The Lincoln-Douglas Debates

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 4, 2012

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates

In 1858, one of the most important figures in American history appeared on the national political scene. Abraham Lincoln, a self-educated Illinois lawyer, had served one term in the House of Representatives, but had not achieved national renown. He returned to politics over the question of slavery, which he opposed, stating plainly that “no man is good enough to govern another without that other’s consent.” At the Republican convention of 1858, Lincoln gave one of the most famous speeches of his career. He quoted the Bible in the speech’s most famous paragraph:

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.

Republican candidate Lincoln ran against Democratic candidate Stephen Douglas. The two held a series of seven debates between August and October 1858. They argued the important issue of the day—slavery—at length in each appearance. Both men defended their positions on the Dred Scott decision, on the theory of popular sovereignty, on the Compromise of 1850, and on the expansion of slavery. Huge crowds turned out to hear the two men speak. In the end, Douglas defeated Lincoln by a slim margin of votes. However, he would soon lose to Lincoln in a much more important race.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:

A House Divided Practice Test

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