Fighting an uphill battle against a better-financed, better-organized incumbent who attracted attention wherever he went, senatorial hopeful Abraham Lincoln’s election strategy was classic underdog: simply follow Stephen A. Douglas around the state and speak where he spoke. Hence Lincoln’s friend and supporter, Bloomington lawyer William H. Hanna, wrote on July 13th to inform him that Douglas was scheduled to be in Bloomington on Friday, July 16th, should Lincoln decide to come to Bloomington as well. Here Lincoln replies, "No accident preventing, I will be with you Friday afternoon and evening."
That Friday evening, Lincoln was indeed in Bloomington, listening to Douglas. As soon as Douglas finished, calls went up for Lincoln to speak too. Lincoln, however, declined. The meeting, he said, had been organized by the friends of Douglas, and it would be improper for him to address it. But the next morning Lincoln trailed Douglas to nearby Atlanta and, again, was in the audience when calls rang out for him to speak when Douglas finished. Lincoln refused this time, too, to take advantage of the Democratic meeting. But surely in all this trailing and listening and refusing to answer on the spot, the idea of a debate came to mind – and finally, on July 24th, Lincoln wrote to Douglas to challenge him to share a platform, and debate.
The Lincoln-Douglas debates would be the means of Lincoln’s storied ascent to the presidency, as, though he lost the race, his words galvanized the nation - if not all of Illinois. And a century later, they would be the model for the Kennedy-Nixon Debates - and so changed the American political process forever.
Autograph Letter Signed (“A. Lincoln”), 1 page, quarto, Springfield, Illinois, July 15, 1858. To W.H. Hanna, Esq. A small oval portrait of Lincoln has been affixed to the lower left corner.