When Abraham Lincoln challenged Stephen Douglas to debates
in the Illinois Senate campaign of 1858, most political observers scoffed.
Douglas had built a reputation as a great orator and wily debater able
to destroy political opponents with turns of phrase and logic alike.
Although Lincoln lost the election (in which the Illinois State Legislature
elected the state's Senator), he built a national reputation for himself
by holding his own in the debates with Douglas. Lincoln even used his
rhetorical skills to paint the Little Giant into several logical corners,
most notably with the "Freeport Doctrine" discussed in the debate of
August 27 at that city. In this doctrine Douglas reformulated the idea
of popular sovereignty and permanently alienated southern Democrats.
He argued that, even though the Dred Scott decision had stated that
territories could not ban slavery, settlers could exclude slavery from
a territory by not adopting local legislation to protect it. Outraged
southerners immediately realized that this doctrine could deny them
the victory they won in the Dred Scott case. Douglas' clash with Lincoln
had ruined his hopes for the presidency.
For more information about politics in the 19th century, please look at Lincoln/Net's Getting the Message Out! National Political Campaign Materials, 1840-1860 Web site.