Learning Lincoln On-line

Topic- Virtual Field Trip Through Coles County for Lincoln and Grant Sites

#8)  4th Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Charleston, Illinois-- Coles County Fairgrounds

-- Exact point, no original structure, has a museum with displays

Stephen Douglas (left) and Abraham Lincoln (right) debate at Charleston in September 18 of 1858  Sculptures by John McClary, Decatur, IL

Location: East side of Coles County Fairgrounds,  near Lincoln-Douglas Debate Sculptures  N  39o 29.796   W 088o 11.218

On September 18, 1858, the fourth of the famous joint debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas was held approximately one-quarter mile south of here. Twelve thousand people heard the two candidates for the United States Senator  discuss the question of slavery in American politics.

Dr. Charles Coleman's Lincoln in Coles County, 1955, gives a detailed description of the events to occur.

The Charleston Debate involved the communities of Mattoon and Charleston.  Both candidates arrived by train into Mattoon the day before the debate.  Lincoln came in by regular train from Centralia, while Douglas came in on his special "dedicated" train.  Lincoln rode with friend Henry C. Whitney, while Douglas had his wife with him and a large entourage.  Senator Douglas had his headquarters in the Essex Hotel (Mattoon), and Lincoln had his in the old Pennsylvania House.  [the railroads in Mattoon actually criss-crossed on Broadway Avenue near the present Illinois Central Depot].  According to Coleman, p. 174, "The Republicans and Democrats, through a joint committee, had arranged for mammoth parades to come to Charleston from Mattoon.  The Republicans would follow the south road, and the Democrats would use the north road, thus avoiding collisions.  Those living along the way were asked to join the procession of their party as it advanced toward Charleston."  Lincoln would ride in a carriage all the way from Mattoon to Charleston, while the Senator would meet the parade outside of Charleston, after riding a train to Charleston.  The event could be described as two large parades with decorated horse riders, beautiful young ladies, and of course the candidates waving to all.  Lincoln's wagon carried thirty-two young ladies clad in white, wearing green velvet caps, each representing a State of the Union, by holding a banner with the name of that state.  A large sign on one side of the float bore the words: "Westward the Star of the Empire Takes its Way, Our Girls Link-on to Lincoln, Their Mothers were for Clay." 

Lincoln was said to have stopped his carriage along the route in Charleston,  and gotten off to give his step-mother, Sarah Bush Lincoln, a hug and kiss on the cheek.

Another Lincoln float was a large wagon, pulled by five or six yoke of oxen, bearing a large log proper for spitting of rails.  While being pulled around the square, men would actually split rails from the log.  A sign could be read:  Vote for Honest Abe, the Rail Splitter, the Ox Driver and Giant Killer."  Lincoln was very amused as he watched this wagon go by, and yelled to the driver (Matt Glassco), "you, too, are up in the world some."  In 1860, at the Presidential convention in Chicago, Glassco would repeat his rail-splitter demonstration.  Thus the motto "Abe Lincoln, Rail Splitter" was born.

Senator Douglas' special train had a flat car with a small cannon on it.  This cannon was shot to announce the Senator was in town.  The Senator was very popular in the Democrat majority of Coles County, but was given stiff competition by the well-known Abraham Lincoln.

The Debate would occur out at the fairgrounds.  The numbers of the crowd was described as being from 10,000 to 20,000.  Residents from Coles County villages and areas were in attendance.  It was a very warm day.  The residents of Charleston provided housing and assistance to the huge number of visitors.  Both hotels on the square were full. See the links and text below to learn about the Debate.

Fourth Joint Debate at Charleston, Illinois, September 18, 1858

"Selected quotations" or "Excerpts"
by B.F. McClerren and Robert Sterling for the Lincoln-Douglas Debate Museum, Charleston, Illinois  

SAD is Stephen A. Douglas, AL is Abraham Lincoln.

Charleston, Illinois Lincoln-Douglas Debate Picture Album

Robert Root Mural Depicting the Lincoln-Douglas Debate, now hanging in the Illinois State Capitol Governor's Office


2AL-- The other way is for us to surrender and let Judge Douglas and his friends plant slavery in all the States, and submit to it as one of the common matters of property among us, like horses and cattle. That would be another way to settle the question, but while it stands in the way of progress as now, I have ventured the opinion that we will have no end to the slavery agitation until it takes one turn or the other.

4 SAD-- I am willing to offer my whole public life and my whole private life to the inspection of any man, or of all men, who desire to investigate it and if twenty-five years of residence among you, and nearly the whole time a public man, exposed, perhaps to more assaults and more abuse than any man living of my age, or that ever did live, and if I have survived it all, and commanded your confidence thus far, I am willing to trust to your knowledge of me and my public actions, without making any personal defense against those assaults from my enemies.


Click Here for the:  Full Text of the Charleston Debate & Other Debates (all parts)

Click Here for a tour of Coles County Lincoln/Grant Locations & Descriptions

Visit the Lincoln-Douglas Debates Site

Learning On-Line Home Page