The Mayor's Blue Ribbon Cemetery Committee of Portsmouth, New Hampshire


The spirit behind the debates

By Rochelle Stewart

PORTSMOUTH - With almost a week to go before the Nov. 2 general election, former President Abraham Lincoln paid a special visit to local politicians and spectators at the North Burial Ground Cemetery on Sunday afternoon.

Steve Wood, portraying President Abraham Lincoln, answers questions at Portsmouth's North Burial Ground for the Spirits 2004, Bringing the Dead to Life, educational program. From left, are state representative candidates Laura Pantelakos and Jim Powers, and congressional candidate Justin Nadeau.
Photo by Andrew Moore

The special presentation called Democracy Past and Present, marked the end of the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Cemetery Committee’s series of educational programs Spirits 2004, Bringing the Dead to Life.

The Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Cemetery Committee was developed to raise funds to restore four of the city’s historic burial grounds - North, Point of Graves, Union and Pleasant Street - to attract residents, visitors and schoolchildren by highlighting Portsmouth’s Revolutionary and Victorian era history.

Standing next to the gravesite of William Whipple, who signedthe Declaration of Independence, Steve Wood, of Claremont, posed as the 16th president and discussed the art of debate, remarking specifically on the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858.

The Lincoln-Douglas debates were a set of formal political debates between Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in a campaign for one of Illinois’ two U.S. Senate seats.

In character, Wood said the Lincoln-Douglas debates were seven widely publicized debates.

Wood went on to explain to those in attendance that one of the main issues at the time was slavery, which Lincoln was against expanding as new states became part of the territory.

Lincoln did not win the election.

Portraying Abraham Lincoln, Steve Wood stands among gravestones in
Portsmouth’s North Burial Ground, preparing to make a presentation to the
public as part of the Blue Ribbon Cemetery Committee’s
educational series Bringing the Dead to Life.
Photo by Andrew Moore

"Even though I received the majority of the popular votes, at that time, senators were elected by representatives in the Legislature," he said. "Douglas received more legislative votes than I did, but by then, people around the country had heard of me because of the debates."

Following his speech, Wood, still posed as Lincoln, said the Lincoln-Douglas debates set a precedence for debates that have been held since.

"The Lincoln-Douglas style is referred to as the one-on-one (debate) style," Wood explained. "There is a definite order and time frame for conducting the debate."

Republican state Senate candidate John Lyons asked "Lincoln" how he felt his experience as a trial lawyer played into becoming president.

"I think very well," Wood replied. "He was able to develop a style of logical thinking and organized his thoughts effectively to make a case."

Other politicians in attendance were Democratic candidate for Congress Justin Nadeau, and state representatives candidates Jim Powers; Laura Pantelakos; James Splaine; Jeff Semprini; and Paul Chevalier.

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