Epic Showdown: How the Lincoln vs Douglas Debate Rocked America—and Changed History

Warfare History Network

Key point: Even today, students study this debate and use their orator skills to sharpen each other intellectually. These debates helped make Honest Abe a national figure and set the stage for his rise to the Presidency.

The two men facing each other across the debate stage at Ottawa, Illinois, on the afternoon of August 21, 1858, were no strangers to one another. Indeed, Senator Stephen Douglas and former one-term congressman Abraham Lincoln had been personal and political opponents—and more or less friendly neighbors—for the better part of two decades. But in ways neither man could imagine, their rivalry was about to grow exponentially and capture the attention of an increasingly divided nation. They would speak to each other, and the rest of the country, in “thunder tones,” as Lincoln would report. And everyone hears thunder when it rolls.

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