Freeport, Illinois

Lincoln Douglas Debate - August 27, 1858

The Freeport Doctrine

The people of a territory can, by lawful means, exclude slavery from their limits prior to the formation of a state constitution, for the reason slavery cannot exist a day or an hhour anywhere unless it is supported by local police regulations.          Stephen A. Douglas

The Illinois Debates
Lincoln-Douglas Debate Statue In 1858, the United States was approaching a crisis. Sectional antagonism smoldered between the North and South over the morality of slavery. Adding to the tension was the basic disagreement between the states and the federal government over the principle of popular sovereignty was based on the belief that citizens of a territory had a right to determine their own destiny rather than the Federal Government. As the nation expanded west, the question became what, if any, limits were to be placed on the further extension of slavery.

These issues focused the nation's attention on the debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in their contest for the Senate seat from Illinois.

Stephen A. Douglas,
the Democratic Senator from Illinois was defending his Illinois seat for another term. He was a nationally known statesman and great orator who chaired the Senate committee on the expansion of the territories to the west. He viewed slavery as a political issue to assure the expansion of the western territories and to preserve the Union. He stood then as he had earlier for this popular sovereignty principle, that the people of a territory should decide for themselves whether or not they should have slavery.

Abraham Lincoln,
was picked by the young Republican Party of Illinois to contest the re-election bid of Douglas. Lincoln had served in the U.S. Congress from 1846 to 1848 when he retired to private life and his practice of law. However, with the expansion of slavery into the territories through Douglas' position of popular sovereignty, he became aroused to take a more active role in politics.

Lincoln viewed slavery as a moral issue and one that would divide the nation. In a carefully prepared acceptance speech, he delivered the famous words, "A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure half slave, half free."

Both Lincoln and Douglas believed strongly in the preservation of the Union but differed widely in their approach to the expansion of the west and the effect that slavery in the new territories would have on the preservation of the Union.

During the summer and fall of 1858, Lincoln and Douglas stumped the state, engaging in seven formal debates and speaking scores of times at their own party rallies.

The Freeport Debate: August 27, 1858
Thousands of people came to Freeport from miles around to view the second debate between Lincoln and Douglas. By the early morning of August 27, the roads into Freeport were lined with people, and this small town of 5,000 swelled to a crowd of 15,000 ro 20,000.

Douglas arrived on a special excursion train from Galena the night before, and in a torch light parade was escorted to the Brewster House, a newly built hotel that was considered the grandest in Northern Illinois. The cannon that Douglas carried on the train roared in the background.

Lincoln arrived by train the morning of the dabate after spending the evening in Amboy. He was greeted at the train by a great crowd of supporters who paraded with him to the Brewster House.

A platform for the debate had been built north of the Brewster House where there was open land with a small grove of trees. Lincoln came to the debate area by wagon. Douglas walked after abandoning his fancy carriage in order to appear more like one of the people.

As the two men arrived and began to speak, a silence fell over the crowd.

The Freeport Doctrine
The part of the debate which was to make history came when Lincoln posed this question to Douglas: "Can the people of a United States territory, in any lawful way, against the wish of any citizen of the United States, exclude slavery from its limits prior to the formation of a state constitution?" douglas replied: "...the people have the lawful means to introduce it or exclude it as they please, for the reason that slavery cannot exist a day or an hour anywhere, unless it is supported by local police regulations."

Douglas' answer that the people did have a right to choose whether to exclude or include slavery from their limits established the Freeport Doctrine. His affirmative answer aided him in winning the senatorial race, but it lost for him the support of the South and split the Democratic Party. It also enabled Lincoln to win the Presidency in 1860 and thus helped precipitate the Civil War.

The Debate Site
The Lincoln-Douglas Debate Site is located on the corner of Douglas and State Streets in downtown Freeport.

In 1902, a boulder and plague were placed on the debate site by the Freeport Women's Club. In 1903, it was dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt who called the debate " of those memorable scenes in accordance with which the whole future of a nation is molded."

Over the years, as the city of Freeport grew, homes and businesses were built around the site, and eventually the property became a city parking lot with only the boulder remaining to mark the historic event.

In 1988, efforts to return the site to a park-like setting were completed. The area was doubled in size; trees, grass and benches made from the steps of the historic Brewster House were added.

The in 1992, the statue "Lincoln and Douglas in Debate" was unveiled. It is the first and only known statue that depicts Lincoln and Douglas in debate. Lily Tolpo, a nationally known artist and sculptor and resident of northwest Illinois, created the statue.

The statue shows a contemplative Lincoln seated in a chair on the speaker's platform after posing his question to Douglas. An emphatic Douglas is shown standing with one arm stretched out and the other arm on his hip as he defend his principle of popular sovereignty.

The statue was erected with a grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs and with generous donations from individuals and businesses.

The statue is dedicated to the people of Freeport and their ongoing efforts for racial harmony.

For more information to help you enjoy your visit to Freeport and Stephenson County, just drop us a line or give us a call.

Stephenson County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 26 S Galena Ave, Freeport, Illinois 61032 Phone: 1-800-369-2955

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