Lincoln Douglas Debate



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Lincoln Douglas Debate
Why Lincoln Douglas?

  • Lincoln Douglas debates are based on value resolutions rather than that of resolutions of policy (remember the four types of claims)

  • Lincoln Douglas places emphasis upon public speaking skills, research, and the explanation of key philosophical principles.

Format for Lincoln Douglas debate


Affirmative Construction Speech = 6 minutes

Negative Questioning of the Affirmative debater = 3 minutes

Negative Construction Speech = 7 minutes

Affirmative Questioning of the negative Debater = 3 minutes

Affirmative Rebuttal = 4 minutes

Negative Rebuttal = 6 minutes

Affirmative Summary = 3 minutes

Negative Summary = 3 minutes


Total Speaking time: 32 minutes
Stock issues in Lincoln Douglas Debate
When stock issues are listed for Lincoln Douglas debate, they usually include the following three: value premise, value criteria, and application.


  • Value Premise: The debater must analyze the resolution to determine which value will be used as the central theme of the debater’s position. This value should be clearly identified and its significance shown in terms of the overall system of values. Suppose, for example, that the resolution is “resolved that capital punishment is morally justified.” The affirmative debater might select a value such as “safety” to support his or her position in favor of capital punishment. The negative debater might choose a value such as protecting the sanctity of human life.”

  • Value Criteria: Many values such as “justice” can mean almost anything in the abstract. The beater can give the value meaning by establishing criteria for the value. Philosopher John Rawls has suggested, for examples, that justice should always favor the least advantaged member of a society. Another debater might, however, frame the value of “justice” as whatever is necessary to meet the requirements of the “U.S. justice system.” By such a standard, the debater would be saying that justice demands strict determination of what is legal and illegal.

  • Application: The value premise must be applied m suing the appropriate criteria, to the resolution being debated. Suppose that the resolution being debated is “Resolved that civil disobedience is justified in a democracy.” The affirmative value premise might suggest, “The purpose of democracy is to secure the rights of its citizens.” In establishing the criteria for the value, the affirmative debater might argue that securing the rights of citizens requires upholding civil or human rights. The application section of the affirmative case would point to instances where civil or human rights have been violated, justifying civil disobedience.

Speaker Responsibilities in Lincoln Douglas debate




  • Affirmative Constructive: This six minute speech must lay out the whole of the affirmative case. In the first part of the speech, the debater would normally provide a brief topical introduction, state the resolution, and provide definitions for the key terms in the resolution. The remainder of the speech would typically be taken up with the presentation of two or three well-organized value contentions. Each contention should be clearly labeled and sub constructed so that the debate remains well organized. The affirmative case would normally present a value premise, criteria for evaluating the value, and application to the resolution through examples. In selecting examples, the affirmative debater should remember that the resolution must be proven generally true, rather than true in atypical or isolated instances.

  • Negative Constructive: In this seven-minute speech, the negative debater must respond to the affirmative case and present the negative case. In responding to the affirmative case, the debater may object to the definition or terms or present counter definitions. The negative debater may be able to argue that the affirmative value is less important than claimed or that the value is actually subsumed within another value more favorable to the negative position.

  • Rebuttal speeches: In these speeches, both debaters will attempt to show why their constructive speech positions should be preferred over those of their opponent. Just as in team debate, rebuttal speakers must limit themselves to extending, explaining, and rebutting the arguments made in the constructive speech; no new arguments are allowed. The debater must, however, develop a rationale for the superiority of his or her position over that of the opponent.


In these exchanges, several techniques may prove helpful:


  • Argue your value is more important than that of your opponent: One of the key argumentative techniques in Lincoln Douglas debate involves showing why one value is superior to another. This is accomplished in a variety of ways: 1) showing that one value has no meaning unless the other value is assured; 2) pointing to examples demonstrating the superiority of one value to another in specific situations; and 3) quoting statements from philosopher’s or other qualified persons explaining why one value is more important than another.

  • Argue that the opposing value is vaguely defined: The debater may be able to show that the opposing value interpretation provides little guidance because it can be interpreted in inconsistent or contradictory ways

  • Argue that the opposing value criteria is not the best way to evaluate the opposing value: Judges expect there to be a clear relationship between the value and the criteria used to evaluate the value. You may be able to suggest that the opposing value and value criteria are improperly related to each other.

  • Show why your value criteria are superior to those of your opponent: You might use analysis and authoritative sources to prove that your criteria are more widely accepted than the alternative offered by your opponent. You might argue that your criteria provide a cleared standard.

  • Explain why your value criteria are better applied to the resolution than those of your opponent: Most judges will expect the resolution to be debated in its entirety. If one debater offers examples of value application, which apply to the broad center of the resolution, this should outweigh opposing examples, which are narrow and apply only in an isolated example of the resolution.

  • Argue that there is no clash between your value and that of your opponent: In many instances a debater is able to argue that one value can be fully adhered to without in any way denying the opponent’s value premise. If there is no point of conflict between the values, then the value more implicit in the resolution should be controlling.



Resolved: The right to own guns is a valuable part of any democratic society.


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