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In 1856, Senator Steven Douglas a Democrat from Illinois, was running for reelection to the Senate.  His opponent was a newcomer to the political scene a Republican named Abraham Lincoln.  During the election campaign, the two candidates squared off in a series of seven debates.


(Click here to hear Lincoln's "House Divided" speech during the debates)

     During those debates both candidates appeared very  different in both message and appearance.  Douglas arrived by train wearing the most well pressed fashionable clothing of the time.  As he stepped off the train, a band welcomed his arrival.  Douglas was a short stocky man who some claimed looked like a bull.  While speaking in his deep voice, Douglas was loud, animated, and fiery. 

     By contrast Lincoln arrived by carriage wearing a wrinkled old suit and his customary stove pipe hat.  No band played as the tall, lanky, and clumsy looking Lincoln took the stage.  During the debate, Lincoln's high voice was soft spoken and claim.  While on stage he hardly moved as if his feet were nailed to the floor.  The two candidates could not have appeared different to the voting citizens of Illinois.

     During the debates the slavery question was a important issue.  Although he personally disliked slavery, Douglas supported the idea of popular sovereignty.  Lincoln saw slavery as a moral, social, and political wrong, but was not an abolitionist.  Like most Republicans he did not want to see slavery extended into the western territories, but would allow it to continue where it already existed.  During the debate, Lincoln trapped Douglas into admitting that slavery was wrong and that he did not support the Dred Scott Decision.

     After weeks of campaigning and newspaper reports about the debates across the nation, Douglas won the election and was reelected to the Senate.  Although he was reelected, Douglas' ultimate goal was to be elected president two years later.  In order to be reelected to the Senate, Douglas had to tell the people in Illinois that he did not support the Dred Scott Decision.  While he won the Senate election, southerners would not support Douglas' bid for president because of his views.  Although Lincoln lost the election, because of the debates he became nationally known as a rising star within the Republican Party. 

Click here to hear Lincoln's famous "House Divided" speech:

"A house divided against itself cannot stand.  I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.  I do not expect the union to be dissolved, I do not expect the house to fall, but I do expect it will cease to be divided.  It will become all one thing or all of the other."