Lincoln-Douglas: The Last Debate

During the United States Senate Campaign of 1858, Abraham Lincoln challenged Stephen A. Douglas to a series of seven debates. The face to face debates took place all across Illinois with one debate in each Congressional district. In the debates, Lincoln, a Republican candidate, squared off with Democratic incumbent Douglas on issues such as slavery and State’s Rights. These issues quickly captured the nation and would foreshadow Lincoln’s Presidency beginning in 1860.

The final debate took place on October 15, 1858 in Alton, Illinois. As the debate series drew to a close event attendance swelled, drawing spectators from nearby states. The final debate in Alton drew nearly 6,000 spectators with many arriving in the morning to secure their seat.

During the debate, Douglas opened the first hour with his remarks on State’s Rights. The reception of the opening remarks was deemed ‘flat and unsatisfactory’. The opener was remembered as boring and without patriotism and served as the backdrop for Lincoln’s remarks.

Lincoln’s response totaled an hour and a half and stood in stark contrast to Douglas. Lincoln supported his platform of anti-slavery and provided a logical, honest, and clear response. In addition, Lincoln deconstructed the views of Douglas and seemed to gain the crowds support of victory.

Douglas provided a half hour rejoinder. However, his rejoinder provided little rescue of support. Lincoln was seen as the clear victor of the day.

After the debates, Douglas would go on to be elected to the Senate by the Illinois General Assembly despite Lincoln winning the popular vote. However, the series of debates would dramatically increase the awareness and solidify Lincoln on the national stage. Lincoln was first elected President in 1860.

The debate at Alton is remembered by a monument called the Lincoln-Douglas Square. Life-size statues recall the two candidates engaged in their final public debate. The square is located adjoining the location where the old City Hall once stood before it was destroyed by fire in 1923.


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