Location: The Heritage Foundation's Lehrman Auditorium
In 1858, Abraham Lincoln was known as a successful Illinois
lawyer who had achieved some prominence in state politics as a
leader in the new Republican Party. Two years later, he was
elected President of the United States. What carried him from
obscurity to fame was his campaign for the United States Senate and
the seven debates held that summer and fall with his opponent,
Stephen A. Douglas, the country's most formidable
Of course, the great issue between Lincoln and Douglas was
slavery. Douglas championed "popular sovereignty," letting
states and territories decide for themselves to legalize
slavery. Lincoln drew a moral line, arguing that slavery was
a violation both of natural law and of the principles expressed in
the Declaration of Independence. No majority could ever make
slavery right, he argued.
The encounters between Lincoln and Douglas engage a key question
in American political life: What is democracy's purpose? Is
it to satisfy the desires of the majority? Or is it to
achieve a just and moral public order? These were the real
questions in 1858 that led to the Civil War. They remain questions
for Americans today.
ALLEN C. GUELZO, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the
Civil War Era, Director of Civil War Era Studies, and Associate
Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College in
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Author of numerous books on
American intellectual history and on Abraham Lincoln, he holds a
Master's of Arts and a Ph.D. in history from the University of
Pennsylvania. His most famous work, Abraham Lincoln:
Redeemer President (Wm. Eerdmans, 1999), won both the Lincoln
Prize and the Abraham Lincoln Institute Prize in 2000.
More About the Speakers
Allen C. Guelzo, Ph.D.