In 1858, ability, courage, activity, ambition, the prestige of success, and a plausible moderation in party politics combined to make Douglas the most conspicuous individual in the public view. There was no other way whereby any other man could so surely attract the close and interested attention of the whole people as by meeting Douglas in direct personal competition. If Douglas had not held the position which he did, or if, holding it, he had lived in another State than Illinois, Lincoln might never have been President of the United States. But the essential facts lay favorably for effecting that presentation before the people which was indispensable for his fortunes. In April, 1858, the Democratic State Convention of Illinois indorsed the position which Douglas had taken in the Kansas business. This involved that the party should present him as its candidate for reelection to the national Senate by the legislature whose members were to be chosen in the following autumn. “In the very nature of things,” says the enthusiastic Herndon, Lincoln was at once selected by the Republicans, and on June 16 their convention resolved that “Hon. Abraham Lincoln is our first and only choice for United States senator to fill the vacancy about to be created by the expiration of Mr. Douglas’s term of office.” Immediately the popular excitement gave measure of the estimate placed upon the two men by those who most accurately knew their qualities. All Illinoisians looked forward eagerly to the fine spectacle of a battle royal between real leaders.
The general political condition was extremely confused. The great number of worthy citizens, who had been wont to save themselves from the worry of critical thought in political matters by the simple process of uniform allegiance to a party, now found the old familiar organizations rapidly disintegrating. They were dismayed and bewildered at the scene; everywhere there were new cries, new standards, new leaders, while small bodies of recruits, displaying in strange union old comrades beside old foes, were crossing to and fro and changing relationships, to the inextricable confusion of the situation. In such a chaos each man was driven to do his own thinking, to discover his genuine beliefs, and to determine in what company he could stand enduringly in the troublous times ahead. It was one of those periods in which small men are laid aside and great leaders are recognized by popular instinct; when the little band that is in deepest earnest becomes endowed with a force which compels the mass of careless, temporizing human-kind to gravitate towards it. Such bands were now the Abolitionists at the North and the Secessionists at the South. Between them lay the nation, disquieted, contentious, and more than a little angry at the prevalent discomfort and alarm. At the North nine men out of ten cared far less for any principle, moral or political, than they did for the discovery of some course whereby