America in the 1850s

Abraham Lincoln Appears on the Scene

What was the level, or style, of speechmaking at the Lincoln–Douglas debates?

There were moments and times when it was rather high, and times and moments when it was quite low. Neither man proved above the fray: each threw all sorts of pot-shots at the other.

There was an almost equal division of “high” and “low” moments, meaning that there were days and debates in which Lincoln was clearly better rested and more clear on the stump, and vice versa. Neither man really won great plaudits, because they were both playing a political game, and one that included increasingly high stakes. But on the whole, those who listened believed that Douglas was the “stronger” orator, who made his points more forcefully, and that Lincoln was the “sounder” one, using logic more effectively. Neither man achieved a high level of oratory during the debates. The long time frame meant that both had to employ rhetorical tricks just to make it through the three-hour debates.


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