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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Then And Now: Some Excerpts From The Lincoln-Douglas Debates

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As something of a history buff, I was curious to know how the tone and tenor of the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates compared with some of the immature free-for-all political fights we witness today. Back then each candidate spoke for 60-90 minutes, with the other granted ample and uninterrupted time for a response.

Hundreds gathered from miles around to hear the two Senate candidates make their case in seven different Illinois cities. And while there were frequent catcalls from large, raucous crowds, Democrat Stephen E. Douglas and Republican Abraham Lincoln mostly avoided personal attacks and remained focused on the then critical issue of whether slavery should be extended to newly forming states that was deeply dividing the nation.

As you can see from the following brief excerpts, the new Republican party of the day was then the party representing more liberal ideas, like making a case for the eventual abolition of slavery, and it was the established Democratic party that was more set on maintaining the status quo.

Here is the Honorable Stephen Douglas:

I ask you, are you in favor of conferring upon the negro the rights and privileges of citizenship? Do you desire to strike out of our State Constitution that clause which keeps slaves and free negroes out of the State, and allow the free negroes to flow in, and cover your prairies with black settlements? Do you desire to turn this beautiful State into a free negro colony, in order that when Missouri abolishes slavery she can send one hundred thousand emancipated slaves into Illinois, to become citizens and voters, on an equality with yourselves? If you desire negro citizenship, if you desire to allow them to come into the State and settle with the white man, if you desire them to vote on an equality with yourselves, and to make them eligible to office, to serve on juries, and to adjudge your rights, then support Mr. Lincoln and the Black Republican party, who are in favor of the citizenship of the negro. For one, I am opposed to negro citizenship in any and every form. I believe this Government was made on the white basis. I believe it was made by white men for the benefit of white men and their posterity for ever, and I am in favor of confining citizenship to white men, men of European birth and descent, instead of conferring it upon negroes, Indians, and other inferior races.  
[First Debate: Ottawa, Illinois, August 21, 1858]

Some responses by Mr. Lincoln:

I agree with Judge Douglas he (the negro) is not my equal in many respects—certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without the leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man. 
[Debate at Ottawa, Illinois, August 21, 1858]

... I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything. I do not understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. My understanding is that I can just let her alone. 
[Debate at Charleston, Illinois, September 18, 1858]

... (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 and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, "You work and toil 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. 
[Last debate at Alton, Illinois, October 15, 1858]

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