to the MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.
summer of eighteen fifty-eight, two candidates campaigned across the state of
Illinois for a seat in the United States Senate. That seat belonged to Stephen
Douglas from the Democratic Party. He was seeking re-election. His opponent was
a lawyer from the newly established Republican Party. His name was Abraham
in our series, Frank Oliver and Larry West tell us about this campaign of
statewide but also national importance.
Lincoln proposed that he and Stephen Douglas hold several debates. The rules
for each debate would be the same. One man would speak for an hour. His
opponent would speak for an hour and a half. Then the first man would speak for
half an hour to close the debate. Douglas agreed.
seven debates in all. They were held in towns throughout Illinois. In some
places, there was great interest in what the two candidates had to say.
Thousands of people attended.
was a short, heavy man. One reporter said he looked like a fierce bulldog.
Douglas's friends and supporters called him "the little giant."
was just the opposite. He was very tall and thin, with long arms and legs. His
clothes did not fit well. And he had a plain face, one which many thought was
ugly. He looked more like a simple farmer than a candidate for the United
Lincoln-Douglas debates covered party politics and the future of the nation.
But everything the two men discussed was tied to one issue: slavery.
spoke first at the first debate. He questioned a statement made in one of
Lincoln's campaign speeches. Lincoln had said that the United States could not
continue to permit slavery in some areas, while banning it in others. He said
the Union could not stand so divided. It must either permit slavery everywhere
-- or nowhere.
did not agree. He noted that the country had been half-slave and half-free for
seventy years. Why then, he asked, should it not continue to exist that way.
The United States was a big country. What was best for one part might not be
best for another.
Douglas questioned Lincoln's statement on the Supreme Court's Dred Scott
decision. Lincoln had said he opposed the decision, because it did not permit
Negroes to enjoy the rights of citizenship.
said he believed the decision was correct. He said it was clear that the
government had been made by white men, for white men. He said he opposed Negro
not accept the Negro as my equal," Douglas said. "And I deny that he
is my brother. However," he said, "this does not mean I believe that
Negroes should be slaves. Negroes should enjoy every possible right that does
not threaten the safety of the society in which they live."
state and territory must decide for itself what these rights will be. Illinois
decided that Negroes will not be citizens, but that it will protect their life,
property, and civil rights. It keeps from Negroes only political rights, and
refuses to make Negroes equal to white men. That policy satisfies me,"
Douglas said. "And, it satisfies the Democratic Party."
denied that the Republican Party was an Abolitionist party." I have no
purpose," he said, "either directly or indirectly, to interfere with
slavery where it exists. I believe I have no legal right to do so. Nor do I
wish to do so. I do not," Lincoln said, "wish to propose political
and social equality between the white and black races."
he went on, "there is no reason in the world why Negroes should not have
all the natural rights listed in the Declaration of Independence. The right to
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
agree with Judge Douglas," Lincoln said, "that the Negro is not my
equal in many ways -- certainly not in color, perhaps not mentally or morally.
But in the right to eat the bread that his own hand earns, he is my equal and
the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man."
then defended his statement that the United States could not continue half
slave and half free.
He said he
did not mean that customs or institutions must be the same in every state. He
said it was healthy and necessary for differences to exist in a country so
large. He said different customs and institutions helped unite the country, not
Lincoln questioned if slavery was such an institution. He said slavery had not
tied the states of the Union together, but had always been an issue that
the country existed half-slave and half-free for so many years, Lincoln asked.
Because, he said, the men who created the government believed that slavery was
only temporary. Once people understood that slavery was not permanent, the
crisis would pass.
could be left alone in the South until it slowly died. That way, Lincoln said,
would be best for both the white and black races.
Douglas and Abraham Lincoln were campaigning for a Senate seat from the state
of Illinois. But their debates had national importance, too.
expected to be the Democratic candidate for president in eighteen sixty. His
statements could win or lose him support for that contest. Whenever possible,
he tried to show that he was a man of the people, like Lincoln. He tried to
show that his Democratic Party was a national party, while the Republican Party
was a party only of the North. And he tried to show that Lincoln's policies
would lead to civil war.
for his part, may have looked like a simple farmer. But he was a very smart
lawyer and politician. He asked questions which he knew would cause trouble for
Douglas. He wanted to create a split between Douglas and his supporters in the
also wanted to keep alive the debate over slavery. "That," he said,
"is the real issue. That is the issue that will continue in this country
when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself are silent. It is the
eternal struggle between right and wrong."
Illinois in eighteen fifty-eight, the state legislature chose the men who would
represent the state in the national Senate. So Stephen Douglas and Abraham
Lincoln had to depend on legislative support to get to Washington.
election day, the legislative candidates supporting Lincoln won four thousand
more popular votes than the candidates supporting Douglas. But because of the
way election areas had been organized, the Douglas Democrats won a majority of
seats. The newly elected legislature chose him to be senator.
was sad that he had not won. But he said he was glad to have tried. The
campaign, he said, "gave me a hearing on the great question of the age,
which I could have had in no other way. And though I now sink out of view and
shall be forgotten, I believe I have made some marks which will tell for the
cause of civil liberty long after I have gone."
people, however, did not think Abraham Lincoln would be forgotten. His campaign
speeches had been published everywhere in the East. His name was becoming
widely known. People began to speak of him as a presidential candidate.
To win the
presidential election of eighteen sixty, the Republican Party had decided it
needed a man of the people. He must be a good politician and leader. He must be
opposed to slavery, but not too extreme. Many people thought Lincoln could be
election in Illinois, Lincoln made several speaking trips in the western
states. In none of his speeches did he say he might be a candidate for president
in eighteen sixty.
said anything about "Lincoln for president," he would answer that he
did not have the ability. Or he would say there were better men in the party
than himself. Lincoln said: "Only events can make a president."
wait for those events.
Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Frank
Oliver and Larry West. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs are
online, along with historical images, at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again
next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an American history series in VOA
This is program #88 of THE
MAKING OF A NATION