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The Lincoln-Douglas Debate

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The Lincoln-Douglas sparked when after Abraham Lincoln gave his famous “A house divided against itself cannot stand” speech, his competitor Stephen A. Douglas accused him of being a “radical” and said that he was “threatening the stability of the union”. After Douglas said this, Lincoln then challenged Douglas to the debates. According to, the Lincoln-Douglas debates states: “the two eventually agreed to hold joint encounters in seven Illinois congressional districts”.

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The debates focused on the topic of slavery territory after the problem of adequately dividing the slave states, and the free states came back post-Mexican war given that the outcome of the Mexican war supplied the U.S. with two new states to work with. As the article says, “The Mexican War, however, had added new territories, and the issue flared up again in the 1840s. The Compromise of 1850 provided a temporary respite from sectional strife, but the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854—a measure Douglas sponsored—brought the slavery extension issue to the fore once again”. So, most of the debates dealt with that topic. The debates also had a different setup than the ones we use in this day and age. As mentioned in the article, on the Lincoln-Douglas debates, “the format for the debates between Honest Abe and the Little Giant featured one candidate talking for an hour followed by the other candidate speaking for an hour and a half before the first candidate was given thirty minutes for a rebuttal. Lincoln and Douglas alternated which candidate went first and which candidate responded”. The debates didn’t just focus on slavery territory, though, but it dived into the problem of slavery and human rights. “The main focus of these debates was slavery and its influence on American politics and society—specifically the slave power, popular sovereignty, race equality, emancipation, etc.”. This was the content that the Lincoln-Douglas debate mainly focused on.

The result of the Lincoln-Douglas debates is that in the polls the Republicans beat out the democrats with the popular vote, but the democrats beat out the republicans with the electoral vote. As stated in the New York Times News article, on the result of the debate, “In the 1858 legislative election, Illinois Republican candidates slightly outpolled their Democratic rivals. However, because of an apportionment that favored Democratic districts, Douglas secured a majority when the legislature voted early the next January”. It is also noted that because of the debates Lincoln won a lot of popularity while the popularity of Douglas decreased immensely. It is also stated in the New York Times News article on the result of the debate, “In the long run, however, the debates were favorable to Lincoln and fatal to Douglas. Lincoln gained national stature from his performance and became a serious Presidential contender. Douglas, however, having argued during the debates that slavery in the territories could be barred by local initiative (‘popular sovereignty’), became a near pariah among national Democrats, helped to split the party and thus virtually destroyed his ardent Presidential hopes”. So, these are the major results of the Lincoln-Douglas debate.


  1. “Lincoln-Douglas Debates”. American Battlefield Trust, Accessed 5 Feb. 2021.
  2. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Lincoln-Douglas Debates | Summary, Dates, Significance”.

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