The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858

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Before engaging in the debates with Senator Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln was relatively unknown in the political world and was just beginning his career in politics. Abraham Lincoln’s reputation was just starting to grow, and his life was about to make a drastic change. The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 were a turning point in Abraham Lincoln’s political career.

Lincoln had served four terms in the Illinois legislature, and now desired an office with greater prestige. Lincoln had served the Whig Party well, and election to Congress became his goal.

In 1843 and 1844, Lincoln lost the nomination for Congress to other candidates. Although disappointed, he kept striving for his goal. Finally, in 1846, his hard work had paid off. Abraham Lincoln won the Whig nomination for the U. S. House of Representatives.

Lincoln started his Congressional career on December 6, 1847. He failed to make the reputation he had hoped for in Congress. Some of his main tasks included, a bill that would free slaves in the District of Columbia and supporting the Wilmot Proviso, banning slavery in territories acquired from Mexico. He also supported the Whig policy which had the government paying for internal improvements, and in 1848, he worked on the nomination and election of Zachary Taylor, the Whig candidate for President. Already in his political career, Lincoln had a strong stand on slavery. His term ended on March 4, 1849. Lincoln’s stay in Congress was brief and frustrating. He opposed the Mexican War so vigorously that he lost much of his popularity with his constituency. At the expiration of his term in 1849 he returned home and sank into the political background.

At that point, Lincoln decided to return to Springfield, Illinois and revive his law career. He practiced law more seriously than ever and represented big businesses and corporations in many lawsuits, and soon prospered. After successfully defending the Illinois Central Railroad in an important tax case, he became known as the leading lawyer of Illinois. His reputation all over the state had grown steadily. However, Lincoln knew that law was not his dream.

Abraham Lincoln decided to reenter politics. At that point in time, there had been a sudden change in the national theme towards slavery. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 had prohibited slavery in territories north of Missouri’s so...

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...tly he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions” (Phillips 38). The above quotation was part of Lincoln’s remarks in the first Lincoln-Douglas debate at Ottawa on August 21, 1858. Also, Lincoln was one of the best extemporaneous debaters of all time (Phillips 145). Lincoln listened to what the people wanted, which gained him popularity and respect. During the debates, he was always confident, mostly because he stood up for what he believed was right. Even if Lincoln’s ideas were of the minority, he would not back down. These verbal skills benefited him throughout his political career. Besides national interest, Lincoln received worldwide appeal. This tall, honest politician was now known across the globe.

The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 marked a turning point in Abraham Lincoln’s political career, and lead to his popularity among the United States. Finally, without the debates, a great leader, Lincoln, would never have been produced. “Abraham Lincoln was a great writer and a great orator as well as a great leader” (Ayres IX). Abraham Lincoln started his political career as a nobody, but in the end was greatly admired.
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