Lincoln-Douglas: A journey back in time

Michelle Anstett

Buss and Connors did not re-enact, word for word, the fifth debate as it would have been given in 1858, in part because the exact text is not fully known. Instead, the two men posed as their historical figures and gave the audience a feel for what the election of 1858 was like, some of the major issues — including slavery — and how that campaign influenced the rest of history.

The men then gave portions of some of each man’s famous speeches, such as Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech and Douglas’ “LeCompton Constitution” speech.

They then fielded questions from the audience and people posing as members of the press. The questions largely centered around the debates and their place in history, and also compared the political climate of 1858 to that of 2008.

Though the debates did not serve to win Lincoln a place in the Senate, many of the issues he brought to the forefront became central to politics in subsequent years and he became well-known across the country. Douglas, who at the time was the head of the national Democratic party, has largely been brushed aside.

It is one of the injustices of history, Connors said jokingly as Douglas, that Lincoln lost the election but remains the foremost political figure to emerge from that time period.

“After 150 years of playing second fiddle, I do have a few comments” about Lincoln’s popularity, Connors responded to one question. “Today, it’s the ‘Lincoln-Douglas debates.’ His face is on the $5 bill. Can I get my face on the penny? Oh no, his is on that, too!

“When it comes to being tossed on the dust heap of history, one can expect no justice.”