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
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.
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.
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.
Report Inappropriate Content