Limited Racial Equality
It was on this last issue of racial equality that Lincoln had the most difficulty in answering Douglas. Lincoln could not easily declare that slavery was immoral and that African Americans were endowed with God given rights as presented in the Declaration of Independence without leaving himself vulnerable to Douglass race baiting attacks. Either African Americans were equal to white Americans, Douglas proclaimed, or they were not. Lincoln answered by trying to contend that there were physical and social differences between the races that would probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality. On the other hand, true to his free labor Republican ideology, Lincoln insisted that there is no reason in the world why the Negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independencethe right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Nevertheless, he saw limits to what this meant. Like most other Republicans, he opposed granting blacks the rights to vote, sit on juries, hold public office, or intermarry with whites. Blacks were equal, he said, to all men in their freedom to earn the just rewards for the work they did rather than to have those earnings confiscated by tyrants, kings, and slavemasters.
In those days, U.S. senators were elected by their state legislatures, not by a direct popular vote. Thus, the debates were designed to appeal to voters who would elect members of the state legislature, who would in turn elect the U.S. senator from Illinois. When the votes were counted, although Republican candidates won a slight plurality of the popular vote, the malapportionment of legislative districts favored southern Illinois, where the Democrats were strongest. As a result, the Democrats retained their majority in the legislature and elected Douglas over Lincoln by fifty four votes to forty six. Nevertheless, the campaign had given Lincoln a national reputation and made him a leader of the Republican Party.