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.