In the summer of eighteen fifty-eight,two candidates campaigned across the state of Illinois for a seat in the United States Senate.That seat belonged to Stephen Douglas from the Democratic Party.He was seeking re-election.His opponent was a lawyer from the newly established Republican Party.His name was Abraham Lincoln.This week in our series,Frank Oliver and Larry West tell us about this campaign of statewide but also national importance.Abraham Lincoln proposed that he and Stephen Douglas hold several debates.The rules for each debate would be the same.One man would speak for an hour.His opponent would speak for an hour and a half.Then the first man would speak for half an hour to close the debate.Douglas agreed.There were seven debates in all.They were held in towns throughout Illinois.In some places,there was great interest in what the two candidates had to say.Thousands of people attended.
Douglas was a short,heavy man.One reporter said he looked like a fierce bulldog.Douglas's friends and supporters called him"the little giant."Lincoln was just the opposite.He was very tall and thin,with long arms and legs.His clothes did not fit well.And he had a plain face,one which many thought was ugly.He looked more like a simple farmer than a candidate for the United States Senate.The Lincoln-Douglas debates covered party politics and the future of the nation.But everything the two men discussed was tied to one issue:slavery.Douglas spoke first at the first debate.He questioned a statement made in one of Lincoln's campaign speeches.Lincoln had said that the United States could not continue to permit slavery in some areas,while banning it in others.He said the Union could not stand so divided.It must either permit slavery everywhere--or nowhere.Douglas did not agree.He noted that the country had been half-slave and half-free for seventy years.Why then,he asked,should it not continue to exist that way.The United States was a big country.What was best for one part might not be best for another.
Then Douglas questioned Lincoln's statement on the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision.Lincoln had said he opposed the decision,because it did not permit Negroes to enjoy the rights of citizenship.Douglas said he believed the decision was correct.He said it was clear that the government had been made by white men,for white men.He said he opposed Negro citizenship."I do not accept the Negro as my equal,"Douglas said."And I deny that he is my brother.However,"he said,"this does not mean I believe that Negroes should be slaves.Negroes should enjoy every possible right that does not threaten the safety of the society in which they live.""Every state and territory must decide for itself what these rights will be.Illinois decided that Negroes will not be citizens,but that it will protect their life,property,and civil rights.It keeps from Negroes only political rights,and refuses to make Negroes equal to white men.That policy satisfies me,"Douglas said."And,it satisfies the Democratic Party."