Lincoln-Douglas Debates Lesson Plan

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

This lesson plan helps you provide context and details to your instruction of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. By lesson end, students will understand how a series of debates for a Senate seat forever changed American history by introducing Abraham Lincoln to the American political stage.

Lesson Objectives

After the completion of this lesson plan, students should be able to:

  • describe the substance of the debates between Lincoln and Douglas
  • compare and contrast the positions of the two men in their own words


40 minutes plus 40 minutes for activity

Curriculum Standards


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

Key Terms

  • Popular sovereignty
  • Lincoln-Douglas debates
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Stephen Douglas
  • House Divided speech


  • Start by reviewing the divisions that existed in the country as a result of the issue of slavery in the early to mid-19th century.
  • As a class, watch the video lesson The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858: Summary & Significance, pausing for the following points of discussion:
    • 3:48 - What motivated Douglas to debate Lincoln? What role did new technology play in this series of debates? Also, why did the state legislature matter?
    • 6:39 - How did Douglas refer back to the Founding Fathers? How did Lincoln do it?
    • 10:34 - While Lincoln may have not won the Senate, he benefited more from the debates in the long run. How was that possible?

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