. A^s^ ^^^--^ ^., -/^^--- ^ ^=^ ^^..^---^ 


have been brought mto the limelight and made a presi- 
dential possibility in i860, and the whole course of history 
would have been changed. Douglas was the cj-nosure of all 
eyes then. The people of distant states and communities 
came to know Lincoln, not because of his own merits, but 
because he was pitted against Douglas. Few persons out- 
side of IlHnois supposed that he would stand up long under 
the blows of his expert and bard-hitting antagonist. 

The debates of 1858 WTre the result of a challenge given 
by Lincoln to Douglas to divide the time and address the 
people from the same platform throughout the campaign. 
Douglas hesitated about accepting the challenge. His 
friends urged him to decline it, not because they feared that 
Douglas would be worsted in the encounter, but because 
his greater fame would draw crowds of people who would 
otherwar^e never hear Lincoln at all. This was quite true. 
Although Douglas is now remembered chiefly because of 
his association with Lincoln, the case was far different 

Douglas, however, did not dare to refuse the challenge. 
If he had refused, the RepubUcans would have said that he 
was afraid to meet Lincohi on the stump, and there would 
have been a modicum of truth in the statement. He 
therefore accepted the challenge but he limited it to se\-en 
debates in the whole state. 

The main issue of the campaign was the extension of 
slavery to new territory. Lincoln's contention was that it 
ought not to be extended. Why ought it not to be extended ? 
Because it was wrong per se and because it kept the country 
in a constant broil and strife and tended to disrupt the 
Union. At the convention where Lincoln was nominated 
for senator he read a brief speech from manuscript. It was 
a calm^ dispassionate argument. At or near the begin- 
ning of it he used the words which have been so often 

quoted: "A house divided against itself cannot stand. I 
beKeve this government cannot endure permanently half 
slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dis- 
solved — I do not expect the house to fall — ^but I do expect 
it will cease to be divided. It will become all one t>hing or all 
the other," etc. He then proceeded to show the steps taken 
during recent years to make slavery a national instead of a 
local institution by means of the Nebraska bill, and by the 
decision of the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case. In 
this case the court held that no negro slave, or descendant 
of such slave, could bring a suit for his freedom m the courts 
of the United States. The court decided also in this case 
that any citizen had a constitutional right to migrate to any 
territory with his slave property and hold slaves there. 
In order to make slavery a national instead of a local institu- 
tion, Mr. Lincoln contended, it was only necessar>^ for the 
people generally to fall into the habit of not caring whether 
slavery was voted dowTi or voted up, and of acquiescing in 
the doctrine that negroes had no rights which they could 
enforce in the courts of law. 

I happened to be on the platform with Mr. Lincoln, as a 
reporter, when this speech was delivered, and after the con- 
vention adjourned he handed me his manuscript and asked 
me to read the proof of it at the office of the Illinois State 
Journal, where it had already been put in type. He said 
to me that he had been urged by his friends in Springfield 
not to use the words, *'this government cannot endure 
permanently half slave and haK free," because the phrase 
would be misinterpreted and misrepresented and would 
probably cause his defeat in the election, but that his mind 
was made up and he was determined to use those very 
words, because they were true and because the time had 
come to say so. He said he would rather be defeated in the 
election than keep silent or half silent any longer. 

At this convention Lincoln was nominated for United 
States senator by the Repubhcan party on the motion of 
Charles L. Wilson of the Chicago Evening Journal. It was 
not customary to nominate men for the Senate in this way. 
I think this was the first occasion on which such a nomina- 
tion had been made by any political party. Wilson took 
this step without consultation with anybody, in order to 
put a stop to a rumor which had been put in circulation 
by the supporters of Douglas that if the Republicans should 
win the next legislature they would elect John Wentworth as 
senator. To put an end to this clap-trap Wilson made his 
motion in the convention, and it was adopted unanimously. 

Douglas was a past-master of the art of political display 
and dazzle. He started on this campaign in the directors' 
car of the Illinois Central Railway and with a platform car 
attached, on which was mounted a brass cannon with a 
supply of ammunition to announce his arrival at the places 
where he was to speak. These conveniences were placed 
at his service by George B. McCleilan, the vice-president 
of the road, afterward General McCleilan. Douglas was 
accompanied also by the lady to whom he had been married 
two years earlier, formerly Miss Adele Cutts, of Washington 
City, a grandniece of Dolly Madison. I saw her frequently 
during the campaign, and I never beheld a more queenly per- 
son. Her mere presence gained votes for her husband, with- 
out any effort of her own. 

1^ The first joint debate in pursuance of the agreement was 
at Ottawa, August 21. It took place in the open air, as 
did all the other debates. The state was now pretty well 
stirred up. Expectation was on tiptoe. The people \^^thin 
reaching distance of Ottawa by rail or by water or by 
wagon road were astir. Local committees on both sides 
had made the customary arrangements of processions on 
foot and on horseback, with banners and band wagons and 

every kind of apparatus, including cannon, to announce the 
arrival of the champions. My own anticipations regarding 
the assemblage were high but the reality surpassed them. 
The sky was cloudless, but it had been very dry of late, 
so that the dust rose at every slight movement on the 
surface. I had early taken a position on elevated ground 
overlooking the town and surrounding country. Some 
hours before the time fixed for the speaking, clouds of dust 
began to rise on the horizon along the roads leading to the 
place, from all points of the compass, and these clouds 
became more frequent and more dense as the hours 
rolled on. 

There were large wagons with four-horse teams for the 
accommodation of political clubs, heavily loaded and bearing 
canvas signs indicating their habitation and their political 
belonging. Long before the speakers and reporters ascended 
the platform, the public square where the meeting took place, 
and the avenues leading thereto, were densely packed with 
human beings, who had also SAvarmed upon the platform 
itseK and its timber supports, and had filled the windows of 
all houses within earshot. The crowd was so dense that the 
speakers and their appointed escort had much dif&culty in 
reaching their places and while they were doing so one corner 
of the platform gave way with its superincumbent popula- 
tion, but nobody was hurt. At all the other joint debates, 
except those of Jonesboro and Alton, which were in the part 
of Illinois called ''Egypt," similar crowds and scenes were 
witnessed, the largest assemblage of all, according to my 
memoranda, being at Galesburg. 

Douglas opened the debate with one hour at Ottawa. 
It was in his best style. He had a clarion voice and a 
smooth, compulsive, unhesitating flow of words, without 
ornament, going straight to the subject-matter wdth grace 
of manner and rapidity and ease of delivery which made it a 

pleasure to listen to him. But this fluency covered many 
rocks and quicksands. He was gifted with the faculty of 
gUding deftly from one thing to another, turning the hearers' 
attention away from the real subject of debate so adroitly 
that the break would not be noticed, and presently the 
audience would be swimming in a new channel in company 
with him, not having missed the connection with the main 
theme. This skill in legerdemain constituted the cliief 
part of Douglas' first hour at Ottawa, and the only part 
which need be noticed here. It related to Lincoln's saying 
that this government could not endure permanently half 
slave and half free. Why not? he asked. Didn't our 
fathers make it so? Didn't Washington and Jefferson, 
Franklin and Madison, Hamilton and Jay leave each state 
perfectly free to do as it pleased about slavery ? Why could 
it not exist on the same principles still? "Suppose," he 
said, "this doctrine of uniformity preached by Mr. Lincoln, 
that the states should all be free or all slave, had prevailed, 
what would have been the result?" As there were then 
twelve slave-holding states and only one free state, slavery 
would have been fastened upon the whole thirteen. "If 
uniformity had been adopted when the government was 
established it must inevitably have been uniformity of 
slavery everywhere or else uniformity of negro citizenship 
and negro equality everywhere." 

Here was the assumption adroitly introduced that 
Lincoln was "preaching" the doctrine of uniformity, and 
that uniformity meant that all states must be free or 
all slave, and that if all were free then negro equaHty 
must prevail everywhere. He went on to say that he 
did not question Mr. Lincoln's conscientious belief that 
the negro was made his equal and his brother, but for 
his own part he denied such equality and brotherhood 


It perhaps occurred to him then that he was talking to 
an audience composed in large part of anti-slavery men. So 
he added these words : 

I do not hold that because the negro is our inferior therefore he 
ought to be a slave. By no means can such a conclusion be drawn 
from what I have said. On the contrary, I hold that humanity and 
Christianity both require that the negro shall have and enjoy every 
right, every privilege, and every immimity consistent with the safety 
of the society in which he lives. The question then arises what 
rights and privileges are consistent with the public good. This is a 
question which each state and each territory must decide for itself. 

So this fine outburst of justice and generosity to the 
negro ended in the reaffirmance of the "sacred right of 
self-government," meaning that if A and B want to make 
slaves of C and D, no other person has the right to object. 

Douglas concluded his half-hour with the expressed 
belief that if the new doctrine "preached by Lincoln/' 
i.e., the doctrine of all one thing or all the other, should 
prevail, it would dissolve the Union. 

Douglas ended in a whirlwind of applause and Lincoln 
began to speak in a slow and rather awkward way. He had 
a thin tenor, or rather falsetto, voice, almost as high- 
pitched as a boatswain's whistle. It could be heard farther 
and it had better wearing qualities than Douglas' rich 
baritone, but it was not so impressive to the listeners. 
Moreover, his words did not flow in a rushing, unbroken 
stream Uke Douglas'. He sometimes stopped for repairs 
before finishing a sentence, especially at the beginning of a 
speech. After getting fairly started, and lubricated, as it 
were, he went on without any noticeable hesitation, but he 
never had the ease and grace and finish of his adversary. 
Both his mind and his body worked more slowly than 
Douglas'. Nobody ever caught Douglas napping. He was 
quick as a flash to answer any question put to him in debate, 

Abraham Lincoln 

Photograph by Alexander Hesler, Chicago; probably 
made in 1858. 

and not infrequently his reply, although a manifest non 
sequitur, would be delivered with a wealth and overplus of 
words and an air of assurance, and pity for the ignorance 
of his questioner, quite confusing to the latter. Lincoln 
required time to gather himself in such emergencies, but he 
never failed to find his footing and to mamtain it firmly 
when he had found it. What he lacked in mental agility 
and alertness he made up in moral superiority and blazing 
earnestness that came from his heart and went straight to . 
those of his hearers. 

As Lincoln had not preached any doctrine of aU one thing 
or all the other, but had merely pouited out the tendency 
and logical consequence of the spread of slavery into new 
regions, it was easy for him to expose Douglas' sophistry and 
to show, as he said, that it was "a specious and fantastic 
arrangement of words by which a man can prove a horse 
chestnut to be a chestnut horse."' .\nd in regard to negro 
equahty, it was not difficult to point out that Douglas had 
put civil rights and political and social privileges all in a 
mortar and brayed them together hi such fashion that the 
several things could not be easil}' distinguished. After 
separating them and defining the various kinds of equahty 
that might exist in mundane affairs he afiirmed that, in the 
right to eat the bread that his own hand had earned, the 
negro was the equal of Judge Douglas and of every living 
man. This may seem now a very trivial matter, not worth 
recaUing, but in fact Douglas never allowed Lincoln to drop 
it. He continued to charge him with the desire to bring 
about negro equahty and amalgamation, to the end of the 

4l Six days later the two champions met again at Freeport. 
This debate has become the most famous of the whole 
series by reason of a question which Lincohi put to Douglas 
and v/hich the latter answered. Certain questions had been 

put by Douglas to Lincoln at Ottawa which were not of 
much consequence in the long run, and when Lincoln 
answered them he claimed the right to ask an equal number 
in return. Among them was this: "Can the people of a 
United States territory, in any lawful way, against the wish 
of any citizen of the United States, exclude slavery from its 
limits prior to the formation of a state constitution?" 

Douglas' Popular Sovereignty and his whole campaign 
were bottomed on the idea that the people of a territory 
could admit slavery, or exclude it, just as the majority 
might decide. But the southern people, particularly those 
of the Cotton States, had come by slow degrees to a differ- 
ent opinion. As long ago as 1848, William L. Yancey, of 
Alabama, who has been rightly styled the "orator of seces- 
sion," laid down the doctrine that the people of a territory 
could not, prior to the formation of a state constitution, 
prevent any citizen of the LTnited States from settling in 
such territory with his property, whether slave property 
or other. This doctrine had now received the sanction of 
the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case. 

On the evening before the Freeport debate Lincoln had a 
conference with some of his party friends at which the ques- 
tion was considered whether it would be wise to put the 
foregoing question to Douglas or not. All of the gentlemen 
present counseled him not to do so because Douglas would 
reply in the affirmative in order to save his election as 

It was Lincoln's opinion that Douglas was the only 
Democrat who could command sufficient strength in the 
North to be elected president in i860, and that if he were 
not nominated the Republicans would win that fight. It 
was his opinion also that if Douglas should reply that the 
people of a territory could exclude slavery, the South would 
turn against him, and he could not get the nomination for 

president in i860 or any other time. So he decided to put 
the question, and when his friends still remonstrated, saying 
that he was throwing away the battle, he said: "I am after 
larger game; the battle of i860 is worth a hundred of this." 
Of course, neither he nor anybody else then anticipated that 
the larger game of i860 would be bagged by himself. 

This was not the first time that Douglas had been con- 
fronted with this puzzling query. Senator Trumbull had 
put it to him in a debate in the Senate more than two years 
earHer, on the 9th of June, 1856. At that tune, however, 
the Dred Scot decision had not been rendered. So Douglas 
replied that it was a judicial question and that he and all 
good Democrats would conform to the decision when it 
should be made. After the decision was made he conceived 
the idea of territorial unfriendliness as a means for keeping 
slaver}" out of a territory notwithstanding it had a legal 
right to go in, and he announced this doctrine, before the 
joint debates began, in two public speeches in Illinois, at one 
of which Lincoln himself was present. 

''Douglas' reply at Freeport was that, no matter what the 
Supreme Court might decide, the people of a territory could 
exclude slavery by failing to give it legal protection, or by 
enacting unfriendly legislation. "Slavery cannot exist a 
day or an hour any^vhere," he said, "unless it is supported 
by local pohce regulations. , . . . Hence no matter what 
the decision of the Supreme Court may be on that abstract 
question, still the right of the people to make a slave territory 
or a free territory is perfect and complete under the Nebraska 

\^ The next joint debate took place at Jonesboro, in "Lower 
Egypt." This was in a region where the Republican votes 
were so few that they were usually classified as "scattering." 
The audience was the smallest of the series, rather less than 
one thousand. Mr. Lincoln here took up Douglas' Freeport 

speech and demolished it completely. He showed that it 
was not true that slavery could not exist unless supported by 
local police regulations, for in fact slaver>^ always began 
without legislation and so continued until it became so 
extensive as to require legislation to regulate and support it. 
It began in this way in our own country in 1619. Dred 
Scott himself was held as a slave in Minnesota without any 
local poUce regulations. But if citizens had a constitutional 
right to take slaves into a territory and hold them there as 
property, the local legislature would be bound to afford them 
aU needful protection, and faihng to do so Congress would 
be bound to supply the deficiency. The logic of this posi- 
tion was unassailable. The only way that Douglas could 
reply was by likening slavery to liquor-sellmg, saying that 
if a man should take a stock of liquors to a territory, his 
right to sell it there would be subject to the local law and 
if that were unfriendly it would drive him out just as 
effectually as though there were a constitutional prohibi- 
tion of liquor-selling. This was another example of his 
skill in juggling with words. If liquor-seUing in territories 
were a constitutional right no territorial law could render 
that right nugatory. 

Although Douglas' answer at Freeport blocked liis road 
to the Charleston nomination, it saved him the senatorship. 
If he had said that the people of a territory could not, under 
the Dred Scott decision, keep slavery out of a territory, his 
whole fabric of Popular Sovereignty and sacred right of 
self-government would have fallen into ruin and he would 
have been buried immediately under the heap. 
^Aiter the Freeport joint debate and before that of Jones- 
boro, we went to Carlinville, Macoupin County, where 
John M. Palmer divided the time with Mr. Lincoln. From 
this place we went to Clinton, DeWitt County, via Spring- 
field and Decatur. During this journey an incident 


occurred which gave unbounded mirth to Mr. Lincoln at 
m\- expense. 

We left Springfield about nine o'clock in the evening for 
Decatur, where we were to change cars and take the north- 
bound train on the lUinois Central Railway. I was very 
tired and I curled myself up as best I could on the seat to 
take a nap, asking Mr. Lincoln to wake me up at Decatur, 
which he promised to do. I went to sleep, and when I did 
awake I had the sensation of having been asleep a long time. 
It was daylight and I knew that we should have reached 
Decatur before midnight. Mr. Lincoln's seat was vacant. 
While I was pulling myself together, the conductor opened 
the door of the car and shouted, "State Line!" This was 
the name of a shabby little town on the border of Indiana. 
There was nothing to do but to get out and wait for the next 
train going back to Decatur. About six o'clock in the 
evening I found my way to Clinton. The meeting was over, 
of course, and the Chicago Tribune had lost its expected 
report, and I was out of pocket for railroad fares. I wended 
my way to the house of Mr. C, H. Moore, where Mr. Lincoln 
was staying and where I too had been an expected guest. 
When j\Ir. Lmcoln saw me coming up the garden path, his 
lungs began to crow like a chanticleer, and I thought he 
would laugh, sans intermission, an hour by his dial. He 
paused long enough to say that he also had fallen asleep 
and did not wake up till the train was starting/rom Decatur. 
He had very nearly been carried past the station himself, 
and, in his haste to get out, had forgotten all about his 
promise to waken me. Then he began to laugh again. 
The affair was so irresistibly funny, in his view, that he 
told the incident several times in Washington City when I 
chanced to meet him, after he became president, to any 
company who might be present, and with such contagious 
drollery that all who heard it would shake with laughter, 


, tTThe Galesburg meeting came on October 7, the largest of 
tne series in point of numbers in attendance. Douglas made 
the opening speech but it was only a repetition of his set 
speech about his doctrine of Popular Sovereignty and what 
he called Lincoln's doctrine of negro equahty. Enlarging 
upon the odious features of the latter, he had something 
to say about Thomas Jefferson and the words used by Jeffer- 
son in writing the Declaration of Independence, "that all 
men are created equal," etc. He afl&rmed that as Jefferson 
was himself a slave-holder he never could have intended to 
include negroes in that phrase. This gave Lincoln the 
opportunity to unbosom himself on the subject of the 
Declaration of Independence, a theme that alwa}^s brought 
out his best powers. The Declaration was to him as Holy 
Writ. He regarded it as the moral bedrock and foundation 
stone of our whole system of government. Nobody could 
question its sacredness in his presence without arousing his 
hot mdignation. In reply to Douglas' remarks on this 
theme he said: 

I believe the entire records of the world, from the date of the 
Declaration of Independence up to within three years ago, may be 
searched in vain for one single affirmation from one single man that 
the negro was not included in the Declaration of Independence; I 
think I may defy Judge Douglas to show that he ever said so, that 
Washington ever said so, that any president ever said so, that any 
member of Congress ever said so, imtil the necessities of the Demo- 
cratic part> in regard to slavery had to invent that affirmation. And 
I will remind Judge Douglas and this audience that while Mr. Jefferson 
was the owner of slaves, as undoubtedly he was, in speaking upon this 
very subject he used the strong language that he trembled for his 
country when he remembered that God was just; and I will offer the 
highest premium in my power to Judge Douglas if he wiU show that 
he, in all his life, ever uttered a sentiment at aU akin to that of Jeiierson. 

j^The next meeting was at Quincy, October 13. Here 
Mr. Lincoln had the opening and he employed it in showing 


what were the true issues of the campaign. The funda- 
mental difference between parties arose from the fact that 
domestic slavery existed in the land and that it was a 
disturbing element, leading to controversy between persons 
who thought that slaver}' was wrong and others who did 
not think it wrong. Those who thought it was evil and a 
disturbing element and a breeder of controversy were bound 
to use their influence and their votes in such ways as to 
prevent it from increasing and overspreading new territories 
and thereby becoming more harmful and disturbing than 
before. He enlarged upon this theme, constructing a 
masterly argument in support of the Republican party, 
which was then only two years old, and had taken part in 
only one presidential contest. He did not, however, indulge 
in any offensive language toward the southern people. His 
allusions to them were generally in terms implying that they 
were the product and the victims of a bad social system, not 
the architects and designers of it. 

When Douglas made his reply he said that if we would 
all mmd our own business and let our neighbors alone this 
Republic could exist forever divided into free and slave 
states; which gave Lincoln the opportunity to thank him 
for his public announcement that his political theories con- 
templated that slavery should last forever. 
^ The last debate took place at Alton, October 15. At this 
meeting Douglas' voice was scarcely audible. It was worn 
out by incessant speaking, not at the seven joint debates 
only, but at nearly a hundred separate meetings. At Alton 
he was so hoarse that he could not be distinctly heard more 
than twenty feet from the platform. Yet he maintained the 
same resolute bearing, the same look of calm self-confidence 
that he had shown at the beginning. Lincoln's voice was not 
in the least impaired although he had made as many speeches 
additional to the joint debates as Douglas had. 

One instance of Lincoln's drollery comes to my mind 
connected with the Alton debate. Douglas had the opening 
speech here. Lincoln was occupying a seat in the rear 
of the platform. His next neighbor was a young lady 
friend with whom he had been engaged in conversation before 
the debate began. He was holding in his lap a linen over- 
garment to protect himself from the dust. When Douglas 
had finished his opening speech Lincoln rose and handed 
his linen duster to the young lady and said in a low tone 
of voice: "Now hold my coat while I stone Stephen." 

The Alton debate was a general summing-up of issues on 
the part of both speakers. The only noticeable feature 
was the following paragraph from Lmcoln: 

This is the issue that will continue in this country when these 
poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the 
eternal struggle between these two principles — right and wrong — 
throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood 
face to face from the beginning of time and will ever continue to 
struggle. The one is the common right of humanity, the other the 
divine right of kings. It is the same spirit in whatever shape it de- 
velops itself. It is the same spirit that says/ 'You toil and work 
and earn bread, and I'll eat it." No matter in what shape it comes, 
whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people 
of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor or from one 
race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same 
tyrannical principle. 

I was present at most of Mr. Lincoln's separate meetings 
as well as at all of the joint debates, as reporter and corre- 
spondent of the Chicago Press and Tribune, and I was struck 
with admiration and wonder that Lincoln hardly ever 
repeated himself. Each speech, no matter how smaU the 
audience, seemed to be a new one, although the pabulum was 
the same and some particular phrases were in frequent use. 
I once asked him how he could find fresh material day after 
day, while Douglas' habit was to repeat the same speech at 


his small meetings everywhere. He said that 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 tim.e; it was always enlarging as he went 
on from place to place. He said that Douglas was not lack- 
ing 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 be 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 that it was the 
proper thing to do. 

I traveled many days with Mr. Lincoln in all sorts of 
conveyances, when he had no other companion. At such 
times we engaged in conversation mostly on the subject with 
which his mind was occupied, connected with the campaign, 
and he talked to me with the same freedom and seriousness 
as he would have talked with a person of his own age and 
experience. At the country taverns where we stopped over 
night there was always a roomful, or houseful, of warm 
friends and eager listeners, with whom the conversation, 
interspersed with mirth, was continued for hours together. 
Lincoln as a story-teller was the most humorous being I 
ever knew. His stories were not told for the purpose of 
causing merriment but to illustrate the subject of the con- 
versation, whatever it might be. His manner of telling 
such stories was irresistible and inimitable. He would 
entertain a roomful of people in this way till their sides 
ached with laughter. It was customary then in country 
taverns for two men to occupy the same room at night, 
either as a matter of necessity or as a matter of economy, 
and thus I slept in the same room with Mr. Lincoln several 


In all my journeyings with him I never heard any person 
call him "Abe," not even his partner, Herndon. There 
was an impalpable garment of dignity about him which 
forbade such familiarit)^ I have read pretended con\^ersa- 
tions with him in books and newspapers where his inter- 
locutors addressed him as Abe this and Abe that, but I 
am sure that all such colloquies are imaginary. 

Douglas does not make a very engaging picture in the 
seven joint debates, but he won the \dctory according to 
the rules of the game. His friends carried the legislature 
by a majority of three in the Senate and five in the House, 
although Lincoln's friends had a pluraHty of 4,191 in the 
popular vote. The districting of the state was unduly 
favorable to the Democrats. The result was bitterly 
lamented by the Repubhcans and by none more so than 
myself, but looking back upon it now it seems to me that 
Providence directed events better than we could have done, 
for if Douglas had been defeated his prestige would have 
been shattered, and he would not have had sufficient strength 
in the Charleston convention to split the Democratic party 
in twain, whereby a RepubHcan victory was made certain 
in i860. Moreover, if Lincoln had been elected senator 
he would probably not have been nominated for President 
in i860. 

In reviewing this political encounter I have sketched 
only the saHent points of the campaign, those which must 
remain a part of our countr>'^'s histor}\ After reading again 
the whole of these seven joint debates I am more than ever 
con\nnced that Lincoln's speeches will take a place among 
our American classics, not merely by reason of the cause 
for which he contended, and the mighty events which the}' 
foreshadowed, but also for their literary quality. We find 
here the same felicity that marked the papers and messages 
and speeches that he gave us during his presidency, includ- 

ing the Gettysburg address and the second inaugural. This 
feUcity of expression is all the more remarkable when we 
reflect that the speeches were extemporaneous and were 
deHvered in the open air, in the midst of noise, confusion, 
and various interruptions. All of those speeches as tran- 
scribed by the shorthand reporter, Robert R. Hitt (afUir- 
ward congressman), passed through my hands, and none 
other, before they went to the printers, and they under- 
went no alteration except in a few cases where the wind, or 
some disorder on the platform, caused a slight hiatus in the 
stenographer's notes. 

I need not add that Douglas was outclassed in these 
debates, although he won the prize for which the debaters 
were contending. His day of true glory" came later. When 
the secessionists fired on Fort Sumter, he ranged himself 
on the side of Lincoln and came to Illinois to hold the state 
true to the Union. This was the occasion of his last and 
greatest effort. The state legislature, then in session, 
invited liim to address them on the existing crisis and he 
responded on the 25th of April. I was one of the hsteners 
to that speech and I camiot conceive that Demosthenes, 
or Mirabeau, or Patrick Henry, or any orator of ancient or 
modern times could have surpassed it. Nobody can form 
an estimate of its power by merely reading it. Its chief 
feature was its tremendous earnestness. It was an outburst 
of passion, perspiration, and patriotism raised to the nth 
degree. If the roof of the building had been carried away 
by the tempest that was issuing from the Little Giant 
none of his Hsteners would have been surprised. At that 
time southern Illinois was hanging in the balance regarding 
the question of sustaining Lincohi in the policy of coercing 
the seceding states. Lying between Kentucky and Mis- 
souri, its people held substantially the same poHtical views 
and prejudices as theirs. Douglas was the only man who 

could have held them solid for the Union, The southern 
counties now followed him as faithfully as they had followed 
him in previous years and sent their sons into the field to 
fight for the Union as numerously and bravely as any other 
section of the state or of the Union. His influence was also 
potent in the border states, Kentucky and Missouri, both of 
which refused to join the Southern Confederacy and sent 
large reinforcements to the Union armies. 

Douglas had only a few more days to live. He was now 
forty-eight years of age, but if he had lived forty-eight 
years longer he never could have surpassed that eloquence, 
or exceeded that service to his country, for he never could 
have found another like occasion to call out his astounding 
powers. He died at Chicago, June 3, 1861. I have a 
tender memory for him. His great competitor, however, 
will always wear the laurel of the joint debates. "Thrice 
is he armed who hath his quarrel just!"