To the Editor:
In his review of David Donald’s Lincoln [Books in Review, January], Walter Berns writes:
Lincoln and Douglas were contesting more than a Senate seat; they were engaged in a contest for public opinion, or, in Lincoln’s words, for the public mind on slavery. Although Douglas won the Senate seat in 1858, Lincoln was destined to win that wider contest. Told by friends that if he posed a certain question in the debate, he would lose the Senate race he replied, “Gentlemen, I am killing larger game; if Douglas answers, he can never be President, and the battle of 1860 is worth a hundred of this.” He was right, and the rest is history.
The “rest” may be history, but the story Mr. Berns relates is apocryphal. The second of Lincoln’s “interrogatories” at Freeport—to which Mr. Berns alludes—was whether the people of a United States territory could exclude slavery prior to the formation of a state constitution. Neither Lincoln nor anyone else doubted that Douglas would say that they might exclude slavery by passing “unfriendly legislation.” He had said so innumerable times before. Donald says that this was the key question, and Mr. Berns appears to accept this. In fact the third question was of far greater consequence. In it Lincoln asked whether Douglas would acquiesce in another Dred Scott decision, in which the Supreme Court would decide that neither a state nor a territory could lawfully exclude slavery from its limits.
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