America in the 1850s

Abraham Lincoln Appears on the Scene

What role did slavery play in the Lincoln–Douglas debates?

A much higher level than most people expected. Going into the debates, many people believed they would revolve primarily around taxation, railroad issues, and the growth and development of the State of Illinois. All of these matters were touched upon, sometimes at considerable length, but the issue of slavery reared its head time and again.

First, it is important to say that Lincoln was no abolitionist, not even a lukewarm one. Time and again during the debates and the election campaign, he declared his belief that slavery, while abhorrent on a personal level, was protected by the federal constitution. Another way of saying this is that there was no constitutional remedy for slavery, no way for the federal government or any other power to bring about its end. Douglas sometimes employed race-baiting, including taunting Lincoln on the subject of African American equality. Time and again, Lincoln asserted his belief that blacks were not equal to whites and that they might not be so for as long as a century into the future.


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