How presidential debates have defined candidate positions in US elections

Abraham Lincoln and Senator Stephan A Douglas.

While Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s presidential contest hots up, we have a quick look at the first of its kind presidential debates in American history.

While the first general US presidential debate was not held until 1960, several other debates are considered predecessors to the presidential debates. One such series of debates took place between Abraham Lincoln and Senator Stephan A Douglas.

Abraham Lincoln and Senator Stephan A Douglas in a recreation of a presidential debate.

The series of seven debates in 1858 between Abraham Lincoln and Senator Stephen A. Douglas for U.S. Senate were true, face-to-face debates, with no moderator. The candidates took it in turns to open each debate with a one-hour speech, then the other candidate had an hour and a half to rebut, and finally the first candidate closed the debate with a half-hour response.

Douglas was later re-elected to the Senate by the Illinois legislature. Lincoln and Douglas were both nominated for president in 1860 (by the Republicans and Northern Democrats, respectively), and their earlier debates helped define their respective positions in that election, but they did not meet during the campaign.

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