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The Lincoln-Douglas debates took place in 1858, Illinois. Abraham Lincoln challenged Stephen Douglas for a seat in the senate from Illinois. Douglas, nicknamed "The Little Giant," was a Democrat and Senator at the time since elected in 1847. He was a significant force behind the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska lincoln_douglas_debates_2.jpgAct; both which included the idea of "popular sovereignty." Douglas was a strong believer in this doctrine, which said that the people of the territories should choose whether they wanted slavery or not. On the other side was Abraham Lincoln; a Republican who was unknown nationally until these debates. Lincoln was opposed to the expansion of slavery; he believed it should be restricted and not permitted in the new territories. He felt slavery was morally incorrect, and in his "house-divided" speech explained that the union could not survive forever as half free and half slave. Lincoln hoped for a nation without slavery eventually. Their clear, clashing viewpoints on slavery caused it to be the main issue throughout the debates. The debates took place between August and October, 1858, in seven different cities in Illinois: Ottawa, Freeport, Jonesboro, Charleston, Galesburg, Quincy, and Alton.

Douglas and Lincoln are portrayed as boxers battling it out in the ring; Douglas being coached most likely by a fellow Democrat, Lincoln being coached by a black man.
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As the Civil War awakened, the union began to divide. The northern states greatly supported Abraham Lincoln's opposition to the issue of slavery. These citizens also disagreed with the idea of "popular sovereignty," as proposed by Lincoln's enemy, Stephen A. Douglas. The Lincoln-Douglas debates sparked a lot of controversy between states north and south of the Mason Dixon line. Not only was our union split, but so were our national parties. Douglas' proposal of states having the authority to decide whether or not they were a free state of a slave state infuriated many northerners. As Lincoln and many of his successors believed, slavery was a moral issue. "If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong," he famously stated. The union, the parties and the house were divided. "This government," said Lincoln, "cannot endure permanently half slave and half free." Both the north and Lincoln knew that war was right around the corner.

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Prior to the beginning of the Civil War, citizens from the south supported Stephen Douglas. However, the Lincoln-Douglas debates caused a drastic split in the Democratic Party. Southern Democrats were angered by the Freeport Doctrine, which stated that "slavery could not exist in a community if the local citizens did not pass and enforce laws." These Southern Democrats were angered because Douglas did not support the Dred Scott Decision as much as they had hoped for. Although Douglas was victorious over Lincoln in these debates, he lost support from his political party, while Lincoln gained national recognition. This fame aided Lincoln in becoming a prime contender in the 1860 Presidential Election.

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The ranking we gave the Lincoln-Douglas debates is a four in relevance to the start of the Civil War. The debates were in 1858- three years before the start of the war. However, the result of the debates was still noteworthy. Although Douglas won the debates, he divided the Democratic party between northern and Southern Democrats with the Freeport Doctrine. Because of this split, Douglas no longer had the support of Southern Democrats in the election of 1860. With this lack of support, Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, was able to take the presidency. Lincoln's election is what led Southern states to secede, and their secession led to the war. Although the Lincoln-Douglas debates were a somewhat indirect cause of the war, we still believe it was a significant one.
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Works Cited
  • "The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858." Lincoln Home. 25 Sept. 2007. National
    Park Service. 16 May 2009 <http://www.nps.gov/liho/historyculture/
  • Newman, John J. and John M Schmalbach. United States History: Preparing for the
    Advanced Placement Examination. 1998. New York, NY: Amsco School
    Publications, Inc., 2006.
  • Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia. "Douglas, Stephen A." Funk & Wagnalls, Inc. 18 May 2009.
  • Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia. "Lincoln, Abraham." Funk & Wagnalls, Inc. 18 May 2009.
  • "Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858." Illinois in the Civil War. 2007. 17 May 2009