East side of Coles County Fairgrounds,
Debate Sculptures N 39o
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."
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
Stephen A. Douglas, AL is Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln-Douglas Debate Picture Album
Robert Root Mural Depicting the
Lincoln-Douglas Debate, now hanging in the Illinois State Capitol Governor's
AL-- 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
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.