Lincoln Douglas Debate (LD)

Q&A: What to Expect in Lincoln Douglas

VIDEO: Sample Lincoln-Douglas Debate Round

Lincoln Douglas is a debate about values, modeled after the actual historical debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas during their Senate race in 1858. Those debates dealt with the major moral issue of the day – slavery – and as such, modern LD debates focus very heavily on social justice and other moral behaviors in domestic and international affairs.

Students prepare cases – prewritten arguments, logic, and evidence – for topics that last two months on a variety of moral and ethical issues. During debates, once cases are read, rebuttals and refutation occurs, along with cross-examination questions. Debates typically last about 45 minutes, and are leveled according to the experience level of the debaters.

From the National Speech and Debate Association:

In this one-on-one format, students debate a topic provided by the Association. Lincoln-Douglas Debate topics range from individual freedom versus the collective good to economic development versus environmental protection. Students may consult evidence gathered prior to the debate but may not use the Internet in round. An entire debate is roughly 45 minutes and consists of constructive speeches, rebuttals, and cross-examination.

Lincoln-Douglas Debate typically appeals to individuals who like to debate, but prefer a one-on-one format as opposed to a team or group setting. Additionally, individuals who enjoy LD like exploring questions of how society ought to be. Many people refer to LD Debate as a “values” debate, as questions of morality and justice are commonly examined. Students prepare cases and then engage in an exchange of cross-examinations and rebuttals in an attempt to convince a judge that s/he is the better debater in the round.

Sample Past Topics:

  • Resolved: The United States ought to prioritize the pursuit of national security objectives above the digital privacy of its citizens.
  • Resolved: Placing political conditions on humanitarian aid to foreign countries is unjust.

Interested in LD? For more information, visit, or look here for current/proposed topics.