Illinois Ideological Battlegound of the Nation

by Daniel Willis

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates occupy a unique position in Illinois history. For a short time, the Prairie State represented and highlighted the divisive forces affecting the nation. In the aftermath of the debates, the positions held by Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas came to be seen as a direct conflict of two great principles. Lincoln is perceived as “the Great Emancipator,” champion of a moral absolute: the complete abolition of slavery. Douglas championed a different lofty principle: popular sovereignty, or the right of the people to decide issues for themselves by popular vote on a state-by-state basis. The conflict between these two ideals is what makes the debates such an interesting and important part of history.

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