What Would Lincoln and Douglas Say?
By Jeff Lukens

The 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?

Lincoln 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.

Lincoln 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.

For 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.

In 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.

Lincoln 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.

In 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.

Douglas 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.

Douglas 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."

In an 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.

At a 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.

As he 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.

The speaking tours exhausted Douglas, and three months after Lincoln's inauguration he succumbed to typhoid fever. Lincoln openly wept when he received word of Douglas' death.

In the 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.

Fat 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 nation.

Leading 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.

In some 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 for everyone.

Imagine 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 be treasonous.

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Copyright 2000-2007, Jeff Lukens