By David H. Leroy

“The prairies are on fire,” reported the New York Evening Post in September, 1858 after Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas concluded the third in their series of seven debates. Tens of thousands of Illinois voters were joined by eager journalists who recorded in verbatim form the wit, repartee and reasoning of the debaters for millions of national newspaper readers. Lincoln’s well-presented ideas about the nation’s founding principles, the inherent evils of involuntary servitude and his stead-fast objection to the extension of slavery into the western territories propelled him into national prominence.

Though defeated by Douglas in seeking the Senate seat, Lincoln’s smoldering political ambition caused him to prepare a scrapbook of the newspaper clippings. Then, beginning in March of 1859, he sought a printer willing to publish the texts in book form. While believing that he would “now sink out of view,” Lincoln nevertheless forecast that his arguments “made some marks which will tell for the cause of civil liberty long after I am gone.”

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