Matthew Pinsker

What were the Lincoln Douglas Debates about?

The Lincoln Douglas Debates were about one issue:  slavery.  It was the overriding issue of the day.  Lincoln said it was the only live issue of the era.  And, it’s a remarkable fact, because Illinois was a free state.  The state had lots of challenges that year.  1858, the country was in the middle of a depression, what they called a panic.  There were lots of controversies over rivers and harbors, internal improvements, [and] economic policy. There was a whole debate going on in the country then about immigration and its impact on society in the North.  Yet, in the state of Illinois, that year, these two men talked for hours and hours about the institution of slavery and its fate in the country and it absorbed audiences of thousands, and then later, an extended audience of millions in print.  So, it’s a really important window into how slavery was polarizing the country, ripping the sections apart, and leading the nation toward war.