A relatively inexperienced progressive Illinois orator debates a well-regarded and powerful Senator in an election that grabs the nation's headlines. No, this isn't 2008 and it isn't Obama-McCain. These are the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, a series of seven one-on-one town halls between two men looking to decide Illinois' future at a key moment in United States history. While Abraham Lincoln would go on to lose the Senate seat to the incumbent Stephen A. Douglas, these storied debates established Lincoln's presence on the national stage as a leading voice in the then newly established Republican Party. Much is made of his later success in abolishing slavery from the United States and rightfully so, but in these debates Lincoln tones down any abolitionist stance he may have had. He makes clear that any personal arguments against slavery would never tread on his responsibilities as a representative of the people of Illinois. Douglas on the other hand is fervent about the rights of states over the federal government in deciding any law regarding slavery. Not surprisingly, these debates mostly cover the 'slavery question' and, thankfully for the listener, not the multitude of other everyday issues facing citizens in 1858. This makes listening to seven separate town hall debates much easier, as the arguments over slavery get repeated and honed to perfection with each passing debate.
David Strathairn stars here as the thoughtful, level-headed Abraham Lincoln, opposite Richard Dreyfuss' condescendingly pushier voicing of Stephen A. Douglas. Neither put on any accents nor otherwise inject any unnecessary melodrama into the already powerful text of these debates. Whether purposefully sober or not, the result is that neither actor (nor the Senate candidate they represent) shines in this fairly straightforward reading. Strathairn's voicing bests Dreyfuss' Douglas but never soars to the rhetorical heights history attributes Lincoln. In admirably 'acting' out the debates verbatim, these Hollywood actors are not afforded the text of an author with masterful prose, much less a plot that thickens with each passing chapter. Instead Strathairn and Dreyfuss dutifully voice the debates with the clarity of tone and diction needed to facilitate understanding the finer points of arguments made over 150 years ago. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates are a challenging listen, but an appropriately timely one that these actors make worthwhile. Josh Ravitz
The Lincoln-Douglas Debates made history and changed its course through seven legendary match-ups between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas during the 1858 Illinois senatorial race. Although he lost the election, Lincoln's gift for oratory and his anti-slavery stance made him a nationally known figure, and led to his election to the presidency in 1860.
Never before presented in audio, these debates and great statesmen are brought to life by narrators Richard Dreyfuss (Douglas) and David Strathairn (Lincoln). Perfectly timed for the Lincoln Bincentennial celebrations, The Lincoln-Douglas Debates provide a soundtrack to a nation discovering its better self.
©2009 the Abraham Lincoln Association; ©2009 BBC Audiobooks America
Great performances. Can't believe we have access to this stuff, Never could have read the debates out of a book - this made it really accessible. Douglas' arguments were extremely sensible at the time from a practical perspective. In hindsight it is really great the Lincoln and his allies took the morally high ground. What a passage this was for the country - the debates gave a great snap shot on the thorny legal issues that led to the war.
His unabridged recording of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates by two well-known actors is both great fun and a fantastic insight into a key debate on a central issue in American history. Both actors seem to really get into character (although I wonder if Dreyfuss maybe hams it up a bit... this may be unfair as I do not know the literature regarding how Douglas really spoke and delivered his speeches) and the intervening comments of the 3rd narrator (communicating time, location, and audience interruptions) help to place the listener at the edge of the stage in the crowd. Great stuff.
Listening carefully, it becomes clear that both Stephen Douglas and Lincoln avoided stating their positions clearly. And yet, by the attacks they make on one another we learn the true positions of the other. Lincoln, through both Douglas's attacks, and Lincoln's own defense, emerges as a scheming strategist who took on the infamy of slavery in well arranged political skirmishes, but in large public meetings found ways to avoid altogether any comittment to his views, both the political and financial implications of ending slavery and establishing equality. At one point Lincoln states "well, I'm not really sure how I feel about that. I haven't given it enough time, though I hope to do so." and this after his own party has established as its platform the eradication of slavery as an institution. Keep in mind that Lincoln was one of the founders of the Republican party!
As the debates proceed, it is clear that Douglas really means to uncover both Lincoln's true intent and the political manueverings he is using to hide his plan. Douglas also wants to leave it up to the voters, but does not shy away from his own prejudices about blacks, and his protectionism for slave owners and the business of slavery. Try as he does to be liberal minded, his own position emerges with crystal clarity. It is an amazing tour de force display of both positions.
Stephen Douglas. Both his rhetoric, and Richard Dreyfus' tour de force performance. You see in Dreyfus' Douglas the representation of big business interests and racism couched in the language of concern for the little guy and equality for all people. He does an amazing job demonstrating Douglas' sense of self-rightouseness and fairness, and his dogged determination to raise Lincoln's schemes, which border on unconstitutional, to the public eye.
Lincoln, Douglas proves again and again, doesn't want to leave the choice to the people on this issue. He means to irradicate Slavery. And Douglas, with perfect prescience, states clearly this will tear the country in two, which it did.
We are left with an incredible admiration for Lincoln, who really meant to give full and unequivocal morale and legal equality, including voting rights, to blacks, while never admitting it publicly.
In one telling passage, Douglas relates the incident of seeing a wealthy black man and his daughter riding in a beautiful carriage with a white driver. Douglas comments with fearful shock and sarcasm (and I paraphrase) : "this is the equality Lincoln wants! If you want this kind of equality, then Lincoln's your man!"
What is amazing is how current these very dynamics are today: Romney vs Obama. The identical story has been played out over a hundred years later, and the dynamics are still in force.
Straithern's Lincoln is beautifully balanced sincerity and brilliance, that actually are used by Lincoln to hide his true intentions from the full glare of public light. Lincoln knew this was an uphill battle, against major financial and racial interests. He was a gurreilla warfare warrior, winning specific legal battles step by step, never admitting his aim in public. Amazing.
Dreyfuss' performance is actually more accessible, a tour de force. He is channeling Stephen Douglas, with all the moral furor and high ground that Douglas gave himself. It is an amazing performance. You hear Barry Goldwater, Mitt Romney, George Bush Jr., Dick Cheney and Richard Nixon's sentiments echoed in his portrayal, and understand the deeply rooted elements of racism wrapped in the self-delusional arguments of fair play and free choice.
Awed by the depth of the portrayals and the depth of these dynamics in current events.
I have learned a little more about Lincoln, the guerrilla warrior, the disimulator, the politician.
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The verisimilitude of the listening experience is accomplished by the complete sincerity of the actors' delivery combined with a performer's sense of a broader, more eloquent style. Neither Strathairn nor Dreyfuss treated their characters as anything but sincere, intelligent men who were confident of their verbal skills. There are no false notes.
I was so happy to find this. There is often a line one needs to draw between material that can be appreciated as an audiobook and material better read as text (books with a good deal of figures, tables, or numbers are candidates usually read rather than heard). This is on the complete other end, as I feel that it is far BETTER appreciated as an audiobook. These debates were, after all, a series of speeches, and they arguments here made were heard before they were read. It is nice that we can also read them to make notes and highlights, but this too was true in the 1850s.
The performances are just stellar. There is a high degree of repition in the speeches at times, owing to the fact that the debates were spread across 7 different venues, and arguments made in one place might well be repeated to another crowd elsewhere. This makes for dry reading, and in part that is why I'd not read them in their entirety previously. But the performances here really bring the material alive, the readings are done with great passion (as one imagines they were given in their original telling), and I'm very glad to have made this purchase.
I highly recommend this to anyone interested in US history, the rise of Lincoln, and the preludes to the Civil War. It is rare to have a primary source made so delightfully accessible.
I admit I am a history junkie and this is one of those rare books that places you at the actual spot where the historical event occurred. You have a front row seat. The script is from the actual debates as they occurred and were reported.
These debates were critical in American History because they addressed head on, the issue of slavery and the arguments, pro and con, used in these debates became the talking points on both sides of the issue.
Richard Dreyfuss turns in a stellar performance as 'the little general', Steven Douglas. He has just the right tone that makes you listen to his arguments while wondering how Lincoln would respond.
This is not a story, it is a series of debates and there are really only two voices.
If you like your history reported the way it really was, this audio is for you.
If you like your history straight and without commentary, get this audio.
This audio is more history and information than entertainment
This presentation was a tremendous explanation of the politics leading up to the civil war. It finally offers an explanation of why a nation, regions, states, and families would go through the expense of blood and treasure to preserve what was thought to be right and/or a right.
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