Two candidates are running for the U.S. Senate; one a two-term Senate incumbent, and the other, a former one term Congressman. Both express positions on a major issue impacting a part of our nation. The Senator believes we should let the people in the impacted area vote and decide the issue for themselves. The opposing candidate states that the people should not have the right to vote on a matter that is morally wrong. Who would you vote for? If you voted for the incumbent Senator and the time and place was Illinois, 1858, you just voted for Stephen A. Douglas and rejected Abraham Lincoln.
According to author Harold Holzer, Lincoln and Douglas had been debating their respective positions going back to 1854, when Douglas championed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, a law that overturned the thirty-four-year-old Missouri Compromise, which had fixed slavery south of a state border line and the new law now opened new territories acquired in the Louisiana Purchase to the possibility of slavery. Douglas advocated “popular sovereignty,” namely, that citizens of every new territory “had the inherent right to vote slavery up or down for themselves.” Lincoln disagreed, contended that slavery was morally wrong, which the nation’s founders had earmarked for extinction and it should not be extended into new territories. (Lincoln found a provision in the Constitution that provided that the “migration or importation” of slaves “shall not be prohibited by Congress prior to 1808.” He interpreted that to mean that the founders earmarked slavery for extinction.
The same arguments were raised by the two men in their famous Senate race debates in 1858. Lincoln attacked Douglas for his position on popular sovereignty, as a plot to make slavery “perpetual and universal,” citing the 1857 explosive Dred Scott Supreme Court decision that “not only declared that blacks could never be citizens, it opened up the possibility of expanding slavery by affirming property rights to slave owners no matter where they transported their chattel.” Lincoln opposed the decision, Douglas supported it. Douglas was elected Senator in 1858, but Lincoln defeated Douglas in the presidential race in 1860.