Ottawa, Illinois, Aug. 21
The stage for the first debate has been erected on the edge of the canal. It is constructed in a manner that allows for impermanence due to the nature of these debates. To stir people up for the election and then to be torn away at the end of it all. I suppose there is a charm to it, to live in the moment of history. Ottawa itself, in the far north of the state, boasts only a population of 3,000. From the early hours of the morning, people have been gathering to attend these festivities, this meeting of the minds. Or maybe the separating of the minds. Perhaps there will be 10,000 people, maybe more.
It was an honor to see both Judge Douglas and Mr. Lincoln. It stirs one’s soul. They could not be as different as men as cats and dogs. Where Judge Douglas is a stout man, nearer to round than any other shape, Mr. Lincoln has grown in length. He is a very tall man.
They could not be further apart in ideology as well.
Mr. Lincoln is escorted by his supporters from the railway. Many sing his praises and while some may remain skeptical of this new Republican party one cannot argue the fact that this county and region favor Mr. Lincoln over Judge Douglas.
That is not to say that Judge Douglas arrived to a cold shoulder. He and his people arrive in a massive collation of folks on horseback. A cannon rings out to announce his arrival and his crowd only grows as he travels from Peru. People hang out of their window to catch a view of the rising star judge.
Their arrival stirs up the dirt in the air, which hangs heavy in the late summer heat. People gather to watch this speech, which isn’t to take place until late afternoon and will continue until early evening – and as I said they were arriving with the first rays of sunlight.
Wm. H.H. Cushman is the man who delivers the opening remarks with some favorability to the sitting senator, Douglas:
“For the honor you have impressed upon your constituents the people of the State of Illinois by your firm, consistent, and patriotic insisting in the councils of this nation for Democratic principles (applause) asserting the ability, and the right of the people to be the sole judges of the acts of the legislative bodies themselves what institutions they will found and under what laws they can best sustain the great principles of self-government.”
Douglas is the leading national advocate of “popular sovereignty” – the idea that people in the territories should decide whether to enter the union slave or free. Mr. Lincoln has already given a famous speech on what he thinks about that. “A House divided against itself cannot stand.”
Judge Douglas begins the first hour of speech as impassioned as the bulldog many describe him as resembling. His face is red as he hurls through his oratory shouting and hollering at his opponent, cutting with harsh wit. It is nearly impossible to hear the words far from the stage through the din of the crowd and perhaps a few spooked horses and the speculation of fistfights at the fringe of the crowd.
There’s a whispered rumor that part of the stage had collapsed on the head of the Douglas delegation, but from my position I can not tell if this is true.
Mr. Lincoln seems to lose some of his famed composure, holding his shoulders close together as Judge Douglas rips into the goals of the “black Republican” party. Douglas shouts about abolition and great violations of states’ rights and paints the picture of hundreds of thousands of freed Missouri slaves turning the prairie land of Illinois into a “Negro colony.” The crowd jeers and cheers at the appropriate moments, and perhaps the debate has already been won without the return speech and rebuttal. Says Douglas:
If you desire negro citizenship, if you desire to allow them to come into the State and settle with the white man, if you desire them to vote on an equality with yourselves, and to make them eligible to office, to serve on juries, and to adjudge your rights, then support Mr. Lincoln and the Black Republican party, who are in favor of the citizenship of the negro. (“Never, never.”) For one, I am opposed to negro citizenship in any and every form. (Cheers.) I believe this Government was made on the white basis. (“Good.”) I believe it was made by white men for the benefit of white men and their posterity forever, and I am in favor of confining citizenship to white men, men of European birth and descent, instead of conferring it upon negroes, Indians, and other inferior races. (“Good for you.” “Douglas forever.”)
When Mr. Lincoln stands to speak, despite the disheartened spirit that seems to have taken over his supporters, they cheer with such vigor and length that for many minutes Mr. Lincoln cannot speak if he hopes to be heard. He speaks completely differently from Judge Douglas. Not only about issues, but his tone is even and measured. His passion is no less than Douglas, but it is restrained and expresses himself in his movements, measured but emboldened. His cadence carries each response with grace.
Mr. Lincoln says that the Kansas-Nebraska Act and popular sovereignty is the end of the Missouri Compromise.
This is the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. The foregoing history may not be precisely accurate in every particular; but I am sure it is sufficiently so for all the uses I shall attempt to make of it, and in it we have before us, the chief materials enabling us to correctly judge whether the repeal of the Missouri Compromise is right or wrong. I think, and shall try to show, that it is wrong; wrong in its direct effect, letting slavery into Kansas and Nebraska-and wrong in its prospective principle, allowing it to spread to every other part of the wide world, where men can be found inclined to take it.
This declared indifference, but, as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world-enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites-causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty-criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.
Still, Mr. Lincoln says of freed slaves, “We can’t….make equals of them.”
In the end, the cheers again prevent anyone from speaking. There’s a tumultuous yell that if the horses were not spooked from before, they would be now. Judge Douglas seems to lose himself into his vigor, and his rebuttal of half an hour is pure anger.
Once both have concluded, I catch a glimpse of Mr. Lincoln being carried off on the shoulders of his supporters, long enough that his feet drag behind him as he is celebrated. From the reaction, one might guess that Mr. Lincoln has won the debate and even in the morning, it seems that many newspapers from the Chicago Times to the Chicago Daily Journal are in agreement, that at least on this stage Judge Douglas has no hope of winning.