Map of Illinois showing Debate Sites

Lincoln - Douglas Debates of 1858

The debates between Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln were held during the 1858 campaign for a US Senate seat from Illinois. The debates were held at 7 sites throughout Illinois, one in each of the 7 Congressional Districts [ Map of Congresstional Districts].

Douglas, a Democrat, was the incumbent Senator, having been elected in 1847. He had chaired the Senate Committee on Territories. He helped enact the Compromise of 1850. Douglas then was a proponent of Popular Sovereignty, and was responsible for the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The legislation led to the violence in Kansas, hence the name "Bleeding Kansas"

Lincoln was a relative unknown at the beginning of the debates. In contrast to Douglas' Popular Sovereignty stance, Lincoln stated that the US could not survive as half-slave and half-free states. The Lincoln-Douglas debates drew the attention of the entire nation.

Although Lincoln would lose the Senate race in 1858, he would beat Douglas out in the 1860 race for the US Presidency.

The Lincoln-Douglas debates were re-enacted in the Fall of 1994 with live coverage by CSPAN.


List of Debates

  1. Washington Square, Ottawa, Illinois
  2. Freeport, Illinois
    Over 15,000 people attended the original debate in Freeport, then a town of 5,000. Freeport Doctrine, which was the result of the debate, states people had the right to choose whether or not to exclude slavery from their limits.
  3. Union County Fairgrounds, Jonesboro, Illinois
    Union County Fairgrounds is today part of Shawnee National Forest's Lincoln Park) Union County is south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The debate subject split families into Confederate & Union factions. Over 50 cemeteries throughout Union County tell of many who lost their lives in the War Between the States
  4. Coles County Fairgrounds, Charleston, Illinois
    This was area was very familiar to Lincoln. Lincoln's father had lived and died here. Lincoln's stepmother & many relatives & friends lived here too. Lincoln had a thriving law practice in the community. A majority of the townspeople had come from Kentucky and Tennessee, moving north to avoid competition with slave labor. Most were poor and believed they had no chance to win out in the competition with slave labor.
  5. Old Main, Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois The east side on East South St. between Cedar and South Cherry Streets was the site of the original debate. This location has the only currently remain structure from the original debates. [Photo of Old Main]
  6. Washington Park, Quincy, Illinois
  7. Broadway & Market Streets, Alton, Illinois

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