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The Great Debate at Ottawa


Thursday, August 26, 1858

DOUGLAS HARD PUSHED AND GREATLY ENRAGED! -- Twelve thousand persons were in attendance at Ottawa during the discussion between Lincoln and Douglas. The Chicago Press and Tribune gives the following graphic account of the contest:

Mr. Douglas laid down a plan for conducting the Ottawa discussion, at once cunning, unfair and cowardly. We employ those terms as describing exactly the course he pursued towards his opponent. He had the opening speech. His policy was first to avoid a discussion of the real living issues before the people; second, to throw Lincoln upon the defensive,and compel him to consume his time in replying to irrelevant matter. He commenced his harangue by perverting the "true intent and meaning" of his Nebraska bill. He next committed a forgery by reading some radical resolutions passed at Aurora in September, 1854, by a local meeting, and charging that they were adopted by a Republican State Convention at Springfield, October 5th, 1854. He then asserted that Lincoln, Lovejoy, Codding and Farnsworth helped to frame and pass these resolutions, as a portion of the Republican State platform -- which charges, as he well knew, were utterly false. Then he alleged that after making this platform Lincoln and Trumbull entered into a conspiracy to "abolitionize" -- the former the Clay Whigs, and the later the Jackson Democrats of Illinois -- in order that they might vault into the Senate Chamber, the one into Shields' seat and the others into Douglas'. Then he went on to ask Lincoln a long string of questions, every one of which were wholly foreign and outside of the real matters in issue; after which he consumed the remainder of his hour in charging that Lincoln was in favor of negro equality, and amalgamation, of turning loose upon our prairies all the negroes of Missouri, of making them citizens, voters and office holders, and marrying them with the whites of the State! He also charged that Lincoln was in favor of freeing all the slaves in the South, of interfering with the institutions of the slave States, and of amalgamating and equalizing two races in their social and political rights. He had the brazen mendacity to insist that Lincoln went about the State preaching and advocating these doctrines! -- All these things he said in a coarse, boisterous, Short-Boy style of delivery.

Much to his discomfiture and chagrin, Lincoln disposed of his miserable slang and impertinent questions in ten minute's time, and passed at once into the merits of the great bona fide issues before the State and the country. He lifted the curtain that hid the conspiracies and conspirators from view, and laid before the gaze of ten thousand auditors the work in which the little Cataline was engaged, and showed up who were his confreres and associates in the plot to overthrow the Constitution, nationalize slavery, and convert our Union into a negro-breeding despotism. He performed this task in an earnest, calm manner, employing gentlemanly language, and directed his remarks to the understanding and consciences of his bearers in a manner that carried conviction to the head and heart.

When Lincoln has concluded his masterly and crushing indictment and conviction, amidst the applause of thousands of voices, Douglas sprang to his feet to reply. His face was livid with passion and excitement. All his plans had been demolished, himself placed in the criminal's box to answer to an indictment, and to make head against a mountain of damning testimony heaped up against him by his antagonist. We have never seen a human face so distorted with rage. He resembled a wild beast in looks and gesture, and a maniac in language and argument. He made no adequate reply to the heavy charges brought against him, save to call everybody "liars" who alleged or believed them. He finished up by renewing his miserable charges and repeating his irrelevant questions, and claiming with a grand flourish that Lincoln had not refuted the one nor answered the other; boasted that he had won the victory, and threatened what awful things he would do when he should next meet Lincoln in Freeport.

It was the opinion of every unprejudiced listener, that Douglas would give a year off the end off his life if he could escape meeting Lincoln at the six discussions through which he must yet pass.