Lincoln as a senatorial candidate used his opponent’s popularity to gain valuable platform time, but ended up losing the race anyway. In these famous debates, he exposed not only his own, but also his own party’s uncompromising vision of sectional hatred, and ultimate war between Americans.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Cicra1865.com
Why Cannot We Act as Our Fathers Did?
“Before the debates, in their Senatorial campaign, Douglas had arranged speeches at Chicago and Springfield. His popularity brought great crowds to hear him. Lincoln sat in the back of the crowds both times, waited for Douglas to finish, and then, as the crowd started to leave, Lincoln announced from the platform that in an hour, “so you can eat dinner,” he would answer Judge Douglas’ speech. The crowd roared, “We’ll be here.”
Douglas publicly denounced this tactic. Then Lincoln proposed that the candidates meet jointly, one against the other, several times in the future. Douglas’ advisors urged him to refuse. Why should he provide the big crowds of voters to hear Lincoln? However, it appeared that it would be politically advisable to go ahead and agree to the debates.
Telegraph lines worked all night and nearly all of America read the next morning what the candidates had said and read greatly contradictory reports on who won the last debate. For example, as to one debate, Republican newspapers said, “Honest Abe chewed up the Little Giant and spit him out to the delight of the crowd.” Of the same debate, Democratic newspapers said, “Douglas knocked out Lincoln’s spindly shanks from under him and as he struggled for composure, the crowd roared at the spectacle.
At a subsequent debate, the “House Divided” speech came up again and Douglas said,” Why cannot we act as our fathers did? In Washington’s army there was no sectional strife. These brave soldiers fought under a common policy; they sought a common destiny, and no one was ready to forego a common aim because he did not agree with his fellows on every idea.”
You might say that Douglas won the debates because after the campaign, the Illinois Legislature voted 54 to 46 in favor of Douglas, and he returned to his senatorial seat.”
(The Lincoln-Douglas Debates, R.D. Douglas, Jr., North Carolina State Bar Journal, Fall 2009, pp. 16-17)