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Scene from a Lincoln-Douglas

Scene from a Lincoln-Douglas Debate in the Illinois Senate campaign of 1858

Abraham Lincoln challenged Stephen Douglas to debate the issues, and the Little Giant, the more well known of the two, reluctantly agreed. Douglas vigorously supported his policy of popular sovereignty as a way to remove slavery from the divisive national stage to the local level where democracy was at its most immediate and best. He also played to Illinois' widespread racism, suggesting that Lincoln was an abolitionist seeking social and political equality for African-Americans. Lincoln had argued that black Americans were included in the Declaration of Independence's famed assertion that all men were created equal. To this, Douglas declared, "I do not regard the negro as my equal, and positively deny that he is my brother or any kin to me whatever." Having denied the essential humanity of black Americans, Douglas affirmed that the government "was made by white men, for the benefit of white men and their posterity for ever." Blacks could never be citizens and slavery could exist forever. The Little Giant's appeals to racism forced Lincoln on the defensive in anti-black Illinois, and he devoted time in the debates to denying that he supported black social and political equality. He reaffirmed though, his belief in black humanity. "There is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man." This strong acknowledgment of the black man's humanity undermined the fundamental prop of the slave system, that the slaves were somehow less than human.

Permission: Public domain.
©Copyright 2002 Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project