The Lincoln-Douglas debates, held in seven Illinois cities in 1858 in the lead-up to the U.S. Senate election, were of vast importance in galvanizing the nation into their two different belief systems, which led directly to the election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency in 1860 and resulted in secession of the most of the slave states and the Civil War. The correspondence between the two men to arrange for the debates provides a glimpse at the goals and the characters of both men. Here, we will take a look at the letters exchanged between Lincoln and Douglas to arrange for the debates.
One notable thing is that both candidates sign the letters in a manner that does not correspond entirely with the tone of the letters. Lincoln signs them “Your obedient servant,” and Douglas signs them, “Very respectfully, your obedient servant.” To sign a letter to a competing candidate in such a submissive manner would be unheard of in today’s politics. The content of many of the letters, though, expresses extreme frustration with the other candidate. Douglas, for example, expresses frustration in his first letter and insinuates that Lincoln purposely waited until Douglas had already filled his schedule to arrange for debates. Lincoln, in his second letter to Douglas, also expresses extreme frustration. He indicates that Douglas is being shifty:
you into an arrangement of terms, to be agreed on by yourself, by which a third
candidate and myself, ‘in concert, might be able to take the opening and closing speech
in every case.” (Lincoln, letter to Douglas dated July 29th, 1858).
The mistrust of the candidates of one another is also referenced in the letters by indications that these letters are also being sent to the press. In Lincoln’s second letter to Douglas, he mentions that he saw a copy of the letter in the Chicago Times before he received the actual copy at his home. In his third letter, Lincoln mentions that he will have Douglas’s letter printed in the Journal and the Register. He also points out in this letter that Douglas has arranged, by speaking first in Ottawa, to have the opening and closing at four of the locations instead of three.
The mistrust between both sides is also expressed in the newspaper coverage of the debates. The Weekly North-Western Gazette published a series of articles already following the first debate in Ottawa on alleged fraud committed by Douglas during the debate, when he misrepresented a series of Republican resolutions as having been passed in Springfield which in fact were not. These sentiments were repeated in the Illinois State Journal and other papers.
The mistrust between the two men was clearly a microcosm of the mistrust on both sides of the Republican/Democrat divide at the time and the increasing importance of the issue of slavery which would ultimately divide the nation for four bloody years following Lincoln’s election. These letters between Lincoln and Douglas simply trying to arrange the debates themselves and the clearly frustrated tone expressed by both men within them are a clear expression of the mistrust. They are a valuable part of history and the background behind the Lincoln-Douglas debates, which ended up being of massive importance for the State of Illinois and for the United States in general.
“Correspondence Between the Two Rival Candidates for the United States Senate.”
Retrieved from http://www.bartleby.com/251/1007.html on 4/15/2013.
Weekly North-Western Gazette; Chicago Press and Tribune. 'The Ottawa Fraud – How
Lincoln is to be Assailed' in the 'Weekly North-Western Gazette' . Galena, IL: H.
H. Houghton, 1858. [format: newspaper], [genre: article]. Permission: Public domain. Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=wng083158k.html
Weekly North-Western Gazette. 'The Forgery Admitted -- The Fraud Confessed' in the
'Weekly North-Western Gazette' . Galena, IL: H. H. Houghton, 1858. [format:
newspaper], [genre: article]. Permission: Public domain. Persistent link to this