THE LINCOLN-DOUGLAS DEBATES
The anti-Lecompton recusancy of Douglas baffled the plotting extremists of the South, and created additional dissension in the Democratic ranks; and this growing Democratic weakness and the increasing Republican ardor and strength presaged a possible Republican success in the coming Presidential election. While this condition of things gave national politics an unusual interest, the State of Illinois now became the field of a local contest which for the moment held the attention of the entire country in such a degree as to involve and even eclipse national issues.
In this local contest in Illinois, the choice of candidates on both sides was determined long beforehand by a popular feeling, stronger and more unerring than ordinary individual or caucus intrigues. Douglas, as author of the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, as a formidable Presidential aspirant, and now again as leader of the anti-Lecompton Democrats, could, of course, have no rival in his party for his own Senatorial seat. Lincoln, who had in 1854 gracefully yielded his justly won Senatorial honors to Trumbull, and who alone bearded Douglas in his own State throughout the whole anti-Nebraska struggle, with anything like a show of equal political courage and intellectual strength, was as inevitably the leader and choice of the Republicans. Their State convention met in Springfield on the 16th of June, 1858, and, after its ordinary routine work, passed with acclamation a separate resolution, which declared “that Abraham Lincoln is the first and only choice of the Republicans of Illinois for the United States Senate as the successor of Stephen A. Douglas.” The proceedings of the convention had consumed the afternoon, and an adjournment was taken. At 8 o’clock that same evening, the convention having reassembled in the State-house, Lincoln appeared before it, and made what was perhaps the most carefully prepared speech of his whole life. Every word of it was written, every sentence had been tested; but the speaker delivered it without manuscript or notes. It was not an ordinary oration, but, in the main, an argument, as sententious and axiomatic as if made to a bench of jurists. Its opening sentences contained a political prophecy which not only became the ground-work of the campaign, but heralded one of the world’s great historical events. He said:
[Sidenote] Lincoln-Douglas Debates, p. 1.
“If we could first know where we are and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object and confident promise of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’