On August 21, 1858 a then relatively unknown Abraham Lincoln first debated Stephen A. Douglas in Ottawa, Illinois during their campaign to become a U.S. senator. Their seven debates that summer and fall have become the gold standard for political debates. See the multimedia slideshow Debating Douglas on the National Stage, 1857-1858 (Requires RealPlayer) to learn more about their historical context and significance.
You may recall that earlier this year Hillary Clinton challenged Barack Obama to a Lincoln - Douglas style debate during the primary season. I wonder if the American public would have found this interesting or not, since the 1858 debates featured an hour-long presentation by the first speaker (Lincoln and Douglas alternated going first), an hour and a half response by the second candidate, and then a half hour rejoinder by the first speaker. Would you be willing and able to watch a three hour political debate? How would the second-by-second 24 hour news cycle handle this kind of marathon?
Lincoln lost this election, but gained valuable national exposure. Two years later he defeated Douglas and others to become our 16th president. It was during these debates that Lincoln started honing and perfecting the rhetorical skills that we have been reading about this summer.
See you all in Barton Hall on Sunday afternoon.
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Image: Lincoln and Douglas, November 3, 1903. Creator: Jaspard, J. M. Image Source: Chicago Historical Society