Today America's Presidential debates have just about hit the nadir and are perhaps the best argument for adopting a parliamentary system. Instead of the candidates stating what they intend to do once they get into office, we now enjoy Q & A PR WebFests hosted by stylishly coiffured journalists fantasizing how they will be the next Bob Woodward while their questions deal with such weighty topics of how choices of lapel pins reflect on a person's patriotism. But when Abraham Lincoln debated Stephen Douglas in 1858, those were debates, by God, and the candidates debated the issues.
The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 were a true reportorial innovation. Shorthand stenographers recorded the words as spoken by the candidates, and the country could read the unedited speech of the candidates, complete with misstatements, run-on sentences, and grammatical solecisms - provided they read the opposition paper, of course.
It's the content of the speeches that comes as a shock to those with modern sensibilities. It is certainly disconcerting to read that even at that early date in American history, a major political candidate could stand up in front of thousands of men, women, and children and state flat out that he was not in favor of equality among the races, did not believe in granting the vote for minority free citizens, and was in favor - yes, in favor - of maintaining the superior position of the white race above the black.
And that was Lincoln!
For more on Abe and Stephen's verbal sparring, click here.