This autumn marks the 155th anniversary of the historic debates across Illinois that foreshadowed the looming Civil War and catapulted Abraham Lincoln to national prominence.
In 1858, incumbent U.S. Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, nicknamed the “Little Giant” for being short in physical stature (5’4”) but a towering figure in state and national politics, sought re-election against a little-known Springfield lawyer, Abraham Lincoln, who had previously served several
As one of the most powerful and influential Senators in the country, Stephen Douglas was already a household name in Illinois. In the 1858 campaign, Senator Douglas agreed to debate Lincoln, his Republican challenger, in each of Illinois’ nine congressional districts. Since both men had already spoken within a day of each other in two cities, Chicago and Springfield, they agreed to joint appearances in each of the state’s other seven congressional districts.
The debates were well-attended and widely reported by newspapers not only in Illinois but throughout the nation. Slavery, as expected, was the main issue discussed in all seven debates. Although Douglas prevailed on Election Day, winning a third term in the U.S. Senate, the debates previewed the rematch between these two Illinois legends in the presidential election of 1860 just two years later, with Lincoln winning that contest to become the 16th President of the United States.
The drama all played out right here in Illinois – in these seven Illinois cities:
Ottawa (LaSalle County)
August 21, 1858
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Freeport (Stephenson County)
August 27, 1858
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Jonesboro (Union County)
September 15, 1858
|Lincoln Douglas Debate Museum|
Charleston (Coles County)
September 18, 1858
Galesburg (Knox County)
October 7, 1858
Quincy (Adams County)
October 13, 1858
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Alton (Madison County)
October 15, 1858