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Abraham Lincoln

Slavery and the Lincoln-Douglas Debates

The prairie lawyer emerged again into politics in 1854, when he was caught up in the rising quarrel over slavery. He stoutly opposed the policy of Stephen A. Douglas and particularly the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In a speech at Springfield, repeated at Peoria, he attacked the compromises concerning the question of slavery in the territories and invoked the democratic ideals contained in the Declaration of Independence. In 1855 he sought to become a Senator but failed.

He had already realized that his sentiments were leading him away from the Whigs and toward the new Republican party, and in 1856 he became a Republican. He quickly came to the fore in the party as a moderate opponent of slavery who could win both the abolitionists and the conservative free-staters, and at the Republican national convention of 1856 he was prominent as a possible vice presidential candidate. Two years later he was nominated by the Republican party to oppose Douglas in the Illinois senatorial race.

Accepting the nomination (in a speech delivered at Springfield on June 16), Lincoln gave a ringing declaration in support of the Union: "A house divided against itself cannot stand." The campaign that followed was impressive. Lincoln challenged Douglas to a series of debates (seven were held), in which he delivered masterful addresses for the Union and for the democratic idea. He was not an abolitionist, but he regarded slavery as an injustice and an evil, and uncompromisingly opposed its extension.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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