Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates That Defined America
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Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates That Defined America

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  144 ratings  ·  27 reviews
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...more
Hardcover, 383 pages
Published February 1st 2008 by Simon & Schuster
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This book is an excellent one. Dr. Guelzo certainly knows his stuff.

Rather than focusing the book primarily on the seven debates between Lincoln and Douglas, Guelzo expands the picture and examines in detail the entire political campaigns of 1858 in order to give the debates context. "Lincoln and Douglas" taught me much I didn't know about Lincoln as a man and as a politician (sometimes we forget that in addition to being one of the greatest U.S. presidents in history, he also had to maneuver th...more
I put this book on the history shelf, but it might as well be in current events. The great debates of Lincoln and Douglas point out either how far we've come, how far we've fallen, or that the dirt and meanness of contemporary politics are nothing new.

This book puts the 1858 debates in the context of the entire senate campaign. Did you know that if we had direct election of senators at that time, Lincoln would have won?

In the end, the author puts the central conflict of American democracy betwe...more
Political opponents with presidential aspirations square off. A vote against war resurfaces as a campaign issue. The candidates take the low road to appeal to their audiences’ baser instincts. The candidates’ physical appearance becomes the subject of idle chatter. Campaigns poll potential voters. Charges of election fraud, dirty tricks and backroom deals are hurled. Citizens are polarized on a central issue. The heart and soul of the nation is on the line.

The presidential campaign of 2008? No,...more
Fabulous book! I have never read the text of the Lincoln/Douglas debates, and I likely never will, but I think this is better if you're not some serious history professor.

A hundred pages or more pass before they even get close to debating, and that sets up all of what is happening in the different political parties and the nation so you can make sense of the speeches. I wouldn't have understood a lot of the references to the infighting among the Democrats, the whigs, Henry Clay, and various vot...more
The headline is, this is kind of a journeyman-quality narrative. It is both thorough and complete, but rarely embellished with a catching turn of a phrase or the sort of literary flourish that can make prose truly memorable.

Yet as a reference, it is truly handy. First, the narrative is broader than most earlier works on the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. Most of the other books written on the subject look only at the debates themselves. This is very easy as they were transcribed in both Democratic an...more
Sean Wylie
Absolutely must read for anyone interested in American History or Political History. In these 7 debates Abraham Lincoln (a no name 1 term former congressman) challenged the 3-time elected Stephen Douglas for his Senate seat of Illinois. Judge Douglas was the leading political man of the age known as 'The Little Giant'.

These debates are considered the birth of the modern politics and were the first set of debates captured word-for-word by journalists and published nation-wide. The debates would...more
An enlightening description of the background and environment of the debates. I had tried reading the debates themselves, earlier, but could not really make sense of them and so gave up. With the historical background given by this book leading up to the debates, by the time I got to and read the first debate, I then understood what they were talking about. There are a lot of ways to compare the issues with things that are going on today, such as the morality of something (slavery) vs "states ri...more
Feb 06, 2011 Sjo rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2010
This is a great read about the famous Lincoln Douglas debates for the 1858 Illinois election. The book follows the path of both candidates and their debates. There is so much background, behind the scenes issues from this campaign that come to light. Lincoln's feud with George McClellan dated back to the fact that McCellan ran the Illinois Rail Road and always gave Douglas (a fellow Democrat) the best rail cars/routes. Three years later Lincoln is President and McClellan is running the Union arm...more
Matt Mishkoff
At the heart of the Lincoln/Douglas debates was a question that we are still arguing today: what is the role of the federal government in securing and safeguarding the rights of minorities? Douglas looked on the issue of slavery with dispassion and argued that it was a matter for the states to decide for themselves by majority vote. Lincoln argued that there are some rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution that can not be taken away by a vote of the majority. Lincoln lost the battle, as he w...more
Mark Bruce
Mar 23, 2008 Mark Bruce rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people who like history.
Recommended to Mark by: The Daily Show
Excellent examination of the debates up close and personal. The historian tries to put himself in the times to explain why Lincoln didn't come out with a rousing denunciation of racism. Actually, for his time, Lincoln was quite bold in saying that blacks had natural rights, including the right to freedom. This book also gives you the details of the debates themselves instead of glossing over them. And tells you of the Senatorial election that followed, breaking it down into the numbers. Excellen...more
Brandon Claycomb
Guelzo's recent book on Gettysburg led me to this work, which impressed me equally. For such a careful historian Guelzo is a remarkably gripping author. He shouldn't be able to make Lincoln's seven debates with Douglas so dramatically compelling but he does, while also connecting their campaign elegantly to the other political developments leading the country to civil war. This is as fun and edifying as history gets. Highly recommended.
Bob Cardenas
Back in the days when Americans still named their children, Icabod, and other historical nuances pepper this account of the country's significant soul-searching over the slavery's future in an expanding nation. If you really want to know what the "Dredd Scott decision" and other compelling aspects of America's challenges to keep from being "a house divided" were, it will be an easier read than your high school paragraph on the same.
Maybe a little bit too many details regarding campaign organizations which are normally appreciated by political science afficionados, but a captivating overview of a turning point in history. Great conclusion, although the one regarding the US as the only true democracy where there are no ruling classes is highly questionable and far removed from the objective truth.
John E
A somewhat dry and repetative read. Each of the debates was presented in some detail even though they were pretty much the same. The author's thesis that the debates set the tone of all American political dialogue since 1858 is somewhat of a stretch. It's always hard to decide what is a "moral" question (here it was slavery) and what is merely political belief.
Rob Katz
The October Surprise was John Crittenden's (he, like Lincoln, a former Whig) endorsement of Douglas.

All the nasty things Lincoln is quoted as saying about black people he says in this campaign, largely in response to Douglas's race baiting. Is this like Obama saying he wanted to reevaluate NAFTA?
Very interesting to see the impact seven small town debates had on the shape of the nation, and the emergence of the Republican party. Douglas was a larger than life 19th century politician who helped define the shape of Ilinois' Democratic party and the machine that it is today.
I haven't really read much about this part of Lincoln's life/career, so this was somewhat an educational endeavor. My only complaint, really, is that the book didn't have a very good narrative flow which at times made it more of a chore to read. But overall, good.
An interesting read that places the famous lincoln-douglas debates within the context of running for office and local illinois politics...Not that informative in terms of learning anything new about Lincoln, but nice to hear more about Douglas than I had previously.
This is a great overview of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. The author does a skillful job of breaking the debate points down into an easy-to-read format. I know it sounds like a boring textbook, but it really had a lot of fresh insight.
This was excellent. The basic difference Guelzo points out is that Douglas was a champion of the importance process in a free government, and Lincoln was a champion of morality. (And Galesburg gets high marks for improvisation.)
The last four pages bumped this book from good to great. Everything one could possibly want to know about the debates is in this easily digestible tome. As I said, those last four pages of final analysis seal this as a great one.
I learned that campaigning hasn't changed much in 151 years and that US Senators were elected by the state legislatures until the early 1900's.
Bcoghill Coghill
Nov 24, 2008 Bcoghill Coghill rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Civil war and history buffs
Recommended to Bcoghill by: Library bookshelf
I have read many histories of Lincoln but this explored aspects of the famous debates that the other barely touched upon.
A very enjoyable book.
Jul 09, 2010 Don rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: history
This is really a good read, putting the debates in context, emphasizing the highlights ... very smooth storytelling, too!
Donn Hall
Very well researched and written. Good source for anyone interested in the topic.
In the line of Jaffa, Guelzo's work is an important part of the scholarship.
Robert Quinlan
An epic text with a phenomenal Epilogue!
Steve Perkins
Steve Perkins marked it as to-read
Jul 14, 2014
Davo Harutyunyan
Davo Harutyunyan marked it as to-read
Jul 14, 2014
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