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Dr. Larry Arnn On The Sixth Lincoln-Douglas Debate

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HH: It’s the last radio hour of the week. It is my first Hillsdale Dialogue since returning on vacation. Dr. Larry Arnn is also back from vacation. I get more static when I go on vacation about not doing the Hillsdale Dialogue than any other subject, Larry Arnn.

LA: Yeah, well, I was in socialist France, and no one was complaining to me.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing)

HH: Did you do any good work over there?

LA: Well, we went on a college cruise, so I was working. But in France, the farmers are cutting off roads, heaping them with cow dung and farm equipment, because the government is setting the price too low. And the government’s response is we’re setting the price high so you can make more, and yet people still save money by ire, so it’s an amazing series of circular reasoning leading to strikes.

HH: And among your Hillsdale College supporters, was there at least support for the Hillsdale Dialogues?

LA: Oh, yeah.

HH: Had any of them heard them?

LA: You know, I think of myself as a reasonably productive man, but these days, this is the only thing I’m known for. (laughing)

HH: (laughing) We’re going to change all that pretty soon. I have to ask you before we dive into the sixth Lincoln-Douglas debate, because the Iran deal is in front of us. And one of your students and one of my friends, Senator Tom Cotton, took the Secretary of State to task yesterday in a very methodical way on the simple question of secrecy in the American republic when it comes to treaties. Now we’ve had some experience with these things, with secret codicils before, and they never work out.

LA: Yeah, I mean, first of all, we’re messing with really big things here, right? It, the idea that a promise can be made that the treaty will go to the Congress of the United States before it goes internationally, and then the promise is broken on the ground, what, do we expect Great Britain and France and other countries to wait around for the Congress of the United States? Well, it doesn’t matter what they expect. What matters is what the Constitution requires and what the people expect. And so he’s, it’s just amazing series of things, and growing worse by the day.

HH: Worse by the day, but nevertheless, we are going to turn our attention back to October 13th of 1858, the sixth Lincoln-Douglas debate, which occurred in Quincy, Illinois among a crowd of 12,000, they are saying, primarily old Whigs. And set me up for that, Dr. Arnn, an old Whig.

LA: Well, so the Whig Party prevailed in the United States. It was Henry Clay’s party, and Abraham Lincoln was a member of it for about 30 years. And its view was they believed in internal improvements, that is to say canals and railroads and stuff like that. They believed in tariffs, and they believed that slavery was a bad thing, and they compromised it to limit its growth, especially with the Missouri Compromise, which was their great achievement. And Stephen Douglas was busy undoing that. But there was a lot of loyalty left to the old Whigs, and both Lincoln and Douglas proclaimed repeatedly in these debates that they are loyal to the old Whig principles.

HH: Now at the sixth debate, we’ve come a long way. And we will be playing some cuts from a recreation of the debates starring David Straithern as Lincoln, and Richard Dreyfuss as Douglas. I have linked the original recordings. There are seven of them, three hours each, so it’s 21 hours of audio. We use a couple of minutes here and 90 seconds there. We do not begin to display for you the amazing act of theatricality that Straithern and Dreyfuss recreate, and we urge you to go and purchase them. They’re linked over at But we’ve come a long way, and these are, they’re into the last couple of rounds, and they’re battered and they’re bruised, Larry Arnn.

LA: Oh, yeah. They have hammered each other all over the state. There’s a fair amount of repetition, and some by Lincoln, which is less usual in this sixth debate. And this sixth debate dwells more on the accusations against each other than the others have. Our clips are really not from that dwelling so much, but in this debate, Douglas is still hammering the point that Lincoln changes his speech from one time, one place in the state to another depending on public sentiment. And that ties into Douglas’ charge that Lincoln is a sectional politician betraying the greatness of the nation. Douglas is enrolling patriotism on his side. And Lincoln claims that Douglas has manufactured these things. He quotes here, as he does in several debates, where he says the same paragraph about the social and political equality of the black man and the rights of the black man and woman, both in the north and the southern parts of the state. And he accuses Douglas in this debate most of concocting a forgery, which is tying Lincoln to a party platform that among other things opposed the Fugitive Slave Act, which is prescribed by the Constitution of the United States. And Lincoln never did that, and Douglas keeps repeating that he did it, because Douglas is appealing to what he thinks is moderate, old Whig sentiment. So they fight about that, and they debate a fair amount about whether they have to have a personal breach over these charges and countercharges.

HH: And here is the first clip from the Straithern-Dreyfuss recreation of the Lincoln-Douglas debate, David Straithern as Lincoln, cut number one:

DS (as Lincoln): We have in this nation this element of domestic slavery. It is a matter of absolute certainty that it is a disturbing element. It is the opinion of all the great men who have expressed an opinion upon it, that it is a dangerous element. We keep up a controversy in regard to it. That controversy necessarily springs from difference of opinion; and if we can learn exactly—can reduce to the lowest elements—what that difference of opinion is, we perhaps shall be better prepared for discussing the different systems of policy that we would propose in regard to that disturbing element. I suggest that the difference of opinion, reduced to its lowest terms, is no other than the difference between the men who think slavery a wrong and those who do not think it wrong. The Republican party think it wrong; we think it is a moral, a social, and a political wrong. We think it is a wrong not confining itself merely to the persons or the States where it exists, but that it is a wrong in its tendency, to say the least, that extends itself to the existence of the whole nation. Because we think it wrong, we propose a course of policy that shall deal with it as a wrong. We deal with it as with any other wrong, in so far as we can prevent its growing any larger, and so deal with it that in the run of time there may be some promise of an end to it.

HH: Now Dr. Larry Arnn, one of the geniuses of that is its applicability to the controversy of the day, which is that this week, the fourth Planned Parenthood video by the Center for Medical was released. They’re horrific. I don’t know if you’ve obliged yourself to watch them. I’m in the news business and I have to watch them. They’re absolutely horrific.

LA: I’ve read about them.

HH: But they drive home this, that there is a difference between the parties, ours, yours and mine, we are Republicans, believe that abortion is wrong. They do not believe it is wrong, and that we know that we can’t end it tomorrow, but we can take steps to limit it with the hope of ending it eventually. And they don’t want to end it at all. It’s absolutely applicable to this extract that we just listened to.

LA: That’s right, and you know, Lincoln, who is cagey and shrewd and profound, he understands that if you can identify it as a wrong, then there will follow an agitation to limit it, and ultimately to eliminate it.

HH: Yeah.

LA: And you know, we, just as in the slavery question, one of the things Lincoln pointed out, another parallel, is that if you can treat these slaves, these African-Americans as chattels, take care, Lincoln said one time. The next man you meet whose complexion is lighter than yours is your master. And look at what science can do today. And if we can treat these conceived human beings as manufactured articles and recycle their parts, what can we do to grownups?

HH: And well said, and that is exactly, we should have a Lincoln-Douglas debate, except Planned Parenthood will not debate, obviously. They cringe. And more and more, I respect Douglas for at least coming out and swinging with Lincoln, because Hillary Clinton and Planned Parenthood and all the left, they are repelled by the idea of argument.

LA: Yeah, well, and it’s just, you know, they have a slogan. It’s a right, and you know, there are other parallels. I don’t think that the two cases are strictly parallel, but there are other parallels. These people, the unborn who are killed, and now we now know repurposed, they are silent. They’re not represented in the body politick, and so it’s easy to say, as Douglas said with the slaves, each locality can decide for itself what to do with it.

HH: And one of the differences? The unborn are hidden, and the slaves were not.

LA: Yeah, you know, the slavery, I was just talking to one of our professors who’s been on the dialogues, Paul Rahe, we just had a nice meeting, Paul’s brilliant and wise and good, and he was saying you see the collapse of the family, and that’s rooted in the abortion, which has not been effectively opposed. I think it has been effectively opposed in many cases. But the whole complex of the human nature is involved in this abortion thing, as it is in the slavery thing.

HH: More on the sixth Lincoln-Douglas debate with Dr. Larry Arnn when we return to the Hillsdale Dialogues. Stay tuned.

— – – – –

HH: This is a recreation of David Straithern playing the part of Lincoln, and I’ve got this linked, this wonderful recreation, over at He’s talking about the Dred Scott decision, which we’ve covered in depth on the Hillsdale Dialogues, the Supreme Court decision intended to bring an end to the controversy which only threw gasoline on it. Here is Straithern as Lincoln from 1858.

DS (as Lincoln): We oppose the Dred Scott decision in a certain way, upon which I ought perhaps to address you a few words. We do not propose that when Dred Scott has been decided to be a slave by the court, we, as a mob, will decide him to be free. We do not propose that, when any other one, or one thousand, shall be decided by that court to be slaves, we will in any violent way disturb the rights of property thus settled; but we nevertheless do oppose that decision as a political rule which shall be binding on the voter to vote for nobody who thinks it wrong, which shall be binding on the members of Congress or the President to favor no measure that does not actually concur with the principles of that decision. We do not propose to be bound by it as a political rule in that way, because we think it lays the foundation, not merely of enlarging and spreading out what we consider an evil, but it lays the foundation for spreading that evil into the States themselves. We propose so resisting it as to have it reversed if we can, and a new judicial rule established upon this subject.

HH: Dr. Larry Arnn, what wonderful advice this is to all of the Republican field seeking to find the language to talk about the marriage decisions, the Obamacare decisions, the President’s repeated insistence that the discussion about Obamacare is over. What a wonderful, for the ages, response.

LA: That’s right. So courts decide cases between parties. And when such cases are decided by the highest court of the land, then as regards to those parties, the case is decided for good and all. You have to have an independent judiciary, because otherwise, the same people would be making and executing the laws, and executing you. So that’s one of the pillars of separation of powers. Then in a second step, Lincoln explained in other places, when a court pronounces upon a principle, it’s worthy of great respect, because it may mean something important, and if the court decides the same way for a long time by a considerable majority, then that means something. On the other hand, every other person who serves under the Constitution of the United States takes an oath to uphold the Constitution. And that oath requires him to have an understanding of it. And the courts are not legislative bodies. And it’s certainly not nine wise men and women who have a monopoly on an understanding of the Constitution. And ultimately, the Constitution belongs to the people of the United States. And so Lincoln’s argument is after the Dred Scott decision has gutted, at least as regards to that one man, Dred Scott, the whole Republican platform to stop the spread of slavery into the territories, that doesn’t mean the platform has to be abandoned. The political debate can go on. People can still agitate for what they wish. And they can advocate the Constitution to mean what they wish.

HH: And that’s important for people to remember when the President says the discussion is over. It’s not over any more than it was in 1858 about slavery. Another quote from Straithern as Lincoln from October 13th, 1858, cut number three:

DS (as Lincoln): I will add this, that if there be any man who does not believe that slavery is wrong in the three aspects which I have mentioned, or in any one of them, that man is misplaced, and ought to leave us. While, on the other hand, if there be any man in the Republican party who is impatient over the necessity springing from its actual presence, and is impatient of the constitutional guarantees thrown around it, and would act in disregard of these, he too is misplaced, standing with us. He will find his place somewhere else; for we have a due regard, so far as we are capable of understanding them, for all these things. This, gentlemen, as well as I can give it, is a plain statement of our principles in all their enormity.

HH: Now Dr. Larry Arnn, a more perfect statement of my approach to politics, there just doesn’t exist.

LA: Yeah. He, Lincoln is responding to a charge from Douglas that Douglas, that Lincoln is changing his speech from place to place in the state, because he doesn’t want to talk about the enormity of his principles. And so Lincoln responds by laying them out. And his point is two. One is we have to proceed lawfully. And the Constitution does repose in the states at that time the power to regulate the institution of slavery. And so how are we going to fight it? And Lincoln’s point is by every lawful means, which happily are ample here, because the Union is growing, most of it is not yet incorporated in states, and we can stop it from getting any bigger. And so we’re going to do that, because we regard it as a wrong. And Lincoln, when he says the people are misplaced, he means if they’re Republicans and they don’t believe A) that slavery is wrong and ought to be restricted and ultimately abolished, and B) that that has to be done only by lawful means, then Lincoln is reading them out of the party.

HH: Exactly. But he’s saying these are non-negotiables, that it’s wrong, but there are Constitutional means to get rid of it.

LA: That’s right. And see, that, people miss that, because there’s a lot of people who say that Lincoln subverted the Constitution of the United States, you know, caused the executive power to grow and things like that. But the truth of the matter is what the Republican movement, which I assert and with great pride helped began here at Hillsdale College, among a few other places, what they did was they argued for a Constitutional approach to the elimination of slavery. And that means they would acknowledge, written in 1854 in Jackson, Michigan by a man who later became the governor of Michigan and was a Hillsdale College faculty member, they acknowledged that the Constitution does not give the federal government the power to abolish slavery in the states. And of course, it never did do that. That was done by the 13th Amendment, and amendment to the Constitution.

HH: Now I’m curious, though, when you run into people who want action and they want action now. Let’s call them Trumpians for lack of a better term. They want action, and they want action now. And they are impatient with patience. Do you refer them to this conversation?

LA: Well, you have to understand that civilization itself actually begins with the rule of law. And so to upend the law is revolutionary, and that’s hard. You know, our own revolution was very difficult, and they say in the Declaration of Independence that such things will not be undertaken for light and transient causes. So while you have legal remedies available, as they had then and we have many today, then those are the ones to use. It’s both prudent and lawful to do that.

HH: I’ll be right back with Dr. Larry Arnn.

— – – —

HH: is where you find out all things Hillsdale, including an application to the college. It’s that season of the year, Dr. Arnn, where rising seniors in high school begin to look for places to matriculate.

LA: Yeah, and if they’re going to come here, they’d better get their boots on.

HH: Get their boots on and be ready to learn, but also to enjoy and experience real learning and love it. Love it.

LA: Yeah, well, our method of marketing is to talk about how you’ve got to get your boots on. But you’re correct, the college is a hoot. And if you come here, you’ll have a great time. It’ll just be really hard.

HH: It’ll just be really hard, and everything worth doing is worth doing if it’s really hard. Straithern as Lincoln, I’m going to play two clips here. One is Dreyfuss as Douglas, and all of these are available at that epic 21 hours of the recreation of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. We’re just playing a minute here and a minute there. But this is an enormous part, because as Dr. Arnn mentioned earlier in the sixth Lincoln-Douglas debate, they’re wrapping up. They’re preparing their closing charges. And they always remained somewhat civil. Cut number 4:

DS (as Lincoln): In the first place, the leading man—I think I may do my friend Judge Douglas the honor of calling him such—advocating the present Democratic policy, never himself says it is wrong. He has the high distinction, so far as I know, of never having said slavery is either right or wrong. Almost everybody else says one or the other, but the Judge never does. If there be a man in the Democratic party who thinks it is wrong, and yet clings to that party, I suggest to him in the first place, that his leader don’t talk as he does, for he never says that it is wrong. In the second place, I suggest to him, that if he will examine the policy proposed to be carried forward, he will find that he carefully excludes the idea that there is anything wrong in it. If you will examine the arguments that are made on it, you will find that every one carefully excludes the idea that there is anything wrong in slavery. Perhaps that Democrat who says that he is as much opposed to slavery as I am, will tell me that I am wrong about this. I wish him to examine his own course in regard to this matter a moment, and then see if his opinion will not be changed a little. You say it is wrong; but don’t you constantly object to anybody else saying so? Do you not constantly argue that this is not the right place to oppose it? You say it must not be opposed in the Free States, because slavery is not here; it must not be opposed in the Slave States, because it is there; it must not be opposed in politics, because that will make a fuss; it must not be opposed in the pulpit, because it is not religion. Then where is the place to oppose it? There is no suitable place to oppose it. There is no plan in the country to oppose this evil overspreading the continent, which you say yourself is coming.

HH: A couple of parts about that, Larry Arnn. I love his leader, don’t talk as he does. It’s a bit of the vernacular that Lincoln steps down to, but he’s also painting his opponent into a rhetorical corner.

LA: Yeah, and Lincoln is schooled in Shakespeare and a country boy. And his point about that is it is true that it’s this central feature of Douglas’ politics that he thinks, along with Roger Taney and the Supreme Court, that he can figure out a way to deal with slavery without asking anybody to do anything they don’t want to do, at least on the national level. And to do that, he has to treat it, he tries to treat it as a neutral. But of course, it can’t be a neutral. That’s why Douglas has to say, because first of all, it’s a grave matter of justice, obviously. But second, Douglas has to say the country is founded on the white basis. So the actual right that’s involved in this is that we can do anything with them we want to. And remember, that’s what the people of Illinois and the Union finally didn’t buy.

HH: Let me go and get the last bit of Straithern in as Lincoln, cut number nine:

DS (as Lincoln): It is precisely all I ask of him in relation to the institution of slavery, that it shall be placed upon the basis that our fathers placed it upon. Mr. Brooks, of South Carolina, once said, and truly said, that when this Government was established, no one expected the institution of slavery to last until this day, and that the men who formed this Government were wiser and better than the men of these days; but the men of these days had experience which the fathers had not, and that experience had taught them the invention of the cotton-gin, and this had made the perpetuation of the institution of slavery a necessity in this country. Judge Douglas could not let it stand upon the basis which our fathers placed it, but removed it, and put it upon the cotton-gin basis. It is a question, therefore, for him and his friends to answer, why they could not let it remain where the fathers of the Government originally placed it.

HH: We will return to that question with Dr. Larry Arnn of Hillsdale College after the break. Stay tuned.

— – — –

HH: When we went to break, Abraham Lincoln had challenged Stephen Douglas as putting slavery on the cotton gin basis, Larry Arnn. What a wounding blow to say you’ve abandoned the framers for a commercial interest.

LA: And you know, Douglas has accused Lincoln of the same thing. Douglas says it’s just an obvious point that the founders set up the Union partly slaves and partly free. Why is Lincoln trying to change that? And Lincoln’s response is they placed it in a place, in a condition, first of all, they didn’t bring slavery to the United States. That came before the United States. In dealing with it, they placed it in disfavor as a wrong, and in the course of ultimate extinction. So that appeal is very strong. And Lincoln is mentioning there that slavery paid better when you could refine, get basically, get the seeds out of the middle of the cotton faster with a machine. Now cotton is a paying crop in a much better way, and you need slaves to plant it and weed it and pick it. And I don’t know if you ever picked cotton, Hugh, but I have one day.

HH: I have not, no.

LA: And I’m telling you, there’s just hardly such a bad thing.

HH: Well, I’ve worked with a radio producer.

LA: There you go. Well, you know, this is like that, except it weighs more.

HH: Well, Duane’s big. Let me go and give at least a little bit of Richard Dreyfuss as Stephen Douglas. It’s a marvelous performance. Go and buy all 21 hours, but this is where he goes directly at Lincoln in the way that Dr. Arnn just referred to, cut number five:

RD (as Douglas): Mr. Lincoln there told his Abolition friends that this Government could not endure permanently, divided into Free and Slave States as our fathers made it, and that it must become all free or all slave; otherwise, that the Government could not exist. How then does Lincoln propose to save the Union, unless by compelling all the States to become free, so that the house shall not be divided against itself? He intends making them all free; he will preserve the Union in that way; and yet, he is not going to interfere with slavery where it now exists. How is he going to bring it about? Why, he will agitate, he will induce the North to agitate, until the South shall be worried out and forced to abolish slavery. Let us examine the policy by which that is to be done. He first tells you that he would prohibit slavery everywhere in the Territories. He would thus confine slavery within its present limits. When he thus gets it confined, and surrounded, so that it cannot spread, the natural laws of increase will go on until the negroes will be so plenty that they cannot live on the soil. He will hem them in until starvation seizes them, and by starving them to death, he will put slavery in the course of ultimate extinction. If he is not going to interfere with slavery in the States, but intends to interfere and prohibit it in the Territories, and thus smother slavery out, it naturally follows that he can extinguish it only by extinguishing the negro race; for his policy would drive them to starvation. This is the humane and Christian remedy that he proposes for the great crime of slavery.

HH: Larry Arnn, three points. One, Dreyfuss is a master. I mean, it really is a beautiful performance. Number two, this is coming after the great famine, right, of the 1840s in Ireland, so the idea of starving a race to death is not actually going to be far from a lot of people’s collective memories. And three, he’s upping the ante as he gets closer to the election, which he’s going to lose the popular vote for.

LA: That’s right, and see, this is one of my favorite passages.

HH: Yes.

LA: Because it’s, he’s, you know, well now, Douglas is arguing that the kindness to the slaves requires the expansion of slavery. And you know, the law of natural increase, and so they’ll be confined, and they won’t be able to eat. And that, he makes that argument twice in these debates, and he makes it with, as you say, Dreyfuss is a master, because he really relishes those lines. And you can hear Douglas doing that, too. It’s awesome.

HH: It’s stupid, but it’s awesome.

LA: Yeah, and see, but what’s interesting about it is that among the free blacks, led by Frederick Douglass and a few others, there’s a national agitation for the elimination of slavery. And of course, the whole need for the Fugitive Slave Act is the slaves keep running away. And so the slaves themselves are wishing their own starvation.

HH: Starvation. So let me close this week with this proposition. Are there black people, are there slaves in attendance? And how do you think they think when they hear this?

LA: No, they’re not. Well, if there are slaves in attendance, there can only be a few. These are in a free state in Illinois. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t hear about it. And you know, what about that? If you go read the Best of the Slave Codes to read, and you can find it on the internet, or we can put it on, is the Alabama Slave Code. And there are strict regulations on slaves gathering, how long they can stay in a place, on what they can read and see. And so the people, you know, the slaveholders are afraid of what the slaves learns.

HH: Not something you worry about with horses.

LA: That’s right. That’s right. And at the end of this debate, it’s just worth mentioning, Lincoln makes that wonderful statement, which he elaborates elsewhere, that yeah, you can take your hog and your buckboard into Nebraska, and the territorial or the federal government will protect your property in it. And it should do so for the slave if there’s no difference between the hog and the buckboard on the one hand, and the slave on the other. But everybody knows they are different. That’s very powerful.

HH: Everybody knows. That’s why the debates are very powerful, and why we will conclude our seven-part series on them next week. Do not miss next week’s Hillsdale Dialogue. All of them back to Homer available at Stay tuned.

End of interview.


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