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First of all, this does not include the debates themselves. It is solely a discussion of the issues they were debating with explanations of the Lincoln, Douglas, Republican, and Democratic politics and goals of the time. It covers each issue in its historical context, as it was developed over the course of the debates, pointing out where an issue was raised, in which debate it became critical, and when it was dropped.
I thought after reading several biographies of Lincoln and his contemporaries and other histories of the period that I knew something about Lincoln and the debates, but I was wrong. After reading this I looked the debates up in various history books and online references. I see now that a lot of other people have only the vaguest notion of what was really going on. This book is really essential reading if you want to be able to make sense out of much of what they were debating since the debates themselves often assume knowledge that the audience of 1858 would have been aware of but are now too complex or detailed for anyone but a scholar in the field to be aware of.
This is a very dense book and I can't read it for very long because the discussions of the complex legal and political issues overwhelm my tiny brain much faster than any other history book I've ever read.
I couldn't possibly begin to detail all the many contextual references that you will miss if you rely solely on the text of the debates themselves for your knowledge. If you really want to understand what they were debating, get this book.
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