Lincoln - Douglas Square
"A House Divided against itself cannot stand" - Lincoln delivered his famous House Divided speech in Alton, Illinois on October 15th 1858. The speech was part of a series of seven historic senatorial debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. Lincoln challenged Douglas to the debates in July and the debates took place across all seven senatorial districts of Illinois from August to October, each debate lasting three hours. The debates garnered national attention and were attended by important political figures and representatives, press from across the country, and the last debate swelled with over 5,000 spectators. The debate in Alton was the finale of the series and took place on the corner of Broadway and Market Street in front of Alton City Hall.
Lincoln campaigned on an anti-slavery platform and Douglas' platform focused on the premise of state's rights. Both men were in their 40's, intelligent, and great speakers; Douglas was shorter, broad, with a deep voice and Lincoln was tall and thin with a high voice. Lincoln's House Divided quote struck a chord with the religious populace- originally a Biblical quote by Jesus. Lincoln emphasized the importance of a unified country and asserted that the United States could not survive with half slave and half free states. Douglas, who wrote the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 allowing inhabitants of new states to decide whether to be slave or free states, argued that outlawing slavery would make black citizens believe themselves equal to white citizens and that states rights were paramount over national rights. Lincoln himself did not believe in full equality but believed slavery was a moral, social, and political evil- against the American Constitution- that had the capacity to tear apart the country.
Only one year previous, the U.S. Supreme Court Dred-Scott case declared the Missouri Compromise of 1820, banning slavery north of the latitude 36° 20' N, to be unconstitutional, causing wider divides between abolitionists and pro-slavery groups. The debates were considered a draw, with Douglas continuing on to win the senatorial seat, but Lincoln's speech went down in history as one of the most important and poignant speeches given during his political career. Lincoln beat Douglas for the presidency in 1860 only five years later and on December, 6th, 1865 the 13th Amendment, written by Alton native Lyman Trumbull, was ratified, formally ending slavery in the U.S. once and for all. Though the amendment did not end racial discrimination, it was a major step in the development of the Civil Rights Movement.
Lincoln-Douglas Square was erected in 1995 using funds raised by the sale of engraved bricks used in building the courtyard. The two bronze statues were commissioned by the Alton-Godfrey Rotary Club and sculpted by Boerne, Texas artist Jerry McKenna. The Citizens of Alton and The Exchange Club of Alton dedicated the square on October, 15, 1995. The square sits on the former site of Alton City Hall, destroyed by fire in 1924, and is a stop on the Lincoln Legacy Trail.