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Portrait Sculptures of Lincoln and Douglas


Eastern Illinois University

Charleston, Illinois


Coles County



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portrait sculptures

Masterfully sculpted by local artist Cary Knoop, these portrait sculptures ornate the facade of City Hall located on Jackson Avenue. The two distinguished dignitaries portrayed in the portrait sculptures are Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. On September 18, 1858, over 12,000 people flocked to Charleston to listen to Lincoln and Douglas in the fourth of seven debates held throughout the state. (One should note that a bearded President Lincoln is portrayed in the sculpture, rather than the Lincoln of 1858).

During the 1858 campaign for a United States Senate seat from Illinois, Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln took part in a series of debates across Illinois. A debate was held in each of the seven congressional districts. Locations of these debates included: Ottawa, Freeport, Jonesboro, Charleston, Galesburg, Quincy, and Alton.

douglas Elected to the Senate in 1847, Douglas (described as the "little giant") represented the Democratic party in Illinois, and was campaigning for re-election in 1858. Like Lincoln, he was a lawyer, but he also was well known as the most influential Northern Democrat before the outbreak of the Civil War. As a firm believer in Popular Sovereignty, he helped enact such legislation as the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Controversy over the question of slavery and its territorial extension posed many difficulties for him during his senatorial career, which lasted from 1847 to 1861. The picture shown here depicts Douglas sometime between those two dates.

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By 1858, Abraham Lincoln was still relatively unknown in the national political sphere. Prior to the debates, Lincoln had already served four terms within the state senate and was elected to the House of Representatives. During that time, he became very popular within the state of Illinois. As a former Whig, Lincoln switched to the Republican Party two years before the 1858 debates. In the debates, Lincoln disagreed with Douglas on the topic of slavery in the territories. He stated that the country could not survive much longer as half-slave and half-free. This photograph depicts Lincoln before the final debate in 1858.

 The significance of the 1858 Lincoln and Douglas debates within Charleston's history is immense. They put Charleston on the map and attracted national attention. The main reason they were followed by many Americans was because of the issues Lincoln and Douglas addressed - especially slavery. Lincoln's opposition to the institution of slavery became evident through the debates. Even though Lincoln lost the senate seat to Douglas, he would eventually beat Douglas out in the presidential election of 1860. The painting below portrays Lincoln giving a speech to the large crowd at the fairgrounds in Charleston on September 18, 1858. Seated to the left of Lincoln is Stephen Douglas.

debate painting

What were some of the other issues addressed by Lincoln and Douglas during the debates? What were the reactions of Charleston residents to the debate held at the fairground? Did most local residents support Lincoln or oppose him?

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