What Would Lincoln
and Douglas Say?
By Jeff Lukens
scathing bitterness between the Left and Right over Iraq and the war on terror
is one of the worst schisms in American history. Perhaps only the pre-Civil War
clash between slavery and state's rights was worse. Abraham Lincoln and Stephen
Douglas were at the center of that rift. If they were here today, what would
they think of this controversy and its effect on the nation?
and Douglas had opposed each other for years. Then in 1858, Douglas came up for
reelection for the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois. Lincoln was nominated by the
Republican Party to oppose him.
said in his acceptance speech before the Republican state convention, "A
house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot
endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be
dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to
be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other." Lincoln's words
proved to be prophetic.
seven momentous debates, both candidates delved into the morality of slavery
versus the rights of states to decide matters for themselves. Douglas attacked
Lincoln's "house divided" speech, and accused him of dividing the nation.
The contest between the two men fascinated Illinois and elsewhere as newspapers
throughout the nation followed the debate.
those days, state legislatures elected their state's representative for the
U.S. Senate. In the 1858 election, Republicans won the most popular votes, but
a lame-duck state legislature pushed through Douglas' reelection.
was bitter after the loss but did not shrink away. The debates brought him
national recognition, and he began speaking at many places around the nation.
1860, Lincoln and Douglas were again opponents for the presidential election.
Douglas was the Democratic nominee. Southern Democrats, however, chose Vice
President John Breckinridge as their candidate. The splitting of the Democratic
vote gave the election to Lincoln.
must have done some soul searching about this time. Rather than serve his own
interests, he chose to serve the greater interests of the nation. When
confronted with war and the breakup of the Union, Douglas became one of Lincoln's
strongest political supporters.
promised that he and his party would not try to gain political advantage from
the crisis of a pending war. "Our Union must be preserved," he told
Lincoln. "Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I am with you, Mr.
President, and God bless you."
awkward moment before his inaugural address, Lincoln was looking for a place to
set down his stovepipe hat. Douglas, standing nearby, said, "Permit me,
sir," and held his hat while Lincoln delivered his address. That evening
Douglas escorted Mrs. Lincoln in the Grand March at the Inaugural Ball.
time when many were abandoning Lincoln, Douglas came to his defense. On a
speaking trip to the South, Douglas pleaded with Southerners not to secede.
Southerners criticized his efforts in one town after another as he desperately
sought acceptance for the Union Cause.
toured the North, Douglas sought to unite all parties behind Lincoln, and in
this, he was more successful. He even managed to gain the backing of Southern
sympathizers such as John Logan and John McClelland. Both men later became
generals in the Union Army.
speaking tours exhausted Douglas, and three months after Lincoln's inauguration
he succumbed to typhoid fever. Lincoln openly wept when he received word of
midst of great uncertainty, President Lincoln had a sincere and loyal friend in
Stephen Douglas, his political opponent. Douglas was foremost a patriot, and
had the courage to support his opponent for the good of the nation.
chance of that happening today. President Bush has reached out to his opponents
countless times only to receive their ridicule. In this critical time of war,
his opponents offer no plan, much less a superior one, to present as an alternative.
For them, partisan interests will never yield to the greater interests of the
Democrats say they "support the troops," but actually undercut them
with falsehoods like "the Army is Broken," and "our troops are
terrorizing Iraqi women and children," and "we won't win in
Iraq." These statements are broadcast around the world, demoralizing our
troops, and encouraging our enemies.
sick way, these people think this rhetoric will give them a political
advantage. It is apparent their real aim is to destroy the president by losing
the war in Iraq. If that were to happen, the consequences would be disastrous
Lincoln and Douglas in this situation. They would have never acted this way. To
them, the behavior of today's liberals would not only be outrageous, it would