Stephen A. Douglas

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Stephen A. Douglas
Stephen A Douglas - headshot.jpg
Photo by Mathew Brady
United States Senator
from Illinois
In office
March 4, 1847 June 3, 1861


Early years

The United States in 1849, with Texas's land claims on New Mexico shown United States 1849-1850.png
The United States in 1849, with Texas's land claims on New Mexico shown
The United States after the Compromise of 1850 United States 1850-1853-03.png
The United States after the Compromise of 1850

Douglas was re-elected to the House of Representatives in 1846, but the state legislature elected him to the United States Senate in early 1847. [29] The United States defeated Mexico in the Mexican–American War and acquired the Mexican Cession in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. After the war, Douglas attempted to avoid the debate over the Wilmot Proviso by immediately admitting the territory acquired from Mexico as one single, huge state. His proposal would have allowed the inhabitants of the new state to determine the status of slavery themselves, but Northerners and Southerners alike rejected the plan. [30]

In 1850, Senator Henry Clay introduced a multi-part proposal to admit California as a free state, establish the New Mexico and Utah territories, ban the slave trade in the District of Columbia, and pass a more stringent fugitive slave law. The proposal, which would form the basis of what would eventually be known as the Compromise of 1850, also required Texas to cede its claims on New Mexico in return for debt relief. [31] After the apparent collapse of the bill, Clay took a temporary leave from the Senate, and Douglas took the lead in advocating for a compromise based largely on Clay's proposals. Rather than passing the proposals as one bill, as Clay had originally sought to do, Douglas would seek to pass each proposal one-by-one. [32] The compromise faced strong opposition from Northerners like William Seward, who favored the Wilmot Proviso and attacked the fugitive slave provision, and Southerners like John C. Calhoun, who opposed the creation of new free states. [33] With the help of President Millard Fillmore, Douglas put together a bipartisan coalition of Whigs and Democrats that passed the compromise in the Senate. [34] Along with Fillmore and other supporters of the compromise, Douglas's lobbying helped ensure that the compromise also passed the House of Representatives. [35] Fillmore signed the compromise bills into law, ending the sectional crisis. [36]

Douglas's role in passing the compromise gave him the stature of a national leader, and he enjoyed the support of the Young America movement, which favored expansionary policies. Douglas helped pass a bill granting rights-of-way to the Illinois Central Railroad, which would connect Chicago to Mobile, Alabama. He envisioned a transcontinental country connected by railroads and waterways, with Illinois serving as the gateway to the West. "There is a power in this nation greater than either the North or the South ... that power is the country known as the great West," he stated. Though he publicly denied interest in running in the 1852 presidential election, Douglas worked behind the scenes to build a base of support. [37] The 1852 Democratic National Convention held several presidential ballots, with delegates split between Douglas, former Secretary of State James Buchanan of Pennsylvania, 1848 presidential nominee Lewis Cass of Michigan, and former Secretary of War William L. Marcy of New York. Nomination required the support of two-thirds of the delegates, and none of the major candidates won that level of support. On the 49th ballot, the convention nominated a dark horse candidate, former Senator Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire. Despite his disappointment at losing the nomination, Douglas campaigned for Pierce across the Midwest. Pierce went on to defeat the Whig candidate, Winfield Scott, in the 1852 presidential election, while Douglas won re-election to the Senate. [38]

Pierce administration

Forcing Slavery Down the Throat of a Freesoiler - An 1856 cartoon depicts a giant "Free Soiler" being held down by James Buchanan and Lewis Cass standing on the Democratic platform marked "Kansas", "Cuba" and "Central America". Franklin Pierce also holds down the giant's beard as Douglas shoves a black man down his throat. A victim of lynching can also be seen in the background. Forcing Slavery Freesoilers Throats.jpg
Forcing Slavery Down the Throat of a Freesoiler – An 1856 cartoon depicts a giant "Free Soiler" being held down by James Buchanan and Lewis Cass standing on the Democratic platform marked "Kansas", "Cuba" and "Central America". Franklin Pierce also holds down the giant's beard as Douglas shoves a black man down his throat. A victim of lynching can also be seen in the background.

After the election, Douglas expected to have influence in the selection of Pierce's cabinet, and possibly to receive a cabinet appointment himself. Defying those expectations, Pierce largely ignored Douglas and instead gave key positions to rivals of Douglas, including Buchanan and Jefferson Davis. After the death of his daughter in early 1853, Douglas went on a five-month-long tour of Europe. [39] Returning to the Senate in late 1853, Douglas initially sought to avoid taking center stage in national debates, but he once again became involved in sectional disputes stemming from the issue of slavery in the territories. In order to provide for western expansion and the completion of a transcontinental railroad, Douglas favored incorporating parts of the vast unorganized territory located west of the Missouri River and east of the Rocky Mountains. In January 1854, he proposed to organize two new territories: Nebraska Territory, located west of Iowa, and Kansas Territory, located south of Nebraska Territory and west of Missouri. Under the doctrine of popular sovereignty, the citizens of each territory would determine the status of slavery. Douglas also reluctantly agreed to an amendment that would provide for the formal repeal of the Missouri Compromise. Aided by Jefferson Davis, Douglas convinced President Pierce to support his proposal. [40]

Douglas's proposal, which would come to be known as the Kansas–Nebraska Act, provoked a strong reaction in the North, where the repeal of the Missouri Compromise was unpopular. Douglas argued that the Compromise of 1850 had already superseded the Missouri Compromise, and argued that the citizens of the territories should have the right to determine the status of slavery. Opponents of popular sovereignty attacked its supposed fairness; Abraham Lincoln claimed that Douglas "has no very vivid impression that the Negro is human; and consequently has no idea that there can be any moral question in legislating about him". Nonetheless, the Kansas–Nebraska Act won passage in both houses of Congress, albeit narrowly in the House of Representatives. [41] In both the House and the Senate, every Northern Whig voted against the Kansas–Nebraska Act, while just under half of the Northern Democrats and the vast majority of Southern congressmen of both parties voted for the act. [42] Northern opponents of the act saw it as a triumph for the hated Slave Power. [43] Douglas had hoped that the Kansas–Nebraska Act would help ease sectional tensions, and he was surprised by the intensity of Northern backlash to his proposal and to Douglas himself. He later remembered, "I could travel from Boston to Chicago by the light of my own effigy." [44]

Stephen A. Douglas, photograph by Mathew Brady Hon. Stephen A. Douglas, Ill - NARA - 528297.jpg
Stephen A. Douglas, photograph by Mathew Brady

Democrats suffered major losses in the 1854 elections, which saw the emergence of the nativist Know Nothing movement and the anti-slavery Republican Party. The Illinois legislature replaced Senator James Shields, a Douglas ally, with Lyman Trumbull, an anti-slavery Democrat. [45] After the passage of the Kansas–Nebraska Act, anti-slavery and pro-slavery settlers flocked to Kansas Territory to influence whether Kansas would be a free state or a slave state. A series of violent clashes, known as Bleeding Kansas, broke out between anti-slavery and pro-slavery forces in the territory, and the two sides established competing governments. [46] Douglas issued a committee report that endorsed the pro-slavery government as the legitimate government of Kansas and denounced anti-slavery forces as the primary cause of the violence. Anti-slavery activists like Charles Sumner attacked Douglas for the report; one Northern paper wrote, "Douglas has brains, but so has the Devil, so had Judas and Benedict Arnold." [47] As the crisis in Kansas continued, the Whig Party collapsed, and many former Whigs joined the Republican Party, the Know Nothings, or, in the South, the Democratic Party. [48]

In early 1856 Douglas inserted himself and the debate surrounding the Kansas–Nebraska Act into the Chicago mayoral election, where Douglas strongly backed pro-Nebraska Democrat Thomas Dyer. Dyer ultimately won the election. [49]

Bleeding Kansas badly damaged Pierce's standing among the Democratic Party leaders, and Pierce, Douglas, and Buchanan competed for the presidential nomination at the 1856 Democratic National Convention. Buchanan's greatest advantage over his rivals was that he had been in Britain for most of Pierce's presidency, and thereby had avoided becoming involved in the debate over the Kansas–Nebraska Act. After Buchanan led the first fourteen ballots of the convention, Pierce dropped out of the race and endorsed Douglas. After he was unable to pull into the lead on the sixteenth ballot, Douglas withdrew from the race, and the convention nominated Buchanan. As in 1852, Douglas accepted defeat and campaigned for the Democratic nominee. [50] In a three-person race, Buchanan defeated Republican nominee John C. Frémont and Know Nothing nominee Millard Fillmore. Buchanan dominated in the South, but Frémont won several Northern states and Douglas ally William Alexander Richardson lost the 1856 Illinois gubernatorial election. [51]

Buchanan administration

Douglas and Buchanan had a long-standing enmity, but Douglas hoped that his efforts for Buchanan in the 1856 election would be rewarded with influence in the new administration. However, as had been the case in the Pierce administration, Buchanan largely ignored Douglas in making appointments. [52] Shortly after Buchanan took office, the Supreme Court issued the Dred Scott decision, which declared that slavery could not be legally excluded from the federal territories. Though the ruling was unpopular with many in the North, Douglas urged Americans to respect it, saying "whoever resists the final decision of the highest judicial tribunal aims a deadly blow at our whole republican system of government." He approved of another aspect of the ruling, which held that African-Americans could not be citizens, stating that the Founding Fathers "referred to the white race alone, and not the African, when they declared men to have been created free and equal". [53]

In late 1857, the pro-slavery state legislature in Lecompton, Kansas organized a constitutional referendum on the future of slavery. Anti-slavery forces boycotted the referendum because both options presented required that slaves already in the state remain slaves regardless of the outcome of the vote. Territorial Governor Robert J. Walker denounced the referendum as a "vile fraud," and many Northern Democrats joined with Republicans in opposing the referendum. Nonetheless, the state legislature presented the Lecompton Constitution to President Buchanan, who endorsed the constitution and called on Congress to ratify it. Buchanan stated, "Kansas is therefore at this moment as much a slave state as Georgia and South Carolina." After meeting with Walker, Douglas broke with Buchanan and declared that the constitution was a "fraudulent submission," promising to "resist it to the last". Despite Douglas's efforts, the Buchanan administration won congressional approval to admit Kansas as a slave state. Frustrating Buchanan's plans, the newly elected, anti-slavery Kansas legislature rejected admission as a slave state in April 1858. In the South, Douglas received much of the blame for Kansas's rejection of admission; one paper wrote that Douglas had severed "the ties which have hitherto bound this able statesman and the people of the South together in such a cordial alliance". [54]

Lincoln–Douglas debates

Abraham Lincoln was Douglas's opponent in both the 1858 Senate election in Illinois and the 1860 presidential election. Abraham Lincoln O-77 matte collodion print.jpg
Abraham Lincoln was Douglas's opponent in both the 1858 Senate election in Illinois and the 1860 presidential election.

After his defeat by Lyman Trumbull in the 1854 Senate election, Abraham Lincoln began planning to run against Douglas in the 1858 Senate election. Lincoln strongly rejected proposals to cooperate with Douglas against Buchanan, and he won the Republican nomination to oppose Douglas. Accepting the nomination, Lincoln delivered his House Divided Speech, saying "A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the House to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other." Douglas rejected Lincoln's notion that the United States could not continue to be divided into free states and slave states, and warned that Lincoln called for "a war of secession, a war of the North against the South, of the free states against the slave states". [55]

Statue of Douglas at the site of the 1858 debate in Freeport, Illinois Freeport Il Debate Square4.JPG
Statue of Douglas at the site of the 1858 debate in Freeport, Illinois

Lincoln and his entourage began following Douglas around the state, campaigning in the senator's wake. Eventually, Douglas agreed to debate Lincoln in seven different venues across the state. [56] The format of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates called for one candidate to make a one-hour opening speech, followed by the other candidate delivering a ninety-minute rebuttal, followed by the first candidate delivering a half hour closing remark; Lincoln and Douglas agreed to rotate who would speak in the two slots. [57] The debates focused on the issue of slavery in the territories, and, more broadly, the meaning of republicanism in the United States. Douglas favored popular sovereignty and emphasized the concept of self-government, though his vision of self-government only encompassed whites. Lincoln, meanwhile, emphasized human equality and economic opportunity for all. [58]

In the second debate, Douglas articulated the Freeport Doctrine, holding that the people in federal territories had "the lawful means to introduce [slavery] or exclude it as they please, for the reason that slavery cannot exist a day or an hour anywhere, unless it is supported by local police regulations. Those police regulations can only be established by the local legislature; and if the people are opposed to slavery, they will elect representatives to that body who will by unfriendly legislation effectually prevent the introduction of it into their midst." Thus, Douglas argued that territories could effectively exclude slavery despite the Dred Scott decision. [59] At another appearance, Douglas reiterated his belief that the Declaration of Independence was not meant to apply to non-whites. He said, "this government was made by our fathers on the white basis ... made by white men for the benefit of white men and their posterity forever". [60]

For his part, Lincoln criticized Douglas for his moral indifference to slavery, but denied any intention of interference with slavery in the South. He suggested that, despite the public break between Douglas and Buchanan over Kansas, the two Democrats had worked together to extend and perpetuate slavery. [61] Lincoln disclaimed the radical-for-the-time views on racial equality attributed to him by Douglas, arguing only for the right of African Americans to personal liberty and to earn their own livings. [62] He stated, "I am not, nor ever have been in favor of making voters of the negroes, or jurors, or qualifying them to hold office, or having them to marry with white people." [63] At another debate, Lincoln stated, "I believe that slavery is wrong ... There is the difference between Judge Douglas and his friends and the Republican Party." [64]

Following the final debate, Illinois voters headed to the polls for Election Day. In an election that saw higher turnout than that of the 1856 presidential election, Democrats won 54 of the 100 seats in the state legislature. Despite the split with Buchanan and the strong challenge from Lincoln, the state legislature elected Senator Douglas to a third term in January 1859. Following the elections, Douglas toured the South. He warned against sectionalism and secession, telling one crowd, "if you deem it treason for abolitionists to appeal to the passions and prejudices of the North, how much less treason is it, my friends, for southern men to appeal to the passions with the same end?" [65]

1859 change in Douglas's health and fortune

According to the Springfield Republican , in 1857 Douglas "was, next to General Cass, the richest man in public life"; by the end of 1859, after extravagant political spending and disappointing investments, he was near bankrupt. "Two months ago [before John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry] he seemed to have more political power and popularity than any other American; everybody was talking about him, and his chances for the Presidency were hopefully discussed by his friends, and reluctantly conceded by his enemies—but now ... the Southern Democracy have ceased to fear him; and the Northern to worship him." He contracted a serious illness, "gout in the stomach", described as "almost always fatal". [66] He would be dead in less than 2 years.

1860 presidential election


Douglas (dark blue) had the support of most Northern delegates on the presidential ballot of the 1860 Democratic National Convention. 1860DemocraticPresidentialNomination1stBallot.svg
Douglas (dark blue) had the support of most Northern delegates on the presidential ballot of the 1860 Democratic National Convention.

Douglas's 1858 re-election solidified his standing as a leading contender for the Democratic nomination in the 1860 presidential election. His support was concentrated in the North, especially the Midwest, though some unionist Southerners, like Alexander H. Stephens, were sympathetic to his cause. [67] Douglas remained on poor terms with President Buchanan, and his Freeport Doctrine had further alienated many Southern senators. At the start of the 36th United States Congress, Buchanan and his Southern allies removed Douglas as chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories. Douglas helped defeat an attempt to pass a federal slave code, but saw his own bill to establish agricultural land-grant colleges vetoed by Buchanan. [68]

The 1860 Democratic National Convention opened in Charleston, South Carolina, on April 23, 1860. Newspapers in the city attacked Douglas as the "Demagogue of Illinois," but Douglas was determined to uphold his doctrine of popular sovereignty, telling one supporter "I do not intend to make peace with my enemies, nor to make a concession of one iota of principle." [69] Following a long-established precedent, Douglas himself did not attend the convention, and the pro-Douglas forces at the convention were led by William Alexander Richardson. The remaining delegates were split into two broad factions: allies of Buchanan, led by a quartet of senators, and the Fire-Eaters, an extremist group of Southern delegates led by William Lowndes Yancey. [70] After a contentious battle over the inclusion of popular sovereignty or a federal slave code in the party platform, several Southern delegations walked out of the convention. The convention subsequently held several rounds of presidential balloting, and while Douglas received by far the most support of any of the candidates, he fell well short of the necessary two-thirds majority of delegates. After nearly sixty ballots failed to produce a nominee, delegates agreed to adjourn the convention and reconvene in Baltimore in June. [71]

In the weeks leading up to second Democratic convention, a group of former Whigs and Know Nothings formed the Constitutional Union Party and nominated John Bell for president. [72] Bell campaigned on a simple platform that emphasized unionism and sought to minimize the role of slavery, but he received little support outside of the South.[ citation needed ] The 1860 Republican National Convention passed over the initial front-runner, William Seward, and nominated Douglas's old opponent, Abraham Lincoln. [73] The Democratic convention reconvened in Baltimore on June 18, and most Southern delegates once again bolted the convention. [74] The rump Democratic convention nominated Douglas by an overwhelming margin. The party initially offered the vice presidential nomination to Benjamin Fitzpatrick, but after Fitzpatrick declined, Herschel Vespasian Johnson of Georgia agreed to serve as Douglas's running mate. Meanwhile, the Southern Democrats held their own convention in Baltimore and nominated Vice President John C. Breckinridge for president. Breckinridge himself did not openly support secession, but he received the support of Fire-Eaters like Jefferson Davis. Douglas rejected efforts to cooperate with Breckinridge, arguing that "any compromise with the secessionists would ... give every Northern state to Lincoln." [75] The 1860 election essentially became two contests, with Breckinridge and Bell contesting the South and Lincoln and Douglas competing for the North. [76]

General election

Douglas was defeated by Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 presidential election, as he won electoral votes from just two states. ElectoralCollege1860.svg
Douglas was defeated by Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 presidential election, as he won electoral votes from just two states.

Douglas broke with the precedent that presidential candidates did not campaign, and he gave speeches across the Northeastern United States after he won the nomination. [77] Sensing an opportunity in the Upper South, he also campaigned in Virginia and North Carolina before campaigning in the crucial swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. [78] While many Republicans did not take the talk of secession seriously, Douglas warned that some Southern leaders would seek immediate secession after the election. [79] At Raleigh, North Carolina, he said "I am in favor of executing in good faith every clause and provision of the Constitution and protecting every right under it—and then hanging every man who takes up arms against it!" [80] His campaign treasurer, August Belmont, struggled to raise funds for a candidacy that many regarded as a lost cause. Few newspapers endorsed Douglas, with the major exception being James Gordon Bennett Sr.'s New York Herald . [81]

The split in Pennsylvania between supporters of Douglas and supporters of Buchanan helped deliver that state to Lincoln, and Republicans also won Ohio and Indiana. Each of those states held elections for state offices in October, one month ahead of the nationwide presidential election, and these results were taken as predictive of the mood of the electorate in the lower North. Douglas recognized that victory in the election was impossible without those states. With no hope of victory in the election, he decided to take another tour of the South to speak against secession. "Mr. Lincoln is the president", he stated, "We must try to save the Union. I will go South." In St. Louis, he told the audience, "I am not here tonight to ask for your votes for the presidency. I am here to make an appeal to you for the Union and the peace of the country." Despite denunciations from various local newspapers, he continued his journey South, speaking against secession in Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. [82]

Ultimately, Missouri was the lone state Douglas carried, though he also won three of the seven electoral votes in New Jersey. Bell won Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, Breckinridge swept the remaining Southern states, and Lincoln won California, Oregon, and every Northern elector outside of New Jersey. Though Douglas finished in last place in the electoral vote, he won the second-highest popular vote total and was the lone candidate to win electoral votes from both a free state and a slave state. Following Lincoln's victory, many in the South began making plans for secession. One Douglas associate in the South wrote to him, stating, "with your defeat, the cause of the Union was lost." [83]

Last months

Plaque at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, commemorating Douglas's "Protect The Flag" speech of April 25, 1861 Stephen Douglas Protect Flag Springfield.jpg
Plaque at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, commemorating Douglas's "Protect The Flag" speech of April 25, 1861

After the election, Douglas returned to the Senate, where he sought to prevent a break-up of the United States. He joined a special committee of thirteen senators, led by John J. Crittenden, which sought a legislative solution to the growing sectional tensions between the North and South. He supported the Crittenden Compromise, which called for a series of constitutional amendments that would enshrine the Missouri Compromise line in the constitution, but the Crittenden Compromise was defeated in committee by a combination of Republicans and Southern extremists. As late as Christmas 1860, Douglas wrote to Alexander H. Stephens and offered to support the annexation of Mexico as slave territory to avert secession. [84] South Carolina voted to secede on December 20, 1860, and five other Southern states had done the same by mid-January. [85] In February 1861, Jefferson Davis took office as the president of the Confederate States of America, which consisted of several Southern states that had decided to secede from the United States. [86]

Douglas unsuccessfully sought President-elect Lincoln's support for the Peace Conference of 1861, another attempt to head off secession. Lincoln was unwilling to support the conference, but Douglas described his meeting with Lincoln as "peculiarly pleasant". [87] A long-time opponent of protectionism, he voted against the Morrill Tariff, instead calling for a customs union with Canada, Mexico, Cuba, and Central America. [88] Douglas praised Lincoln's first inaugural address, describing it as "a peace offering rather than a war message" to the South. After the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861, Lincoln decided to proclaim a state of rebellion and call for 75,000 troops to suppress it. Douglas met privately with Lincoln, looked over the proclamation before it was issued and endorsed it. He suggested only one change: Lincoln should call for 200,000 troops, not just 75,000. "You do not know the dishonest purposes of those men as well as I do," he said. [89] To a friend, he stated, "I've known Mr. Lincoln a longer time than you have, or than the country has. He'll come out all right, and we will all stand by him." In late April, Douglas departed Washington for the Midwest, where he rallied support for the Union cause. [90]


Douglas's tomb Stephen Arnold Douglas tomb.jpg
Douglas's tomb
Douglas's widow, Adele, in mourning dress. From the Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress Adele Douglas, widow of Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas, in mourning dress with handkerchief in front of painted backdrop) - C.D. Fredricks & Co, 587 Broadway, New York ; 108 Calle de LCCN2017660619.jpg
Douglas's widow, Adele, in mourning dress. From the Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Douglas was struck by illness in May 1861 and was confined to his bed. Though his supporters initially expected a quick recovery, Douglas contracted typhoid fever and suffered from several other afflictions (see above). He died on June 3, coincidentally on the same day as the Battle of Philippi, the first skirmish of the American Civil War. On June 4, Secretary of War Simon Cameron issued a circular to Union armies, announcing "the death of a great statesman ... a man who nobly discarded party for his country". [91]

Position on slavery

For a century and a half, historians have debated whether Douglas opposed slavery, [92] and whether he was a compromiser or a devotee of principles. [93] In his "Freeport Doctrine" of 1858, he repeatedly said that he did not care whether slavery was voted up or down, but only that white people had the right to vote it up or down. He denounced as sacrilegious the petitions signed by thousands of clergymen in 1854, who said the Kansas–Nebraska Act offended God's will. [94] [ page needed ] He rejected the Republican assertions that slavery was condemned by a "higher law" (Seward's position) and that the nation could not long survive as half slave and half free (Lincoln's position). He disagreed with the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision that Congress had no ability to regulate slavery in the territories. When Buchanan supported the Lecompton Constitution and admitting Kansas as a slave state (see Bleeding Kansas), Douglas fought him in a long battle that gained Douglas the 1860 Democratic nomination but ripped his party apart.[ citation needed ]

Graham Peck finds that while several scholars have said that Douglas was personally opposed to slavery despite owning a plantation in Mississippi, none has presented "extensive arguments to justify the conclusion". He cites recent scholarship as (equally briefly) finding Douglas "insensitive to the moral repugnance of slavery" or even "proslavery". He concludes that Douglas was the "ideological [and] practical head of the northern opposition to the antislavery movement" and questions whether Douglas "opposed black slavery for any reason, including economics". Harry V. Jaffa thought Douglas was tricking the South with popular sovereignty—telling Southerners it would protect slavery but believing the people would vote against it. Johannsen found Douglas "did not regard slavery as a moral question; at least, he never condemned the institution in moral terms either publicly or privately." However, though he "privately deplored slavery and was opposed to its expansion (and, indeed, in 1860 was widely regarded in both North and South as an antislavery candidate), he felt that its discussion as a moral question would place it on a dangerous level of abstraction." [95]


Historical reputation

According to biographer Roy Morris Jr., Douglas "is remembered, if at all, for a hard-fought election victory that most people believe mistakenly was a defeat". Morris adds, however, that "for the better part of two decades, Douglas was the most famous and controversial politician in the United States." [96] Douglas always had a deep and abiding faith in democracy. "Let the people rule!" was his cry, and he insisted that the people locally could and should make the decisions about slavery, rather than the national government. According to his biographer Robert W. Johanssen:

Douglas was preeminently a Jacksonian, and his adherence to the tenets of what became known as Jacksonian democracy grew as his own career developed. ... Popular rule, or what he would later call popular sovereignty, lay at the base of his political structure. Like most Jacksonians, Douglas believed that the people spoke through the majority, that the majority will was the expression of the popular will. [97]

Old University of Chicago

Douglas endowed land on which a group of Baptists built the Old University of Chicago. [98]


Douglas depicted on the Series 1875 $10,000 Certificate of Deposit US-$10000-Certificate of Deposit-1875 (Proof).jpg
Douglas depicted on the Series 1875 $10,000 Certificate of Deposit

Douglas's gravesite was bought by the state, which commissioned Leonard Volk for an imposing monument with a statue that was erected over his grave. Douglas's birthplace in Brandon, Vermont, has been memorialized as a museum and visitor center. Numerous places have been named after him: counties in Colorado, Georgia, [99] Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin. Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City, the cities of Douglas and Douglasville in Georgia, and Douglas, Wyoming, were also named for him.

In 1869, a large park in Chicago was named Douglas Park in honor of the senator. In 2020 the park was renamed Douglass Park, after the abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Anna Murray Douglass. [100]

Douglas has been portrayed in several works of popular culture. In 1930, E. Alyn Warren portrayed Douglas in the United Artists film, Abraham Lincoln . In 1939, Milburn Stone portrayed Douglas in the Twentieth Century-Fox film Young Mr. Lincoln . In 1940, Canadian actor Gene Lockhart portrayed Douglas in the RKO film Abe Lincoln in Illinois . In 1957, the actor Walter Coy portrayed Douglas in the episode "Springfield Incident" of CBS's The 20th Century Fox Hour . Richard Dreyfuss portrayed Stephen A. Douglas in a Lincoln–Douglas debate audiobook. [101]

Douglas is referenced by folk-artist Sufjan Stevens in the song "Decatur, or, Round of Applause for Your Stepmother!". Edgar Lee Masters' work Children of the Marketplace: A fictitious biography is about Stephen Douglas. In the alternate history short story Lincoln's Charge by Bill Fawcett (published in Alternate Presidents ), Douglas wins the election of 1860, a change which only postpones the outbreak of war by one year. Douglas is a significant character in the mash-up novel Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter , and also appears in the film adaptation of that book.

See also

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The Freeport Doctrine was articulated by Stephen A. Douglas at the second of the Lincoln-Douglas debates on August 27, 1858, in Freeport, Illinois. Former one-term U.S. Representative Abraham Lincoln was campaigning to take Douglas's U.S. Senate seat by strongly opposing all attempts to expand the geographic area in which slavery was permitted. Lincoln tried to force Douglas to choose between the principle of popular sovereignty proposed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the majority decision of the United States Supreme Court in the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford, which stated that slavery could not legally be excluded from U.S. territories. Instead of making a direct choice, Douglas's response stated that despite the court's ruling, slavery could be excluded from any territory by the refusal of the people living in that territory to pass laws favorable to slavery. Likewise, if the people of the territory supported slavery, legislation would provide for its continued existence.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lincoln's House Divided Speech</span> Speech by Abraham Lincoln

The House Divided Speech was an address given by Illinois Senatorial Candidate and future President of the United States Abraham Lincoln, on June 16, 1858, at what was then the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, after he had accepted the Illinois Republican Party's nomination as that state's US senator. The nomination of Lincoln was the final item of business at the convention, which then broke for dinner, meeting again at 8 PM. "The evening session was mainly devoted to speeches", but the only speaker was Lincoln, whose address closed the convention, save for resolutions of thanks to the city of Springfield and others. His address was immediately published in full by newspapers, as a pamphlet, and in the published Proceedings of the convention. It was the launching point of his unsuccessful campaign for the Senatorial seat held by Stephen A. Douglas; the campaign would climax with the Lincoln–Douglas debates. When Lincoln collected and published his debates with Douglas as part of his 1860 Presidential campaign, he prefixed them with relevant prior speeches. The "House Divided" speech opens the volume.

Archibald Dixon American politician

Archibald Dixon was a U.S. Senator from Kentucky. He represented the Whig Party in both houses of the Kentucky General Assembly, and was elected the 13th Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky in 1844, serving under Governor William Owsley. In 1851, the Whigs nominated him for governor, but he lost to Lazarus W. Powell, his former law partner.

The 1856 Democratic National Convention was a presidential nominating convention that met from June 2 to June 6 in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was held to nominate the Democratic Party's candidates for president and vice president in the 1856 election. The convention selected former Secretary of State James Buchanan of Pennsylvania for president and former Representative John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky for vice president.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Presidency of Franklin Pierce</span> U.S. presidential administration from 1853 to 1857

The presidency of Franklin Pierce began on March 4, 1853, when Franklin Pierce was inaugurated as President of the United States, and ended on March 4, 1857. Pierce, a Democrat from New Hampshire, took office as the 14th United States president after routing Whig Party nominee Winfield Scott in the 1852 presidential election. Seen by fellow Democrats as pleasant and accommodating to all the party's factions, Pierce, then a little-known politician, won the presidential nomination on the 49th ballot of the 1852 Democratic National Convention. His presidency ended after losing the Democratic nomination at the 1856 Democratic National Convention.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Presidency of James Buchanan</span> United States presidential administration from 1857 to 1861

The presidency of James Buchanan began on March 4, 1857, when James Buchanan was inaugurated as President of the United States, and ended on March 4, 1861. Buchanan, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, took office as the 15th United States president after defeating former President Millard Fillmore of the American Party, and John C. Frémont of the Republican Party in the 1856 presidential election.

Popular sovereignty is a doctrine rooted in the belief that each citizen has sovereignty over themselves. Citizens may unite and offer to delegate a portion of their sovereign powers and duties to those who wish to serve as officers of the state, contingent on the officers agreeing to serve according to the will of the people. In the United States, the term has been used to express this concept in constitutional law. It was also used during the 19th century in reference to a proposed solution to the debate over the expansion of slavery. The proposal would have given the power to determine the legality of slavery to the inhabitants of the territory seeking statehood, rather than to Congress.

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Archibald Williams was a United States district judge of the United States District Court for the District of Kansas. Williams was a friend and political ally of President Abraham Lincoln.

The Northern Democratic Party was a leg of the Democratic Party during the 1860 presidential election, when the party split in two factions because of disagreements over slavery. They held two conventions before the election, in Charleston and Baltimore, where they established their platform. Democratic Candidate Stephen A. Douglas was the nominee and lost to Republican Candidate Abraham Lincoln, whose victory prompted the secession of 11 Southern states and the formation of the Confederate States of America.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Political career of John C. Breckinridge</span> Career of Vice President of the United States, 1857

The political career of John C. Breckinridge included service in the state government of Kentucky, the Federal government of the United States, as well as the government of the Confederate States of America. In 1857, 36 years old, he was inaugurated as Vice President of the United States under James Buchanan. He remains the youngest person to ever hold the office. Four years later, he ran as the presidential candidate of a dissident group of Southern Democrats, but lost the election to the Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln.

This article documents the political career of Abraham Lincoln from the end of his term in the United States House of Representatives in March 1849 to the beginning of his first term as President of the United States in March 1861.


  1. Brandon Village Historic District Archived January 29, 2009, at the Wayback Machine , Vermont Heritage Network via the University of Vermont. Accessed July 14, 2009.
  2. Quitt (2012), p. 56.
  3. Morris (2008), pp. 8–9
  4. Reed, George Irving; Randall, Emilius Oviatt; Greve, Charles Theodore, eds. (1897). Bench and Bar of Ohio: a Compendium of History and Biography. Vol. 2. Chicago, Illinois: Century Publishing and Engraving Company. pp. 96–100.
  5. Weisenburger, Francis Phelps (1934). "Henry B. Payne". Dictionary of American Biography . Vol. XIV. New York City: C. Scribner's Sons. pp. 325–326.
  6. Johannsen, Robert W. "Stephen A. Douglas." University of Illinois Press, 1997.
  7. Morris (2008), pp. 9–12
  8. Morris (2008), p. 15
  9. Morris (2008), pp. 16–17
  10. Morris (2008), pp. 17–18
  11. Morris (2008), pp. 18–19
  12. Morris (2008), pp. 19–21
  13. Morris (2008), pp. 22–26
  14. Smith, Joseph (1978), B. H. Roberts (ed.), History of the Church, vol. 5, Deseret Book Company, pp. 393–394, ISBN   0-87747-693-4 ; The account was first published in the Deseret News on September 24, 1856, and said to have been taken from the journal of William Clayton (1814–1879), who had been present at the occasion.
  15. Morris (2008), pp. 36–39
  16. Morris (2008), pp. 41–43
  17. [ bare URL ]
  18. 1 2 3 4 "Stephen A. Douglas and the American Union, University of Chicago Library Special Exhibit, 1994". Retrieved August 21, 2012.
  19. 1 2 3 Clinton (1988)[ page needed ]
  20. 1 2 Douglas 1983, p. 534.
  21. 1 2 3 Arnold 1935, pp. 221–3.
  22. Arnold 1935, p. 133.
  23. 1 2 Arnold 1935, p. 106.
  24. Austin 1887, pp. 155, 227.
  25. Austin 1887, p. 227.
  26. Austin 1887, p. 81.
  27. Austin 1887, p. 202.
  28. Arnold 1935, pp. 80, 98, 106, 130, 133, 174, 178, 221–3.
  29. Johannsen (1973), p. 206
  30. Morris (2008), pp. 50–51
  31. Smith (1988), pp. 111–112
  32. Smith (1988), pp. 177–181
  33. Smith (1988), pp. 112–113, 117–120
  34. Bordewich (2012), pp. 306–316
  35. Bordewich (2012), pp. 333–334
  36. Bordewich (2012), pp. 347–348, 359–360
  37. Morris (2008), pp. 59–60
  38. Morris (2008), Perris p. 61–64
  39. Morris (2008), p. 65
  40. Morris (2008), pp. 66–68
  41. Morris (2008), pp. 68–71, 75
  42. McPherson (1988), pp. 125–126.
  43. Nichols (1956), who concludes thus (p. 212): "It was but a few steps onward to secession, the Confederacy, and the Solid South. The great volcano of American politics was in a state of eruption. In the midst of the cataclysm, one sees Douglas crashing and hurtling about, caught like a rock in a gush of lava. Two new masses were prominent on the political landscape, the Republican party and the Solid South. Douglas had disappeared."
  44. Morris (2008), p. 73
  45. Morris (2008), pp. 76–78
  46. Morris (2008), pp. 82–83
  47. Morris (2008), pp. 83–84
  48. Morris (2008), pp. 86–87
  49. "CHICAGO'S MAYORS". Genealogy Trails. Retrieved December 4, 2018.
  50. Morris (2008), pp. 88–89
  51. Morris (2008), pp. 89–91
  52. Morris (2008), p. 96
  53. Morris (2008), pp. 93–95
  54. Morris (2008), pp. 96–98
  55. Morris (2008), pp. 99–101
  56. Morris (2008), pp. 102–103
  57. Morris (2008), pp. 105–108
  58. Stevenson (1994), pp. 64–68
  59. Morris (2008), pp. 109–110
  60. Donald (1995) p. 222
  61. Goodwin, Doris Kearns (2005). Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Simon & Schuster. pp.  198–199. ISBN   978-0684824901.
  62. Donald (1995), 222
  63. Morris (2008), pp. 112–113
  64. Morris (2008), p. 114
  65. Morris (2008), pp. 116–118
  66. "(Untitled)". New-York Tribune . December 6, 1859. p. 6 via
  67. Morris (2008), pp. 121–124, 137, 157
  68. Morris (2008), pp. 121–124
  69. Morris (2008), pp. 137–139
  70. Morris (2008), pp. 140–141
  71. Morris (2008), pp. 150–152
  72. Morris (2008), pp. 157–158
  73. Morris (2008), pp. 158, 162–163
  74. Morris (2008), pp. 165–168
  75. Morris (2008), pp. 168–172
  76. Morris (2008), pp. 175–176
  77. Morris (2008), pp. 172–173, 176–177
  78. Morris (2008), pp. 185–187
  79. Morris (2008), pp. 186–187
  80. Catton (1961), p. 101
  81. Morris (2008), pp. 178–179
  82. Morris (2008), pp. 190–193
  83. Morris (2008), pp. 195–196
  84. Kagan, Dangerous Nation, p. 243
  85. Morris (2008), pp. 199–202
  86. Morris (2008), pp. 205–206
  87. Morris (2008), pp. 207–208
  88. Johannsen (1973), p. 832
  89. Catton, Bruce. The Coming Fury p. 329
  90. Morris (2008), pp. 213–215
  91. Morris (2008), pp. 216–217
  92. Nichols (1956)
  93. Dean (1995)
  94. Huston (1997)
  95. Peck (2005); Peck cites (footnote 2, and associated text) Johannsen, Stevens, Milton, Capers, Wells, Baker, Potter, and David Donald as believing Douglas opposed slavery; on the other side, he cites Morrison, Richards, and Glickstein.
  96. Morris (2008), p. xi
  97. Johannsen (1973), p. 137
  98. Johannsen (1973), pp. 558, 872
  99. Krakow, Kenneth K. (1975). Georgia Place-Names: Their History and Origins (PDF). Macon, GA: Winship Press. p. 64. ISBN   0-915430-00-2.
  100. Greene, Morgan (November 19, 2020). "After Years of Student Activism, Park District Officially Makes Name Change to Douglass Park". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 21, 2020.
  101. Frum, David (December 11, 2012). "David's Bookclub: The Lincoln–Douglas Debates". The Daily Beast. Retrieved October 23, 2016.

Works cited

Further reading

Secondary sources

  • Angle, Paul M. ed., Created Equal? The Complete Lincoln–Douglas Debates of 1858 (1958)
  • Ankrom, Reg, Stephen A. Douglas, Western Man: The Early Years in Congress, 1844-1850, Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2021.
  • Barbee, David R., and Milledge L. Bonham, Jr. "The Montgomery Address of Stephen A. Douglas," Journal of Southern History, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Nov. 1939), pp. 527–552 in JSTOR
  • Capers, Gerald M. Stephen A. Douglas: Defender of the Union (1959), short biography
  • Childers, Christopher. "Interpreting Popular Sovereignty: A Historiographical Essay," Civil War History Volume 57, Number 1, March 2011 pp. 48–70 in Project MUSE
  • Clinton, Anita Watkins (1988). "Stephen Arnold Douglas — His Mississippi Experience". Journal of Mississippi History. 50 (2): 56–88.
  • Dean; Eric T., Jr. "Stephen A. Douglas and Popular Sovereignty," Historian 1995 57(4): 733–748 online version
  • Douglas, Charles H. James (1983), "Ancestry of Stephen Arnold Douglas", Genealogies of Connecticut Families from the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, p. 534, ISBN   0-8063-1027-8
  • Egerton, Douglas R., Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election That Brought on the Civil War, Bloomsbury Press, 2010. more on the book
  • Eyal, Yonatan. "With His Eyes Open: Stephen A. Douglas and the Kansas–Nebraska Disaster of 1854" Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 1998 91(4): 175–217. ISSN   1522-1067
  • Glickstein, Jonathan A., American Exceptionalism, American Anxiety: Wages, Competition, and Degraded Labor in the Antebellum United States, University of Virginia Press, (2002).
  • Hansen, Stephen; Nygard, Paul (1994). "Stephen A. Douglas, the Know-Nothings, and the Democratic Party in Illinois, 1854–1858". Illinois Historical Journal. 87 (2): 109–130.
  • Huston, James L. "Democracy by Scripture versus Democracy by Process: A Reflection on Stephen A. Douglas and Popular Sovereignty." Civil War History. 43#1 (1997) pp. 189+.
  • Huston, James L. Stephen A. Douglas and the Dilemmas of Democratic Equality, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007.
  • Jaffa, Harry V. Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln–Douglas Debates. (1959) online.
  • Johannsen, Robert W. The Frontier, the Union, and Stephen A. Douglas, University of Illinois Press, 1989.
  • Milton, George Fort. The Eve of Conflict: Stephen A. Douglas and the Needless War (1934), older scholarly biography
  • Morrison, Michael A. Slavery and the American West: The Eclipse of Manifest Destiny and the Coming of the Civil War, University of North Carolina Press, (1997).
  • Nevins, Allan. Ordeal of the Union especially vols. 1-4 (1947–63): Fruits of Manifest Destiny, 1847–1852; A House Dividing, 1852–1857; Douglas, Buchanan, and Party Chaos, 1857–1859; Prologue to Civil War, 1859–1861.
  • Rhodes, James Ford. History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 (1920) vol 1–2, detailed narrative
  • Russel, Robert R (1956). "What Was the Compromise of 1850?". Journal of Southern History. 20 (3): 292–309. doi:10.2307/2954547. JSTOR   2954547.
  • Russel, Robert R. "The Issues in the Congressional Struggle Over the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, 1854," Journal of Southern History 29 (May 1963): 187–210; in JSTOR
  • Stenberg, Richard R. "An Unnoted Factor in the Buchanan-Douglas Feud." Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1933): 271-284. online
  • Wells, Damon (1990) [1971]. Stephen Douglas: The Last Years, 1857–1861. University of Texas Press. ISBN   978-0292776357.
  • Wells, Damon. Stephen Douglas (University of Texas Press, 1971) scholarly biography online
  • Zarefsky, David. Lincoln, Douglas, and Slavery: In the Crucible of Public Debate (1990). 309 pp.

Primary sources

  • Douglas, Stephen Arnold. A brief treatise upon constitutional and party questions, and the history of political parties , (1861) James Madison Cutts, ed. (1866)
  • Robert W. Johannsen, ed. The Letters of Stephen A. Douglas (1961)
  • Lincoln, Abraham and Douglas, Stephen A. The Lincoln–Douglas Debates: The First Complete, Unexpurgated Text. Harold Holzer, ed. HarperCollins, 1993.
  • Harry V. Jaffa and Robert W. Johannsen, eds. In the Name of the People: Speeches and Writings of Lincoln and Douglas in the Ohio Campaign of 1859. (1959) online version

In 1861, George W. Hewitt wrote a piano piece entitled "Douglas' Funeral March" with a picture of Stephen Douglas on the cover.

A funereal poem, "Bury Me in the Morning", is attributed to Douglas by some sources [1] but not by others. [2]

Jerimiah F. O'Sullivan

Political offices
Preceded by Secretary of State of Illinois
Succeeded by
U.S. House of Representatives
New constituency Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 5th congressional district

Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Illinois
Served alongside: Sidney Breese, James Shields, Lyman Trumbull
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for President of the United States¹
Succeeded by
Notes and references
1. The Democratic Party split in 1860, producing two presidential nominees. Douglas was nominated by Northern Democrats; John C. Breckinridge was nominated by Southern Democrats.
  1. Heart Throbs, Volume Two. Grosset & Dunlap. 1911. p. 267.
  2. The Living Age. Littell, Son, and Company. 1862. p. 448.