I don’t know much about the Lincoln-Douglas debates, but this was an interesting comment on The Writer’s Almanac:
In the summer of 1858, Lincoln decided to run for Congress against
Douglas, and challenged him to a series of debates in seven
different Illinois cities. The debates attracted huge crowds, and
newspapers gave full reports using a recently invented shorthand.
Douglas argued that slavery should be allowed as long as that’s
what a majority of a state’s citizens wanted, and Lincoln argued
for the abolition of slavery on moral grounds.
I suppose that makes sense: Douglas was the “Democrat” and Lincoln was the “Republican.” Even if slaves could have voted, they would have been outnumbered. The point is not that democracy is necessarily a stupid idea. The point is that democracy is not the most important aspect of government, and a democratic consensus may form around a stupid idea. Therefore, trumpeting democracy as the highest good and claiming the worldwide establishment of democracy as our national mission is not only hypocritical, it is mindless and immoral.
It is hypocritical when we do not demand democratic reforms from our military and economic allies; it is mindless to claim that democracy always has good results; and it is immoral to impose a democratically approved tyranny on the minority population of another country.