The Main Attraction

Fran Riley Feature

GALESBURG, Ill. (KWQC) – October 7, 1858. More than ten thousand people gather outside of the Old Main Building at Knox College in Galesburg.

The main attraction is the fifth debate that year between U.S. Senate Candidates Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln.

Knox College Historian Owen Muelder says these debates became a model for candidates vying for political office throughout the country.

The debate went on for almost three hours. At times, the crowd also got involved. A platform was set up outside the building. Lincoln entered the stage through a window in Old Main.

Rough and tumble politics. Some harsh words exchanged. The main topic: slavery. Lincoln opposed it. He called it immoral. Douglas said the issue was a local matter. Each state should decide.

Douglas, the incumbent Democrat, won the election. People could vote. However, the state legislature decided the outcome. Choosing the candidate who would represent Illinois in the United States Senate.

The debate in Galesburg helped Lincoln gain in popularity. Muelder says the Republican eventually became a household name across the nation. Two years later at the Republican Convention in Chicago, Abraham Lincoln was nominated for President.

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