A Turning Point in Abraham Lincoln's Political Career

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Before engaging in the debates with Senator Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln was relatively unknown in the political world and was just beginning his career in politics. Abraham Lincoln's reputation was just starting to grow, and his life was about to make a drastic change. The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 were a turning point in Abraham Lincoln's political career.

Lincoln had served four terms in the Illinois legislature, and now desired an office with greater prestige. Lincoln had served the Whig Party well, and election to Congress became his goal.
In 1843 and 1844, Lincoln lost the nomination for Congress to other candidates. Although disappointed, he kept striving for his goal. Finally, in 1846, his hard work had paid off. Abraham Lincoln won the Whig nomination for the U. S. House of Representatives.

Lincoln started his Congressional career on December 6, 1847. He failed to make the reputation he had hoped for in Congress. Some of his main tasks included, a bill that would free slaves in the District of Columbia and supporting the Wilmot Proviso, banning slavery in territories acquired from Mexico. He also supported the Whig policy which had the government paying for internal improvements, and in 1848, he worked on the nomination and election of Zachary Taylor, the Whig candidate for President. Already in his political career, Lincoln had a strong stand on slavery. His term ended on March 4, 1849. Lincoln's stay in Congress was brief and frustrating. He opposed the Mexican War so vigorously that he lost much of his popularity with his constituency. At the expiration of his term in 1849 he returned home and sank into the political background.

At that point, Lincoln decided to return to Springfield, Illinois and revive his law career. He practiced law more seriously than ever and represented big businesses and corporations in many lawsuits, and soon prospered. After successfully defending the Illinois Central Railroad in an important tax case, he became known as the leading lawyer of Illinois. His reputation all over the state had grown steadily. However, Lincoln knew that law was not his dream. Abraham Lincoln decided to reenter politics. At that point in time, there had been a sudden change in the national theme towards slavery. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 had prohibited slavery in territories north of Missouri's southern boundary. Then in 1854, Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois introduced the Kansas-Nebraska Act. "I [Lincoln] think, and shall try to show, that it is wrong; wrong in its direct effect, letting slavery into Kansas and Nebraska—and wrong in its prospective principle, allowing it to spread to every part of the wide world, where men can be found inclined to take it" (Fehrenbacher, Lincoln, 1832-1858 510). Lincoln was against Douglas' principles and wanted to stand up for what he believed was right. Richard Heckman states in his book, Lincoln vs. Douglas, that "It was not until 1854 that he [Lincoln] again emerged as an active political figure" (35).

Lincoln believed that the Declaration of Independence contained rights for freedom and equality, and could not be taken away from anyone. Slavery, Harold Holzer said, "It is the eternal struggle between these two principles---right and wrong---throughout the world" (35). He believed these same principles, and knew that the citizens of the United States had their Constitutional right to own slaves. However, Lincoln wanted to show the people how cruel and evil slavery really is, and had strong morals which were totally against slavery. He stood by these morals throughout his life.

Lincoln was again elected to the Illinois legislature, but resigned to run for the Senate. He always wanted more, and always wanted a higher position. The Whig Party was falling apart, so he decided to join the antislavery Republican Party, which was only two years old. In 1856, Lincoln made over a hundred speeches which boosted his...
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