Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas

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"Lincoln-Douglas Debates"

“Lincoln-Douglas Debates” refers to a string of 7 debates that occurred in 1858 between the Republican lawyer Abraham Lincoln and Democrat veteran politician Stephen Douglas who were vying for the Senate seat in Illinois. The discussions commenced in Ottawa with the other six being held in different host cities in the state. They lasted for two months from 21st

August to 17th October.

The Central Issue: Slavery

The issue that formed the central part of the debate was slavery. It was significant at the time since slavery was a major political issue facing the nation with Democrats and Republicans differing on the subject of expansion of slavery into the territories. In this paper, a historical analysis of the slavery issue in the debate based on the perspectives of Lincoln and Douglas will be conducted.

Methodology and Perspectives

The two politicians disagreed on the method they wanted to utilize in containing the spread of slavery to different territories in America. Douglas strongly supported the principle of popular sovereignty, which was popular among many citizens. It offered each region the right to decide whether they would allow slavery or not (Sean507productions). However, Lincoln was against the principle; hence, pointing out that it violated the decision of the judges in the Dred Scott case. In Dred Scott v. Sanford, it was decreed that all citizens of each territory had no power in deciding the circumstances surrounding the issue of slavery ("Our Documents ").

Disagreement on the Ethics of Slavery

Both of them also disagreed regarding the ethics of slavery. Lincoln asserted that the founding fathers in America believed in the equality of African Americans and the white. He thought that it was wrong; hence, could not be accepted in the western territories. Lincoln saw African Americans as people who deserve to be free and accorded their civil rights. Nonetheless, Douglas believed that slavery was a right approach since the whites and African Americans were unequal; thus, held the whites have the right to choose whether the slaves will be free or not ("Lincoln-Douglas Debates").

The Issue of African Americans' Inferiority

Nonetheless, they both agreed on the idea that African Americans were inferior to other races in the nation. As per Douglas, inferiority needed some avoidance and confinement, whereas according to Lincoln, it required some compassionate treatment in consideration of the slaves’ civil rights ("Lincoln-Douglas Debates").

Evidence used in the Analysis

Documentary evidence is used to support the thesis of the disagreement regarding containing the spread of slavery to territories. The evidence is drawn from the narration provided by Sean Briody on YouTube website (Sean507productions). It supports the thesis with the explanation of Douglas’ popular sovereignty principle that supported slavery and Dred Scott Decision, which was against it. Documentary evidence is also used to prove this thesis regarding the Dred Scott Decision from the Government documents. It was drawn from the court decisions on Dred Scott v. Sanford in 1857 ("Our Documents ").

Documentary evidence is also used to support the thesis about the disagreement concerning the ethics of slavery and their agreement regarding the inferiority of African Americans to other races in America. The proof is derived from the works published by A&E Television Networks from the History website ("Lincoln-Douglas Debates").


Lincoln-Douglas debate has made a significant impact on our constitution and lives. Initially, as per my comprehension, Lincoln was just the 16th POTUS. However, the readings have made me realize his importance in fighting for equality and ending slavery; thereby, qualifying also as a philanthropist and an activist. The issues that the two politicians discussed in 1858 that later on paved the way for the abolition of slavery have made an impact in our society since the current constitution protects the civil liberties of every American. Growing up in a mixed race neighborhood and in a Christian family where love and unity were the norms, I believe Lincoln was caring about the welfare of the slaves while Douglas was selfish with the ambition of only winning the Senate seat. Thus, in tackling racism issue in America, I would focus on Lincoln stance about the importance of equality of all citizens as a means of solving conflicts in the nation.

Works Cited

"Lincoln-Douglas Debates". HISTORY, 2018, https://www.history.com/topics/19th-century/lincoln-douglas-debates. Accessed 23 Oct 2018.

"Our Documents - Transcript Of Dred Scott V. Sanford (1857)". Ourdocuments.Gov, 2018, https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=29&page=transcript. Accessed 23 Oct 2018.

Sean507productions. “Inside The Lincoln Douglas Debates – Documentary.” YouTube, commentary by Sean Briody, 10 Feb. 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cYWUlEV3Mg

November 24, 2023

Government History

Subject area:

Abraham Lincoln

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