The Lincoln-Douglas Debates
In a series of face-to-face debates that captivated Illinois citizens, the two Senate candidates debated the morality of slavery. Douglas used Lincoln's “house divided” speech against him, accusing Lincoln of trying to divide the nation. Lincoln, in turn, cited the Declaration of Independence and asserted that all men are created equal. By now Lincoln was well known as an extraordinary political stump speaker.
Though Lincoln was confident he could defeat Douglas, the Democratic majority won, re-electing Douglas. Lincoln handled his loss with grace, glad he could speak out on a truly crucial issue. He wrote to a friend, “I believe I have made some remarks which will tell for the cause of civil liberty long after I am gone.”
Lincoln Is Put on the National Stage
The debates had more impact than the defeated candidate would imagine. They launched Lincoln onto the national stage, giving him opportunities to speak in other states. His moderate views won him praise as he insisted the Republican Party was not one solely of northern origin but that it encompassed the South as well. Lincoln spoke out against the extreme abolitionist John Brown, who incited violence. After speaking in New York, Lincoln became the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 1860.
When the party convened, they did in fact select Lincoln as their presidential nominee. With the Democratic Party split, Lincoln felt confident of victory. Though he won only 40 percent of the popular vote, he received the majority of electoral votes (though none in the South) and won the race to become the sixteenth president of the United States.
The Homestead Act of 1862 gave settlers 160 acres of federal land for a nominal filing fee if they would farm it for five years. This federally owned land included property in all states except the original thirteen and Maine, Vermont, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Texas.
The country would look to Lincoln for his measured words and thoughtful leadership, for the nation was unraveling fast. He faced challenges no former president could have imagined, yet Lincoln stood firm with the heartfelt conviction that the country needed to remain whole.
Southern militants had already threatened to secede from the Union if Lincoln was elected president. Sure enough, when election results became known, South Carolina became the first Southern state to leave the Union in December 1860. By February, several other states followed as they developed their own government.
Lincoln Takes Office
President James Buchanan did nothing to stop the secessionists. At that time, Lincoln was still a president-elect. As he bid farewell to Illinois, Lincoln remained hopeful that peace could be restored. “Today I leave you,” he told friends. “I go to assume a task more difficult than that which devolved upon George Washington.” And with additional words reflecting his belief in God, he asked his followers to pray for the country and his efforts.
Because rumors of a possible assassination plot were rampant, he quietly sneaked into Washington at night for his inauguration on March 4, 1861. Ironically, Lincoln was sworn in as president by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, who also issued the