From the two-time winner of the prestigious Lincoln Prize, a stirring and surprising account of the debates that made Lincoln a national figure and defined the slavery issue that would bring the country to war.
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 and was on his way to becoming the greatest chief executive in American history.
What carried this one-term congressman from obscurity to fame was the campaign he mounted for the United States Senate against the country’s most formidable politician, Stephen A. Douglas, in the summer and fall of 1858. As this brilliant narrative by the prize-winning Lincoln scholar Allen Guelzo dramatizes, Lincoln would emerge a predominant national figure, the leader of his party, the man who would bear the burden of the national confrontation.
Lincoln lost that Senate race to Douglas, though he came close to toppling the “Little Giant,” whom almost everyone thought was unbeatable. Guelzo’s Lincoln and Douglas brings alive their debates and this whole year of campaigns and underscores their centrality in the greatest conflict in American history.
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 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 publications.