Lincoln-Douglas Debates (1858)

Author:William M. Wiecek

Page 1625

STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS, running for reelection to the United States Senate, agreed to debate his Republican challenger, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, at seven joint appearances in rural Illinois during the summer of 1858. The resulting discourse, promptly reprinted in full in newspapers, produced a classic survey of alternatives for the future of SLAVERY and black people in the American constitutional system.

Douglas defended the concept of territorial SOVEREIGNTY : let the people of the territories, rather than Congress, decide the future of slavery there. He stated that he "cared not whether slavery be voted up or voted down" and accused Lincoln of advocating racial equality. Lincoln emphasized the incompatibility of Douglas's position with the decision in DRED SCOTT V. SANDFORD (1857), in which Chief Justice ROGER B. TANEY had stated that a territorial legislature lacked power to exclude slavery. Douglas responded with the " FREEPORT DOCTRINE ": a territorial legislature could exclude slavery simply by not enacting legislation supporting it. Lincoln hinted at a conspiracy involving Taney, Douglas, and the Pierce and BUCHANAN administrations to force slavery into the free states, an allegation Douglas indignantly denied by reasserting the power of each state to...

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