The Lincoln-Douglas Society of Freeport, Illinois

1858 Debates

History of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates

United States Senators were not elected by popular vote at that time, but by state legislatures. As a result, Douglas and Lincoln both campaigned to give their party a majority in the Illinois General Assembly.

With a strong organization and more money, Douglas was able to draw large crowds whenever he appeared in public. Lincoln was forced to use Douglas’ crowds as a place to advertise his own rallies, usually speaking later in the day or the next day.

Tired of being dogged by Lincoln across the state, Douglas finally agreed to “share the same platform and divide our time.”

Seven debates were agreed to, one in each of the seven Congressional Districts in Illinois where the two had not previously given major speeches within a day of each other. They had previously spoken within a day of each other in Springfield and Chicago, which meant that those two Congressional Districts would not host one of the formal debates.


The locations of the debates were determined by which towns in each Congressional District had the best transportation connections.

  1. Ottawa – August 21
  2. Freeport – August 27
  3. Jonesboro – September 15
  4. Charleston – September 18
  5. Galesburg – October 7
  6. Quincy – October 13
  7. Alton – October 15


  • The first speaker was allowed one hour, the second speaker was allowed one and one-half hours, and then the first speaker was allowed a half hour “rejoinder.”
  • Douglas spoke first at Ottawa, Jonesboro, Galesburg and Alton.
  • Lincoln spoke first at Freeport, Charleston, and Quincy.

Stenography was used by newspapers in an attempt to get accurate texts of the debates. However, since newspapers were highly partisan at the time, Douglas’ speeches were edited to make them read better when printed in pro-Democratic papers, while Lincoln’s speeches were not. Republican-leaning newspapers edited Lincoln’s speeches and left Douglas’ in their raw form.


National interest in the debates was aroused because of the nature of the topic and the prominence of Douglas as possible presidential nominee. Newspapers across the nation reprinted the debate texts as originally published in Chicago newspapers.

After the election Lincoln took his collection of newspaper texts of the debates and had them published in book form.

Lincoln gained national attention because of the debates, which led to his being the nominee of the Republican party for president in 1860.

Douglas-Lincoln Debates was how the debates were known for many years after the election.

Results of the 1858 election:

  • Douglas was easily re-elected to the U.S. Senate because the Illinois General Assembly was controlled by his party.
  • But Douglas’ stance on popular sovereignty caused a split in the Democrat Party so that there were three Democrats on the ballot for president in 1860.
  • Lincoln was elected President in 1860 and states immediately began seceding from the Union, setting off the Civil War.