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Little Giant as Gladiator

Little Giant as Gladiator

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.

Permission: Chicago Historical Society.
©Copyright 2002 Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project