Abraham Lincoln - Stephen Douglas Debates
Election of 1858 Historical Material

672 pages of historical material dealing with the Lincoln - Douglas Debates and the Illinois U.S. Senate Election of 1858. Material includes Abraham Lincoln's personal scrapbook of the Lincoln - Douglas Debates. Abraham Lincoln correspondences and papers dealing with political climate of the time, Stephen Douglas, and the election of 1858. Transcripts of the seven Lincoln-Douglas debates. Political cartoons featuring Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas.

The Lincoln-Douglas debates were a series of formal political debates in 1858 between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, in a campaign for one of Illinois' two United States Senate seats. Although Lincoln lost the election, these debates launched him into national prominence which eventually led to his election as President of the United States.

Lincoln was losing interest in politics when the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed by Congress in 1854. This legislation opened lands previously closed to slavery to the possibility of its spread by local option, popular sovereignty.  Lincoln viewed the provisions of the act as immoral. Although he was not an abolitionist and thought slavery unassailably protected by the Constitution in states where it already existed, Lincoln also thought that America's founders had put slavery on the way to "ultimate extinction" by preventing its spread to new territories. He saw this act, which had been sponsored by Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas, as a new and alarming development.

Lincoln vied for the U.S. Senate in 1855, but eventually threw his support to Lyman Trumbull. In 1856 he joined the newly formed Republican Party. Illinois Republicans hoped to unseat Democratic incumbent Stephen A. Douglas in the election of 1858. Party leaders, on June 16, 1858, had nominated Abraham Lincoln as the party's "first and only choice of the Republicans of Illinois for the U.S. Senate." He began his campaign the evening of his nomination with his famous "House Divided" speech at the Capitol in Springfield. In his speech ,Lincoln suggested that Douglas, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, and Democratic presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan had conspired to nationalize slavery. In the same speech he expressed the view that the nation would become either all slave or all free: "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

Senator Douglas, in Washington, D.C., realized that he must wage a vigorous campaign for re-election for his third term as senator. He traveled to Chicago, and on the evening of July 9 delivered the opening speech of his campaign from the balcony of the Tremont House. Lincoln was present but declined to speak, as it was Douglas' meeting. However, the next evening, from the same balcony, Lincoln addressed a crowd.

Republican campaign strategy called for Lincoln to follow Douglas around Illinois, with the candidates addressing crowds individually. After the Chicago appearances, the two candidates shifted their attention to downstate, each appearing in Bloomington on July 16. Lincoln was present at Douglas' speech but declined to speak. The next day, the two spoke in Springfield, Douglas in B.S. Edwards' grove and Lincoln at the Capitol.

The underdog in the senatorial campaign, Lincoln wished to share Douglas's fame by appearing with him in debates.
Lincoln returned to Chicago and on July 24 wrote a letter to Douglas formally challenging him to a series of nine debates, one in each congressional district. Douglas had not yet replied when the two opponents met five days later on the road between Bement and Monticello. Douglas had completed a speech at Monticello and was traveling to Bement when they encountered Lincoln about a mile and a half south of Monticello on present Route 105. Lincoln was scheduled to speak at Monticello seven miles away later in the day. The two men conferred briefly and agreed to meet that evening to plan a series of debates.

Douglas confirmed the details in a letter written from Bement the following morning. He suggested that the debates be reduced from nine to seven since both had spoken in Chicago and Springfield. Debates were scheduled for Ottawa, August 21; Freeport, August 27; Jonesboro, September 15; Charleston, September 18; Galesburg, October 7; Quincy, October 13; and Alton, October 15. Lincoln in a brief note from Springfield, dated July 31, accepted all the details, writing, "I accede and thus close the arrangement."

The details of the great debates were settled, and throughout the late summer and early fall the candidates debated on the issues of the day, including slavery, racial equality, and popular sovereignty.

Lincoln knew that Douglas, now fighting the Democratic Buchanan administration over the constitution to be adopted by Kansas, had alienated his Southern support; and he feared Douglas's new appeal to eastern Republicans now that Douglas was battling the South. Lincoln's strategy, therefore, was to stress the gulf of principle that separated Republican opposition to slavery as a moral wrong ,from the moral indifference of the Democrats, embodied in legislation allowing popular sovereignty to decide the fate of each territory. Douglas, Lincoln insisted, did not care whether slavery was "voted up or voted down."

The debates attracted large crowds, 10,000 observed the debate in Ottawa, a town with a 6,000 person population. By his vigorous showing against the famous Douglas, Lincoln gained considerable national fame. He did not win the Senate seat, however; the Illinois legislature, dominated by Democratic holdovers in the upper house, elected Douglas.

In February 1860, Lincoln made his first major political appearance in the Northeast when he addressed a rally at the Cooper Union in New York. He was now sufficiently well known to be a presidential candidate. At the Republican national convention in Chicago in May, William H. Seward was the leading candidate. Seward, however, had qualities that made him undesirable in the critical states the Republicans had lost in 1856: Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, and New Jersey. As a result Lincoln won the nomination by being the second choice of the majority. He went on to win the presidential election, defeating the Northern Democrat Douglas, the Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge, and the Constitutional Union candidate John Bell.

Included on the CD-ROM:


Abraham Lincoln's personal 200 page scrapbook assembled by documenting his debates with Stephen A. Douglas during the Illinois senatorial campaign of 1858. The 200 page scrapbook contains 103 pages of material. Contains the texts of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, speeches, and correspondence of Lincoln and Douglas published in newspaper accounts (primarily the Chicago Press & Tribune and the Chicago Times) between June 17 and Oct. 15, 1858. The title, captions, most notes and corrections are said to be in Lincoln's hand.

This scrapbook of newspaper clippings were assembled and mounted by Lincoln as a manuscript for publication.
Candidate Abraham Lincoln, recognizing that the partisan nature of the press could lead to inaccuracies, had his speeches clipped from newspapers sympathetic to the Republican Party and the speeches of Douglas clipped from the Democratic press. Lincoln occasionally made notes in the margins when he felt the reportage required changes or comment.


264 pages of documents and 140 pages of text Transcriptions of the documents. Transcriptions contain notations by Lincoln scholars giving depth and context to the correspondences. Contains documents and correspondences to and from Abraham Lincoln related to the Lincoln Douglas debates, the 1858 campaign, and politics of the era. Materials date from 1858 to 1861. Included among the correspondents are Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, Lyman Trumbull, and Horace Greeley.

Highlights among the material include:

A composition copy of the first letter sent to Douglas from Lincoln suggesting debates. Douglas first written response dodging a proposed debate. An autobiography handwritten by Abraham Lincoln. Correspondences dealing with Senator Douglas splitting the Democratic party over slavery issues in Kansas and the Lecompton Constitution. The Lecompton Constitution would provide statehood for Kansas with slavery protected there. Correspondences mentioning events causing the Illinois Democratic Party to splinter into two factions. One supporting the Senatorial ambitions of Stephen A. Douglas and opposed to the Buchanan Administration's stance on the Lecompton Constitution in Kansas. The second a smaller faction consisted of Democrats opposing Douglas, loyal to the Buchanan Administration, and supportive of the Lecompton Constitution. Lincoln's mobilizing support for the Illinois legislative election of 1858. A letter from Lincoln showing the antipathy between old Whig members of the Republican party, and former Democrats during the early years of the Republican party in Illinois.

A May 18, 1858 draft written in Lincoln's hand of a speech on Popular Sovereignty. Believed to be an early version of Lincoln's "House Divided" speech, which he delivered on June 6, 1858 in accepting the Republican nomination for U. S. Senator. A letter from Lincoln showing his exasperation with Eastern Republicans such as Horace Greeley and William H. Seward. Correspondences mentioning Lincoln's strategy to accuse Stephen Douglas, Chief Justice Taney, and Presidents Pierce and Buchanan of a conspiracy to carry slavery into territories previously free, and eventually into free states. Abraham Lincoln's handwritten notes on Illinois election laws. A letter written by Douglas protesting the publication of the Lincoln-Douglas debate in book form.


141 pages of text transcripts of the seven Lincoln-Douglas debates.


Twelve illustrations feature the Lincoln-Douglas opposition. The illustrations relate Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas to American political events circa 1860.

The disc contains a text transcript of all recognizable text embedded into the graphic image of each page of each document, creating a searchable finding aid. Text searches can be done across all files on the disc.



First page of a three page letter from Abraham Lincoln to Stephen A. Douglas, July 29, 1858

Though he made much of the inconvenience that such a program would cause him, Douglas agreed on July 24 to a series of seven debates with Lincoln, at Ottawa, Freeport, Jonesboro, Charleston, Galesburg, Quincy and Alton, Illinois. The dates and the conditions of the debates were to be decided later.

Body of letter

Springfield, July 29. 1858

Dear Sir

Yours of the 24th in relation to an arrangement to divide time and address the same audiences, is received; and, in apology for not sooner replying, allow me to say that when I sat by you at dinner yesterday(1) I was not aware that you had answered my note, nor certainly, that my own note had been presented to you-- An hour after I saw a copy of your answer in the Chicago Times; and, reaching home, I found the original awaiting me-- Protesting that your insinuations of attempted unfairness on my part are unjust; and with the hope that you did not very considerately make them, I proceed to reply-- To your statement that "It has been suggested recently that an arrangement had been made to bring out a third candidate for the U. S. Senate who, with yourself should canvass the state in opposition to me &c"(2) I can only only say that such suggestion must have been made by yourself; for certainly none....

End of first page

[Note 1 Lincoln and Douglas had dined together on the 28th at either Clinton or Decatur, Illinois, obviously without conferring about joint appearances on the platform. ]

[Note 2 Sidney Breese had allowed his name to be used as a candidate for the United States Senate should Democrats favorable to the Buchanan Administration win a majority in the Illinois General Assembly in 1858. ]


"The undecided political prize fight"

Published in 1860

A pro-Breckinridge satire on the 1860 presidential contest. Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln (right) and Democrat Stephen A. Douglas (left) appear as boxers squaring off in a ring before a small crowd of onlookers. Douglas is seconded by an Irishman (left), presumably representing Douglas' Democratic constituency. Lincoln is coached by a black man, who kneels at right, armed with a basket of liquor bottles, and signifies Lincoln's antislavery leanings. In the background a third candidate, John C. Breckinridge, thumbs his nose and points toward the White House. He is encouraged on his way by a number of men who cheer and doff their hats to him.