Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas

The Politicians Who Brought the Events to a Head


In 1858, two Illinois politicians vying for a seat in the U.S. Senate crystalized the arguments and brought focus to the issues. Democrat Stephen A. Douglas wrote and championed the Kansas-Nebraska Popular Sovereignty Bill which made Kansas bleed. Douglas didn't mean for things to go sideways. He truly believed in democracy. His most famous statement is, "Let the people rule!" Unfortunately, he didn't understand that passionate people on both sides would destroy the country before they would follow his lead and let the residents decide for themselves.

Whig turned Republican Abraham Lincoln lost the Illinois Senate seat to incumbent Douglas. Still, without the debates and the wit and clarity Lincoln brought to the issues, the election of 1860 would surely have been different. Sentiment ran so strong that the Republican Party, less than ten years old, won the presidency--on its second try.

All across the eastern United States, people grabbed up transcriptions of the debates. “Abraham Lincoln” became a national player without setting foot out of Illinois.

When he did go east, his celebrity became truly national with his Cooper Union Speech in New York, February 27, 1860.

In his New York Tribune, Horace Greeley praised Lincoln’s electrifying performance when he said, “No man ever made such an impression on his first appeal to a New York audience.”

Lincoln accused the South of threatening to bring down the country if they didn’t get their way--a way not guaranteed by the Constitution--and a way not endorsed by the founding fathers.

“But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, ‘Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then YOU will be a murderer!’ To be sure, what the robber demanded of me - my money - was my own; and I had a clear right to keep it; but it was no more my own than my vote is my own; and the threat of death to me, to extort my money, and the threat of destruction to the Union, to extort my vote, can scarcely be distinguished in principle."

Click Grant and Sherman
to see the last part of "What Caused the Civil War?" by Donna Ross.