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Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 5, 2008

4.5 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Guelzo (Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America) gives us an astute, gracefully written account of the celebrated Lincoln–Douglas debates of 1858. These seven debates between two powerful attorneys and statesmen, Abraham Lincoln and Sen. Stephen A. Douglas, starkly defined the stakes between sharply different positions on slavery and union on the eve of civil war and offered examples of serious, deeply reasoned exchanges of views rarely seen in American politics. As Guelzo wisely shows, the debates did not stand alone but were part of a larger Illinois senatorial campaign. Douglas won re-election that year, but Lincoln gained national recognition despite losing and then defeated Douglas three years later for the presidency. Perhaps more important, the views that Lincoln enunciated in 1858—that the government, heeding the majority's will, should halt slavery's further spread—laid the foundation for emancipation and a new era in the nation's history. Guelzo's smoothly narrated history of this segment of Lincoln's career, packed full of illustrative quotes from primary sources, will become a standard. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (February 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743273206
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743273206
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.7 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,203,799 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas engaged in a series of seven debates in a bitterly-fought contest for the United States Senate. The Democratic incumbent, Douglas, was the coauthor of the Compromise of 1850 and of the notorious Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Douglas, however, had broken with the Democrats when he opposed as fraudulent the so-called Lecompton constitution under which Kansas would be admitted to the Union as a slave state.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed Allen Guelzo's latest offering, "Lincoln and Douglas." He does an excellent job of recreating the most turbulent era in our nation's history and immersing the reader in the lives and controversies of the participants. You can almost hear the hecklers at the debates and smell the smoke each time Douglas fires his "little giant" canon from the back of his campaign train. However, I think the book could have been a bit better.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
This book stands as a testament to Wavy Gravy's sage observation that the simple fact that everything has changed doesn't mean that anything is different. We my be more than 100 years removed from the Lincoln-Douglas debates but in many ways the core issues haven't changed much, from the moral and ethical dilemmas that we face, the concerns about how our institutions function to the vestiges of the class struggle in America and how those struggles affect it's citizens ability to make their way in the world.

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.
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