For four months in 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas crisscrossed Illinois, traveling nearly 10,000 miles and participating in seven face-to-face debates before crowds of up to 15,000. During the course of the debates, Lincoln and Douglas presented two sharply contrasting views of the problem of slavery. Douglas argued that slavery was a dying institution that had reached its natural limits and could not thrive where climate and soil were inhospitable. He asserted that the problem of slavery could be resolved if it was treated as a local problem.
Lincoln, on the other hand, regarded slavery as a dynamic, expansionist institution, hungry for new territory. He argued that if Northerners allowed slavery to spread unchecked, slave owners would make slavery a national institution and would reduce all laborers, white as well as black, to a state of virtual slavery.
Douglas's strategy in the debates was to picture Lincoln as a fanatical "Black Republican" and "amalgamationist" whose goal was to foment civil war, emancipate the slaves, and make them the social and political equals of whites. Lincoln denied he was a radical. He said that he supported the Fugitive Slave Law and opposed any interference with slavery in the states where it already existed. He also said that he was not in favor "of bringing about the social and political equality of the white and black races."
Lincoln Stands on the Old Whig Platform
The following are Douglas' Questions and Lincoln's Answers at Freeport:
Questions 1. "I desire to know whether Lincoln to-day stands as he did in 1854 in favor of the unconditional repeal of the fugitive slave law?"
Answer. I do not now, nor ever did, stand in favor of the unconditional repeal of the fugitive slave law.
Q. 2. "I desire him to answer whether he stands pledged to-day, as he did in 1854, against the admission of any more slave States into the Union, even if the people want them?"
A. I do not now, nor ever did, stand pledged against the admission of any more slave States into the Union.
Q. 3. "I want to know whether he stands pledged against the admission of a new State into the Union, which such a Constitution as the people of that State may see fit to make."
A. I do not stand pledged against the admission of a new State into the Union, with such a Constitution as the people of that State may see fit to make.
Q. 4. "I want to know whether he stands to-day pledged to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia?"
A. I do not stand to-day pledged to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia.
Q. 5. "I desire him to answer whether he stands pledged to the prohibition of the slave trade between the different States."
A. I do not stand pledged to the prohibition of the slave trade between the different States.
Q. 6. "I desire to know whether he stands pledged to prohibit slavery in all the Territories of the United States, North as well as South of the Missouri Compromise line."
A. I am impliedly, if not expressly, pledged to a belief in the right and duty of Congress to prohibit slavery in all the United States Territories.
Q. 7. "I desire him to answer whether he is opposed to the acquisition of any new Territory unless slavery is first prohibited therein."
A. I am not generally opposed to honest acquisition of territory; and in any given case I would, or would not oppose such acquisition, accordingly as I think such acquisition would or would not agitate the slavery question among ourselves.
Mr. Lincoln stands on the Old Whig Platform, with Clay and Webster.…