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Lot #6014
Abraham Lincoln Signed First Edition of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates (One of Four Known Signed in Ink, to Former Law Apprentice N. M. Broadwell)

Historic first edition of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, signed by Abraham Lincoln for his former law apprentice

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Historic first edition of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, signed by Abraham Lincoln for his former law apprentice

Incredibly rare signed book: Political Debates between Hon. Abraham Lincoln and Hon. Stephen A. Douglas, In the Celebrated Campaign of 1858, in Illinois. First edition, first issue (with the signature mark "2" at the bottom of page 17). Columbus, OH: Follett, Foster and Company, 1860. Hardcover bound in publisher's embossed brown decorative cloth with gilt title on spine, 6.25 x 9.5, 268 pages. Boldly signed on the first free end page in ink to a Springfield attorney who studied law under Lincoln, "To N. M. Broadwell, Esq., with respects of A. Lincoln." Autographic condition: fine, with light ink spreading to the signature and inscription. Book condition: VG-/None, with slightly loose front joint, wear to bumped corners, splits to spine cloth and losses to headcaps, and some minor foxing to textblock. Accompanied by a custom-made clamshell case.

The Lincoln-Douglas debates, a series of seven debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas during the 1858 Illinois senatorial campaign, stand among the most celebrated dialogues in the history of American politics. The debates focused on the issue of slavery, particularly on the hotly contested question of the expansion of the institution into newly acquired territories. Douglas promoted the solution of popular sovereignty—that is, allowing settlers of those territories to decide on the question—while Lincoln argued against the expansion of slavery, though was not yet advocating for its abolition in whole. Although the incumbent Douglas was re-elected as senator by the Illinois General Assembly, the debates attracted widespread media attention and vaulted Lincoln into the forefront of national politics. This newfound publicity helped to lay the groundwork of Lincoln's successful 1860 presidential campaign.

The text of this first edition was set in type from Lincoln's personal scrapbook, into which he had pasted transcripts of the debates as they were printed in local newspapers. It was published in April, a few months before Lincoln's nomination as the Republican candidate for president. The book rapidly became a bestseller—in a matter of months, over 30,000 copies were printed and sold. Abraham Lincoln personally received 100 copies to distribute to friends and supporters, as documented in a pioneering study by Harry E. Pratt, "Lincoln Autographed Debates," in Manuscripts, 6:4 (Summer 1954). Pratt's census located 18 of these, though a handful of others (including this example) have since come to market. Interestingly, of those known examples, only three others are also signed in ink—the remainder are inscribed in pencil. Evidently, Lincoln noticed the tendency of the ink to 'feather' on the inexpensive paper, blurring his name, and opted to sign most copies in pencil. Thus, this ink-signed example is likely one of the earliest that Lincoln signed. An updated census, compiled by David H. Leroy and published in 'Mr. Lincoln's Book' in 2009, documents 42 known signed copies of the book, including Broadwell's: still, only four of those are known to be signed in ink.

The recipient of this copy, Norman M. Broadwell (1825-1893), studied law as a preceptor with Lincoln in the Lincoln & Herndon offices in Springfield, Illinois, beginning in 1852. Ironically, in his first case, he found the opposing counsel to be his former teacher, Abraham Lincoln; and, in the final case that Lincoln argued in Springfield, Broadwell served as his assistant. Later Broadwell had several law partners including Shelby M. Cullom and John A. McClernand. He became active in Democratic politics, served as Sangamon County judge in 1862, and as mayor of Springfield in 1867. Though on different sides of the political aisle, Lincoln clearly held Broadwell and his call to civic duty in high esteem—evinced by this remarkable presentation copy of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Remarkable Rarities
  • Dates: #669 - Ended September 23, 2023