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Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America (Simon & Schuster Lincoln Library) Paperback – January 13, 2009
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About the Author
Gettysburg College, where he also directs the Civil War Era Studies Program and
The Gettysburg Semester. He is the author of Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer
President (1999) and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of
Slavery in America (2004), both of which won the Lincoln Prize. He has
written essays and reviews for The Washington Post, The Wall Street
Journal, Time, the Journal of American History, and many other
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Top Customer Reviews
Abraham Lincoln had served a single term in the United States Congress where he had opposed the Mexican War. He had ran for Senate in 1854 and had been narrowly defeated. His initial party affiliation was with the Whigs, but with the demise of the Whigs he joined the newly-formed Republican party.
The driving issue in the Lincoln - Douglas debates was slavery. Douglas advocated for a doctrine of popular sovereignty under which the residents of the United States' new western territories, such as Kansas, would decide for themselves whether they wished to be a slave state or a free state. Lincoln and the Republicans opposed vigorously the expansion of slavery to the territories. The debates took place against the backdrop of the Supreme Court's "Dred Scott" decision in which Chief Justice Taney had held that neither Congress nor the territorial governments had the power to exclude slavery. In the contest for the Senate, Douglas narrowly kept his seat, even though Lincoln received more of the popular vote. But the debates brought Lincoln to national prominence, and they emphasized the split that divided Douglas from the Southern Democrats following Douglas's repudiation of the Lecompton Constitution. As a result, the Democratic party was split when Douglas was nominated for the presidency in 1860.Read more ›
First, I would like to have seen more critical analyses of the positions the two candidates advanced during the campaigns. The little chart the author provides at the conclusion of his summary of each debate--a chart that notes the points made and rejoinders offered by Lincoln and Douglas--was not enlightening.
Second, Mr. Guelzo is quick to underscore the flaws in Douglas' "Popular Sovereignty" doctrine and his defense of the Dred Scott decision, but all too often he gives Lincoln a pass, glossing over his missteps and ignoring the flaws in his arguments. Some examples:
--He frequently accuses Douglas of playing the "race card" (which, of course, Douglas did), but attempts to explain Lincoln's opening remarks at the Charleston debate--where Lincoln expressly states that the black race is inferior and can never enjoy the same civil liberties as white people--as a "carefully calculated statement."
--He conveys the impression that the decision of the prominent Whig politician, John Crittenden, to publicly voice his opposition to Lincoln's candidacy during the final week of the campaign was a Douglas dirty trick, his "October surprise." But Mr.Read more ›
At their core the debates were about slavery as an institution. As is so often the case the pyrotechnics revolved around more technical issues--the correctness of the Dred Scott ruling by the supreme court, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the procedural process of "Democratizing" the spread of slavery and so on. But I reality the debates were about whether America as a nation had lost its way, its soul, its connection with the values that drove its emergence in the first place.
America was a deeply divided and frustrated nation in the antebellum period, not unlike today. And the debates were framed between two men who reflected some of the same societal divisions that mark today' political process--a true "man of the people" in Lincoln, the--let's face it--mainly poor self made man who saw the debate from one very distinct perspective and Douglas, the wealthy and pampered man of power and privilege, who saw it from a decidedly different vantage point.
This fascinating, compact and enlightening read gives us a wealth of insights--into the men, into the issues, into the debates and into the fundamental issues that always have and no doubt always will fracture this nation. It is an incredibly timely and providential gift to us at a time where we must once again navigate between the diatribes of the extremes to try to find a path towards truth and national salvation.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great book explaining what actually happened during the Douglas-Lincoln debates.Published 6 months ago by Fernando Caballero
This is one of the very best political and rhetorical analyses I've ever read. It not only engaged me throughout and taught me a great deal more about Lincoln and Douglas, but... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Carol Menges
This guy is very good -- and he "gets it" that Douglas with his friends passed Kansas Nebraska Act, and lied. Read morePublished 16 months ago by Mark D C
Got this for my father who loves history and he loved this book. Couldn't put it down. He said the detail in this book was amazing.Published on January 16, 2014 by Kristin Nowaczyk
Boring & very hard to read for the most part. Well I would say because of the rambling and inconsistency.Published on December 20, 2013 by Ashley Reveles
This book places the debates in the context of 1850's America when slavery was ascendant - The Fugitive Slave Act, The Kansas-Nebraska Act, Repeal of the Missouri Compromise,... Read morePublished on October 4, 2013 by Mark A. Ryniker
This book is an excellent one. Dr. Guelzo certainly knows his stuff.
Rather than focusing the book primarily on the seven debates between Lincoln and Douglas, Guelzo... Read more
The subject of the Lincoln and Douglas debates is explored in great detail in this very accessible book. Read morePublished on August 5, 2010 by Paul F. Brooks