Lincoln-Douglas Debate at Charleston
Image Courtesy of Karen Kruse
The marker is located near the Lincoln-Douglas Debate Museum located on the east side of the Coles County Fairgrounds, 416 West Madison Avenue, Charleston.
State of Illinois
On September 18, 1858, Springfield attorney and former U.S. Congressman Abraham Lincoln debated U.S. Senator Stephen A. Douglas at the Coles County Fairgrounds during the senatorial campaign of that year. The Charleston debate was the fourth of seven debates held between Lincoln and Douglas from August to October. A reported 12,000 to 15,000 people were in attendance at the Charleston debate, with many spectators traveling to Charleston by train and wagon from Indiana.
The campaign centered on the issue of slavery in the federal territories. Was the institution to be extended into the territories and new slaves states created or not Lincoln as the Republican candidate opposed the extension of slavery while Douglas as the Democratic incumbent defended his doctrine of “Popular Sovereignty,” which held that the residents of the territories should decide the Slavery issue for themselves. It was during the Charleston debate that Lincoln denied Douglas’ charge that he favored social and political equality for African-Americans. He opposed slavery but took the position that whites should maintain “a superior position”–a statement that has qualified his legacy as the Great Emancipator.
Lincoln won the popular vote but lost the election since the Democrats controlled the Illinois Senate, and state legislatures at that time elected United State Senators. Although Douglas was reelected the debates positioned Lincoln to win the presidency two years late.
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