What was the impact of the Lincoln-Douglas debates?  

Expert Answers
mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Lincoln-Douglas debates were very significant. Both men were running for the United States Senate seat in Illinois in 1858. Slavery was a key topic in the debates. Abraham Lincoln stated he was against slavery, especially the spread of it. Stephen Douglas believed that the people should decide the issue, as he also believed in the concept of popular sovereignty. Stephen Douglas went on to explain how a territory could be unfriendly to slavery and work to prevent slavery from being established in that territory. In what was known as the Freeport Doctrine, Douglas said that if a territory didn’t want slavery, there would be nothing the Supreme Court could do about that. He argued that people would elect representatives that would be opposed to the establishment of slavery, which would prevent the passage of laws allowing slavery to exist.

The impact of these debates was significant. First, it gave Abraham Lincoln a national presence. Before these debates, many people didn’t know much about him. They now saw him as a candidate that was opposed to slavery. Stephen Douglas, while winning the United States Senate seat in 1858, made many enemies in the South because of the Freeport Doctrine. Southern Democrats couldn’t support his views. When he ran for President in 1860, the Democratic Party split into two parts. The Northern Democrats nominated Stephen Douglas. The Southern Democrats, who couldn't support Douglas because of his views on slavery, nominated John C. Breckinridge. The splitting of the Democratic Party contributed to the Republican victory in the presidential election of 1860.

beardian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Lincoln-Douglas debates were a series of debates during the 1858 US Senate elections between republican candidate Abraham Lincoln and democratic candidate Stephen A. Douglas.  The impact of the debate dealt with slavery and states rights issues.

Douglas argued in the idea of popular sovereignty, where states should be given the right to decide by popular vote whether or not they would adopt slavery upon admission as a state to the US.  Lincoln argued that slavery was morally wrong, noting that Douglas was using the argument of popular sovereignty to extend slavery into the western states.  The debate brought up moral issues, potential violations of the Declaration of Independence, and slavery vs. popular sovereignty.  

To echo the sentiment of the previous answer, the Lincoln-Douglas debates also catapulted Lincoln into the public eye, with the later effect of making him a promising presidential candidate.  Prior to the debates, Lincoln was a relatively unknown politician.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The only real impact of the debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in 1858 was that they put Lincoln on the national "map" as a major political figure.

The debates were staged as part of a race between the two men for a seat in the US Senate.  Douglas won the election.  Even so, the debates catapulted Lincoln into the public eye.  They were widely covered by various newspapers because Douglas was such an important national figure.  Debating Douglas allowed Lincoln to become much better known and therefore contributed greatly to his becoming president two years later.