Stephen A. Douglas: First Debate with Abraham Lincoln

(1858)

In 1858 Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, opponents in a race for the U.S. Senate, agreed to hold a series of six debates, now collectively known as the Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858. Over his political career, Douglas gave more than four thousand speeches. They built his career, for he had no family or other political connections to speak of—only the power to influence men’s minds through his words. His speeches represent the height of traditional rhetoric. With no microphones, no teleprompter, no giant video screens and without even the acoustics of a lecture hall to support his voice, he spoke to and held in rapt attention crowds of thousands As a consequence, his audience—quite different from the modern American electorate—was attuned to the subtle nuance of his discourse and was entertained by his turns of phrase and rhetorical invention. He was as adroit at answering questions from the audience as in delivering his prepared remarks. As a speaker,...

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Stephan A. Douglas (Library of Congress)

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