Abe Lincoln in Illinois: Lincoln-Douglas Debate

Wednesday, April 27, AD 2011

The film Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940) has perhaps the best recreation of the Lincoln-Douglas debates ever put on film.  The debate portrayed has remarks culled from all the debates,  is an excellent recreation of the main arguments made by each of the men, and is evocative of their speaking styles.

Ironically neither of the actors portraying Lincoln and Douglas were Americans.  The actor portraying Douglas was Gene Lockhart, a Canadian.  If his voice sounds vaguely familiar to you, it is probably because you recall him as the judge in Miracle on 34th Street.  His daughter June Lockhart, of Lassie and Lost in Space fame, carried on the thespian tradition of the family.

Lincoln was portrayed by Raymond Massey, also a Canadian.  Massey was one of the great actors of his day and bore a strong physical resemblance to Lincoln.  Massey served in the Canadian Army in both World War I, where he saw combat on the Western Front as an artillery officer, and World War II, becoming a naturalized American citizen after World War II.  Like Lincoln he was a Republican and made a TV ad for Goldwater in the 1964 campaign.

  Here is a transcript from the film script of the debate:

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April 25, 1861: Stephen A. Douglas: “Protect the Flag”

Monday, April 25, AD 2011

Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, the great antagonist of Abraham Lincoln, gave many eloquent speeches in his career, but the finest one he delivered was at the end of that career on April 25, 1861 to a joint session of the General Assembly of the State of Illinois.  In broken health, his coming death on June 3, 1861 already foreshadowed, he summoned the energy to help save his country.  Always first and foremost a patriot, Douglas was intent on rallying members of his party to the cause of the Union.  After one of the most vitriolic presidential contents in the history of the nation, it was an open question as to whether most members of the Party of Jackson would stand in support of the efforts of the Lincoln Administration to fight to preserve the Union.  Douglas, putting country above party, helped ensure that they would.

Immediately after the election of Lincoln he made it clear that he would make every effort in his power to fight against secession.  At the inaugural speech of Lincoln, he held the new President’s hat, giving a strong symbol of his support.  Illinois was a key state for the Union in the upcoming conflict.  Pro-Southern sentiment was strong among Illinois Democrats in the southern portion of the State, with even some talk that “Little Egypt”, as the extreme southern tip of Illinois is called, should secede from the rest of the state and join the Confederacy.  To rally his supporters for the Union, and at the request of President Lincoln, Douglas returned to Illinois and on April 25, 1861 had his finest hour. 

The speech he delivered that day has gone down in Illinois history as the “Protect the Flag” speech.  It was received by both Republicans and Democrats with thunderous applause and cheers throughout.  Although there would be much dissension in Illinois during the War, Douglas helped ensure that Illinois would be in the forefront of the war effort, with its quarter of a million troops, among whom was Ulysses S. Grant, who would ultimately fight under the Stars and Stripes being absolutely crucial to Union victory.

Here is the speech, interspersed with comments by me:

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7 Responses to April 25, 1861: Stephen A. Douglas: “Protect the Flag”

  • Didn’t his daughter convert and become a nun? (n/r to the interesting post)

  • Douglas was friendly to Catholics throughout his career. After the death of his wife he married a Catholic, Adele. Although he never joined the Church, he had his two sons by his first wife baptized and raised Catholic. Douglas had two daughers also, one by each of his wives, but tragically both daughters died after a few weeks of life.

  • Douglas was also, due to the influence of his wife, given a Catholic burial that was presided over by the Bishop of Chicago.

    Stephen Douglas was undoubtedly a great man, but he was wrong on the most important issue of his day. And that’s because he was wrong in failing to identify it as the most important issue of his day.

    Douglas thought that national expansion was the most important thing, and devoted virtually all his immense political energy to it. But he was wrong. The most important issue was that of slavery, and that was the issue that came most closely to de-railing his dream of an America that stretched from coast to coast and into the islands of the Pacific.

    And it is what he was wrong about, rather than the good that he did, that he is best remembered for today.

    This is a lesson that many in both parties would profit from.

  • Quite right Paul. I think that Douglas realized that the abolition of slavery could only occur after a huge Civil War. During the Lincoln-Douglas debates Douglas accused Lincoln of being in favor of policies that would inevitably lead to warfare between the States. Lincoln hotly denied this, saying that he had never proposed interfering with slavery where it existed. Both men were correct. Lincoln never proposed actions against slavery where it existed prior to the Civil War, and Douglas was right in that public opinion in the South was so inflamed that the election of even a moderate anti-slavery man like Lincoln to the Presidency, was enough to lead to war. Douglas of course, with his pernicious Kansas-Nebraska Act and his theory that territories should be able to choose whether they would be free or slave, set the stage for bleeding Kansas and helped fan the flames of the oncoming war himself.

  • I was under the impression that Douglas converted to the Faith through the efforts of the great Jesuit mission giver, Father Arnold Damen. Damen converted 10,000 Protestants, and I thought Douglas was one of them. Moreover, he never would have been buried in a Catholic cemetery just because his wife was Catholic, not in 1861, nor had his funeral presided over by a bishop, if he was not a Catholic. I wish I had a source at hand to verify this, but I have certainly read it in my studies of Catholic American history and it is most probably found in the biography of Father Arnold Damen.

  • His wife wanted him to convert on his death bed. Some accounts say he did:


    Other accounts differ. Adele Douglas had the funeral conducted by Bishop Duggan on the grounds that Douglas had never affiliated with any particular faith. Douglas had been a mason and the masons of Chicago were somewhat irked that Bishop Duggan would be conducting the funeral and they turned out in force at the funeral of Douglas, although I believe they were well-behaved and respectful.

  • The biography I read said that he refused an effort by the bishop to convert him on his deathbed. He never practiced Christianity.

Lincoln, Douglas and Their First Debate

Tuesday, May 18, AD 2010

I live in rural Central Illinois in Livingston County. Like most counties in Central Illinois, we have our Lincoln sites, places Lincoln visited while he was riding the circuit as a lawyer. In those more civilized days, courts in most areas only operated part time. On a court day, the judges and attorneys would arrive at a county seat, and the trials on the court’s docket would be called and tried. So it was on May 18, 1840 when Lincoln and his fellow attorneys rode into Pontiac, the then tiny county seat of Livingston County, for the first ever session of the Circuit Court in Livingston County.

Lincoln by this time was beginning to be well known in Central Illinois. He was a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, and was one of the leaders of the Whig Party in Central Illinois. He was only 31 and was clearly a young man on his way up in the world.

Lincoln was not the only celebrity attorney present that day in Pontiac. Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln’s great antagonist, was also present. Only 27, Douglas was already famous throughout the State. Douglas was a fervent Democrat and one of the great orators of his day. Already he had been Attorney General of the State, and a member of the Illinois House of Representatives. Later that year he would be appointed Secretary of State, and in 1841 he would be appointed a Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, the youngest man ever to serve on that tribunal. Douglas was also clearly a young man rising swiftly in the world.

However, on May 18, 1840 Lincoln and Douglas were not concentrating on grand issues or the future. Their attention was riveted on the case of William Popejoy vs. Isaac Wilson, the first case filed in the Circuit Court in Livingston County. Wilson had accused Popejoy of stealing meat from a Sarah McDowell, and Popejoy was suing him for slander. Slander lawsuits were not uncommon in Central Illinois of that period, and Lincoln, as was the case with most attorneys, represented quite a few clients in regard to such cases.

There was no love lost between Popejoy and Wilson. Wilson had previously sued Popejoy for the death of a horse of his that Wilson had allowed him to borrow. The horse had died and Wilson, represented by Stephen A. Douglas, had sued for $300.00 in damages. Lincoln had represented Popejoy. The jury had returned a verdict for Wilson, but assessed damages at $70.25.

In the current lawsuit for slander, Lincoln again represented Popejoy and Douglas again represented Wilson. Lincoln won the case, with the Jury deliberating on a pile of sawlogs on the bank of the Vermilion River which winds through Pontiac.

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3 Responses to Lincoln, Douglas and Their First Debate