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In , Lincoln took highly controversial position that foreshadowed his future political path, joining with five other legislators—out of eighty-three—to oppose a resolution condemning abolitionists. In , he responded to the death of the Illinois abolitionist and newspaper editor Elijah Parish Lovejoy, who was killed while defending his printing presses from a mob of pro-slavery citizens in Alton, Illinois. In a statesmanlike manner, Lincoln gave a cautious speech at the Springfield Young Men's Lyceum, emphasizing the dangers to democracy and the rule of law when citizens use violence instead of votes and reason to have their way.

In , with a keen political eye, Lincoln campaigned for the populist war hero and Whig candidate William Henry Harrison.

In taking this position, Lincoln clearly appealed to the racism of the overwhelming majority of Illinois voters. Like many other opponents of slavery, Lincoln, at this point, did not favor citizenship rights for blacks. After four terms in the state legislature, Lincoln left office in but returned to public life in to win the Whig nomination for a seat from the Illinois seventh congressional district to the U.

House of Representatives. Ten days after the nomination, America went to war with Mexico. During the months of the campaign, Lincoln said nothing about the Mexican-American War, which allowed him to win the district by a large majority. Once in office, however, Lincoln voiced his opinion on the conflict. Congressman Lincoln boldly challenged President James Polk's assertion that the Mexicans had started the war by attacking American soldiers on American soil.

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In a speech on the House floor, Lincoln scathingly denounced the Polk administration for taking the country to war by misrepresenting the situation to the nation, claiming correctly that the conflict had begun on territory contested by the two sides. It was a blatant and public attack on a popular President by a young unknown congressman from a state that was solidly behind the war. Some of his friends were shocked at Lincoln's bold position, but his stand was common among congressional Whigs.

Lincoln earlier had promised not to run for a second term in order to win the party's nomination over two other aspiring candidates. He also had little chance as a Whig for election as a U. No Whig had ever obtained either position from Illinois. In , intent on keeping his name before the national audience, Lincoln campaigned in Maryland and Massachusetts for Whig presidential candidate Zachary Taylor. Then he retired to Springfield, where he practiced law from to , becoming one of the more successful lawyers in the state, representing all kinds of clients, including railroad interests.

Although elected in again to the state legislature, he promptly resigned to run for the U. Senate, losing on the ninth ballot in the state legislature which in those days chose U. After his defeat, Lincoln abandoned the defunct Whig Party and joined the new Republican Party in This new national party was comprised of many former Whigs who opposed slavery—referred to as "Conscience Whigs"—Free-Soilers, and antislavery Democrats. The Republicans took a firm stand against slavery. They were dedicated to the repeal of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the prevention of the further extension of slavery westward.

Lincoln, the Constitutionalist

The new party also demanded the immediate admission of Kansas into the Union as a free state, denounced the Ostend Manifesto, which called for the annexation of Cuba where slavery was legal , and called for federal support of internal improvements-especially the construction of a railroad to the Pacific. As a favorite-son candidate from Illinois, Lincoln was placed in nomination for vice president but failed to win at the convention in Philadelphia.

He thereafter aggressively stumped the state in support of John C. Although the Democratic candidate James Buchanan won the election and carried Illinois, Lincoln's Republican Party did surprisingly well, winning most of the northern counties and 30 percent of the popular vote. This put him head-to-head in a race with the powerful Senator Stephen A. Douglas, one of Lincoln's rivals from his days in the Illinois state capital, who was running for a third term as a Democrat.

There followed a series of seven debates between Lincoln and Douglas in towns across Illinois over the next seventy days. Several factors helped to attract national attention to the campaign battles. First, Douglas, one of the key figures behind the Compromise of , enjoyed a reputation as the "Little Giant" of the Democratic Party and its best stump speaker. Second, the national debate over slavery was reaching a boiling point.

During the four years leading up to these historic debates, Americans had witnessed some incredibly violent and explosive events that were sharply dividing the nation. Responding to the fervor, journalists accompanied the candidates, writing articles detailing the debates and offering editorial commentary that was unprecedented in American political history. The whole country watched the debates unfold. A leader of the Democratic Party, Douglas had made himself politically vulnerable when he broke with Democratic President James Buchanan and Southern Democrats over the issue of Kansas statehood.


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Douglas opposed the admission of Kansas as a slave state under the terms of the controversial, proslavery Lecompton constitution. That constitution, which was widely believed to have been the result of voter fraud by Missouri "border ruffians," would have legalized slavery in the new state. Douglas, hoping to appeal to antislavery Northern Democrats and Republicans, took a popular sovereignty stance and opposed the constitution as unrepresentative of the majority opinion in Kansas.

Enraged Southern Democrats accused Douglas of party treason. Lincoln understood that he would have to take a high moral ground to undermine the temptation of some Republicans to vote for Douglas as a means of dividing the national Democratic Party. Recognized as one of the most important speeches in American history, his powerful message warned that the crisis over slavery would not be resolved until the nation stood either completely slave or totally free. He then turned on Douglas by saying that the threat to the nation's unity came principally from Douglas's popular sovereignty perspective.


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  4. Lincoln envisioned a dozen "Bleeding Kansas" episodes in which settlers fought over the issue of slavery in order to get the upper hand in the territories. Furthermore, Lincoln charged Douglas with being part of secret cabal to extend slavery to the free states. He boldly announced that slavery was simply immoral and had to be dealt with forthrightly by the U. For Lincoln, slavery violated the fundamental assertion of the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal. He argued that its continued existence and support in the nation ran counter to the wishes of the founding fathers.

    Ultimately, only the power of the federal government could resolve the issue by extinguishing slavery from the nation. Although Lincoln contended that there existed no constitutional way of interfering with slavery where it presently existed, he believed that it should not be allowed to expand westward. For him, the matter was a question of right and wrong, with Douglas indifferent to a moral wrong. Douglas met the challenge by trying to portray Lincoln as a radical abolitionist. He disagreed with Lincoln's claim that the founding fathers had opposed slavery, pointing out that many of them, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, had owned slaves.

    He played down the moral issue in favor of his commitment to a Jacksonian egalitarianism for white Americans, saying that the power to decide about the existence of slavery should be left to each community and on the local level. And he argued that slavery in any case would never survive outside of the South for simple economic reasons. Douglas asserted in his Freeport Doctrine delivered at Freeport, Illinois that the people could keep slavery out of their territories.

    American History Series: The Story of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858

    Despite the Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court, which defended the property rights of slaveowners, Douglas claimed that local communities could decide for themselves to not pass local police laws to preserve the institution of slavery and not to protect slaveowners. He warned the nation not to try to judge political issues on moral grounds lest emotions spill over into civil war. Ultimately, Douglas argued that the issue came down to conflicting ideologies: a view of the nation as a confederacy of sovereign and equal states versus a federalist empire of consolidated states.

    He accused Lincoln of being an abolitionist at heart, and a dangerous fanatic whose policies would result in racial consolidation and racial equality. In doing so, Douglas appealed shamelessly to the race prejudice of Illinois voters. It was on this last issue of racial equality that Lincoln had the most difficulty in answering Douglas. Lincoln could not easily declare that slavery was immoral and that African Americans were endowed with God-given rights as presented in the Declaration of Independence without leaving himself vulnerable to Douglas's race-baiting attacks.

    Either African Americans were equal to white Americans, Douglas proclaimed, or they were not. Lincoln answered by trying to contend that there were physical and social differences between the races that would "probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality. Like most other Republicans, he opposed granting blacks the rights to vote, sit on juries, hold public office, or intermarry with whites.

    Blacks were equal, he said, to all men in their freedom to earn the just rewards for the work they did rather than to have those earnings confiscated by tyrants, kings, and slavemasters. In those days, U. Thus, the debates were designed to appeal to voters who would elect members of the state legislature, who would in turn elect the U.

    Lincoln–Douglas debates - Wikipedia

    When the votes were counted, although Republican candidates won a slight plurality of the popular vote, the malapportionment of legislative districts favored southern Illinois, where the Democrats were strongest. Indeed, in spring , Douglass, though throughout most of his life an opponent of such schemes, grew so wary of President Lincoln that he planned a week trip to Haiti to ponder emigrating there himself he eventually canceled the trip.

    With the stroke of a pen, Lincoln, acting in his role as commander in chief, had elevated the war effort from a fight to preserve a political nation-state, the Union, into a moral campaign against human bondage. The proclamation did not abolish American slavery, nor did it free all American slaves. Its meaning to me was the entire abolition of slavery, wherever the evil could be reached by the Federal arm, and I saw that its moral power would extend much further. It was, in my estimation, an immense gain to have the war for the Union committed to the extinction of slavery, even from a military necessity.

    He found the tall president seated in a low chair, surrounded by books and papers. Douglass, I know you; I have read about you, and Mr. Lincoln, in turn, asked Douglass how the Union Army might more effectively recruit former slaves now in Union-occupied parts of the South. As their exchange drew to a close, Senator Samuel C.

    Stanton intended to commission Douglass adjutant-general to Gen. Lorenzo Thomas. The commission would authorize Douglass to travel down the Mississippi and recruit former slaves into the army. Stanton will give Mr.