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Vol. 24 No. 8- August 2011


Volume 24, No. 8
Editor: Stephen L. Seftenberg

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 Assembly

We are going to be entertained by Bob Palmer, who will sing a variety of Civil War songs. some of which may bring a tear to our eyes!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011 Assembly

Monroe Ackerman brought to life, “Stephen A. Douglas, Patriot and Pragmatist.” Monroe began by saying that to most 2lst century Americans, the name Stephen A. Douglas, if known at all, brings to mind the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858. In that context, they “know” Douglas as the debater whom the wily Abraham Lincoln trapped with his famous “second question” at the Freeport, Illinois debate, which then snowballed Lincoln into the presidency.

Stephen A. Douglas was much more than that. He was both a patriot and a pragmatist. He had a passionate love for the union of states that was the ante bellum United States of America and a pragmatic approach to the convoluted politics which governed it. To him, it was the “Manifest Destiny” of American democracy to populate the continent from ocean to ocean, and even beyond. His view incorporated Cuba, Mexico, Central America and even Canada into an ever-growing democratic republic. He may have dreamed impossible dreams, but he was a hard-headed practical politician who fought tenaciously for his constituency and who invested tremendous energy to keep the Union which he cherished indivisible.

DouglasBorn in New Hampshire on April 13, 1813, during the second year of the War of 1812, Stephen grew up with Andrew Jackson as his hero and role model. Following in the footsteps of the great war hero, he became a “states’ rights” democrat who believed in the strict construction of the Constitution. But, as a practical, pragmatic politician, he was willing to hedge those principles when he felt it necessary to accomplish his political ends. At age twenty he sought his fortune in the West. A year and a half later, arriving penniless in central Illinois, he sold some of his books and opened a one-room schoolhouse. Teaching, however was not his thing. He wanted to be a lawyer. He had “gone West” because it took too long in the East to achieve this goal. He had a fire in his belly which only fame and fortune could satisfy. He studied, passed the bar exam and was sworn in as an attorney. He had the makings of a good attorney, but his heart was elsewhere – his real love and goal was to be a politician, at which few in American history have surpassed him.

In the early 1830's, the Illinois Democratic Party was in shambles. Douglas was the right man at the right time. Although only 5 feet 4 inches tall, everything else about him was “king size.” He had a large head with a broad brow and a full mane of wavy dark hair. His face was accented by his flashing blue eyes and sharp chin. In youth he had broad shoulders and a slim waist. Age and hard living turned his waist into a well-rounded pot belly. He always had an unsurpassed memory and an intuitive ability to react swiftly and correctly in the court room or while debating political issues. His brash, boisterous, open and friendly manner combined with his intensity, intelligence, stamina and drive made him a great campaigner. He was a good organizer and a strict party disciplinarian. These attributes, combined with his charismatic leadership qualities, made him the ideal man to help reorganize the Illinois Democratic Party.

Douglas threw himself into party politics. His abilities were quickly recognized and, with a speed that amazed even him, the Illinois Democratic Party showered its political blessings upon him: he was appointed States Attorney for the First Judicial District representing the State in eight counties in central Illinois in both civil and criminal matters. His quick learning ability and the willingness of older attorneys to help him made him a success at this position. He kept active in party politics and helped develop the convention system on both the county and state levels. It is small wonder that in short order his friends and enemies began to call him the "Little Giant."

Douglas threw himself into party politics. His abilities were quickly recognized and, with a speed that amazed even him, the Illinois Democratic Party showered its political blessings upon him: he was appointed States Attorney for the First Judicial District representing the State in eight counties in central Illinois in both civil and criminal matters. His quick learning ability and the willingness of older attorneys to help him made him a success at this position. He kept active in party politics and helped develop the convention system on both the county and state levels. It is small wonder that in short order his friends and enemies began to call him the "Little Giant."

During this session, Douglas came face to face with the issue of slavery for the first time. A resolution was introduced that condemned the Abolitionists for spreading anti-slavery literature through the South, and requested the suppression of their societies. Douglas voted with the large majority in favor of the resolution. Lincoln was one of six legislators who voted against it. Douglas’ attitude toward Abolitionists and the black man never changed. All of his life he was a white supremacist who saw no immorality in slavery. While he professed not to like the institution, he was willing to live with it, in order to avoid the threat of the dissolution of the Union. He believed the Negro was not entitled to the rights set forth in the Declaration of Independence. He interpreted that document to read "all white men are created equal." The corollary to this, of course, was that all black men, and other races were unequal to whites.

Douglas opposed Lincoln's successful efforts to move the state capital to Springfield from Vandalia, but moved his practice to the new capital. In a town of only 3,000 inhabitants, he moved in the best social circle, but he was too deeply involved in politics to spare time for romance. During the next five years, Douglas vaulted from one position to another: In March 1837 President Van Buren appointed him as Register of the Springfield Land Office. This was a very lucrative federal position that left Douglas with plenty of time for politics, while moving him into a commanding position in the Democratic party. Douglas, yearning for elected office, ran for a Congress in the election of 1838. His Whig opponent was John Todd Stuart, Abraham Lincoln's law partner. When Stuart fell ill, Lincoln temporarily substituted for him on the hustings. Douglas and Lincoln traveled together, ate and slept together, and argued and debated the issues along the campaign trail. Douglas lost the election by 36 votes out of 36,495 cast. In 1840, Illinois Governor Thomas Carlin (Dem.) appointed him as Secretary of State, a job which permitted him to both practice law and devote himself to politics almost on a full time basis.

In 1841, the Illinois Supreme Court, then controlled by Whigs, had been handing down decisions that displeased the Democrats. They controlled the State Legislature and voted to pack the Court with five new Justices, one of whom was Douglas. This dynamic young man could have been an excellent judge if his opinions were not so pro-democratic. Douglas did not let his judicial robes keep him from working behalf of his party. He resigned from the bench in 1843 to run, once again, for Congress and this time he won. For the next 18 years, until his death in 1861, he served in the Congress of the United States, elected three times as a Congressman and three times as a Senator.

In his second term in House and during his first term as a Senator, he was appointed as Chairman of the Committee on Territories and played a major role in the formation of territories and the admission of states during the long battle over slavery. Douglas, as a leader of the Democratic party, matured into a serious and capable legislator who struggled to maintain the unity of his party, which he believed would insure the unity of the nation. But, blinded by his anti-Negro bias, he failed to recognize the growing opposition to slavery in the North. He made some serious political mistakes but his ultimate object was always to enlarge and preserve the white man's democracy that to him was the United States of America.

Starting with the fight over the "gag rule" prohibiting petitions to Congress to outlaw slavery in the District of Columbia, and continuing with the Texas annexation battle in 1844, the Mexican War of 1845, the Wilmot Proviso bombshell of 1846, the great Compromise of 1850, the Presidential election campaign of 1852, the disastrous Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, the Presidential election campaign of 1856, the Dred Scott decision in 1857, the Lecompton Constitution debacle of 1857-1858, the senatorial campaign of 1858, the break up of the Democratic party and the Presidential election campaign in 1860, the winter of secession and the attempts at compromise in 1860-1861, and finally the outbreak of civil war, Douglas participated in or was a major player in each of these crucial episodes in our nation's history.

CongressmanA loyal party man, he firmly supported the gag rule. Although only a freshman in 1844, he drafted the initial joint resolution which in altered form was used, instead of a treaty, to welcome Texas into the Union as a slave state. He supported the Mexican War and even attempted to enlist in the Army. However, President Polk prevailed upon him to remain in Congress where his leadership ability was needed. At the end of the war, he believed the USA was entitled to a far larger amount of Mexican territory, if not all of Mexico. The Mexican Cession and the Wilmot Proviso, which sought to ban slavery in the territory ceded by Mexico, brought the issue of slavery to a decisive point in American politics. Douglas was only one of four Northern Democrats who voted with the South against the Wilmot Proviso in the House even though the Illinois Legislature had instructed him to support the Proviso. The Senate, controlled by a combination of Southerners and a few Northern Democrats rejected the proviso. For the next four years, Congress was deadlocked over this issue.

At 34, the Little Giant took little interest in his personal appearance or his manners. His clothing was often slovenly and when he wasn't smoking a cigar, he was chewing tobacco. He also drank. Martha Reid a 22 year old young lady from North Carolina, changed all this. The daughter of wealthy planter and slave holder in North Carolina. Martha was well educated and intelligent, but of rather frail health. The wedding was celebrated at the paternal plantation. The happy father-in-law wanted to present the bride and groom with a plantation in Mississippi as a wedding present. Douglas realized that owning slaves would be a political detriment to his career, tactfully declined the gift and convinced his father-in-law to give the plantation in his will to the new Mrs. Douglas and their children. Upon her father’s death, Martha Douglas and their two children took title to a plantation of more than a 2500 acres and with over 100 slaves in Mississippi. The will appointed Douglas the manager of the estate entitled to 20% of the yearly income. He managed this estate up to the time that Mississippi seceded from the Union with only minor political damage to his career.

Douglas, like many other politicians of his time, speculated in land. He owned large tracts in and around Chicago and elsewhere in the west. He used these assets help finance his own political campaigns and the campaigns of others. These political expenses often strained his finances. Despite this, he lived well and was generous. He donated land then valued at $50,000 along the south side of Chicago's lake front to the University of Chicago for its new campus. He was active in the establishment of the Smithsonian Institution and served until his death on its Board of Regents.

Douglas, anxious to solve the problem of slavery created by the Mexican Cession and the Wilmot Proviso, with historical arguments: first he argued there could be no slavery in the Cession territory because it had been banned there by the Mexican government. When this argument failed to gain traction, he joined with some Southerners in arguing that the part of the Cession territory below 36 degrees 30 minutes Latitude should be open to slavery under the terms of the Missouri Compromise. Most Northerners opposed this on the grounds that the line set in 1820 was limited to territory included in the Louisiana Purchase.

The problem was further complicated by the three different constitutional positions that were being advanced: The Southerners, led by Senator John C. Calhoun, insisted that Congress did not have the constitutional power to ban slavery in the territories because the territories were the “common property” of all of the states and that the people of each state had the right to move with their property (including their slaves) into whatever territory they chose. The “Free Soilers” and Northern Whigs who supported the Wilmot Proviso contended Congress had the power to ban slavery in any new territory. A third position espoused by Senator Louis Cass of Michigan, who would be the Democratic presidential candidate in 1848, was that Congress did not have the constitutional power to ban slavery in a territory but the territorial legislatures had the power to ban slavery at any time they chose. This was known as “Popular Sovereignty.” Calhoun had contended that the territorial legislature could ban slavery only when the territory was adopting its constitution and becoming a state. This difference of positions within the Democratic Party would lead to its ultimate destruction.

Douglas now took yet a different position, a “middle of the road” position. He believed that the Congress did have the power to ban slavery in a territory but that Congress, to get that insolvable problem out of the cockpit of Washington politics, should abjure that right and let the people of a territory, through their territorial legislature, determine whether or not they wanted the slavery. Like Cass, Douglas believed that under Popular Sovereignty the territorial legislature could deal with the issue.

As the months dragged by the Southerners became more adamant in their constitutional demands, and spoke more often and with greater intensity about dissolving the Union. Douglas' own supporters, the Democrats of the Northwest, opposed the Southerners with growing determination. It wasn't so much that they were anti slavery, although many of them were. It was more they were becoming very anti-slave power! After all, the Southerners, supported by Southern-controlled Presidents, had denied the people of the Northwest the legislation they needed for their internal improvements--improved rivers and harbors, canals and railroads. They, like Douglas, resented this lack of support by Southern Democrats. An exasperated Douglas at one time said to his Southern peers, “The South should not be angry because the North does not accept slavery as a ‘positive good.’” He went on to say, “If slavery is a blessing, it is your blessing; if it is a curse, it is your curse. Enjoy it on your own responsibility.” At the same time he reminded the Southern legislators that he had always supported them and protected their interests and would continue to do so.

Douglas worked hard for the Democratic candidate, Louis Cass, in the election of 1848. But Zachary Taylor, a hero of the Mexican War and a slave owner from Louisiana, won on the Whig ticket. The change in administration from Democratic to Whig did not resolve the stalemate over the Wilmot Proviso. In the autumn of 1849 sectional hostility was at a new high. Southerners talked of dissolution and, in the face of the Southern threats, the North's determination in opposition stiffened.

Now, Henry Clay of Kentucky, the great Whig compromiser, at 72 years of age, came out of retirement with another compromise, which he hoped would save the Union. He packaged this compromise into an Omnibus bill of several separate parts. Douglas, despite believing it was a mistake to lump the separate parts into one bill because it would unite the opponents of any separate part against the entire bill, supported the Omnibus bill wholeheartedly. After over seven months of debate, as the final vote drew near, the great men of the first half of the 19th Century rose to speak on the Bill. John C. Calhoun, sick unto death, spoke through a proxy against; Daniel Webster spoke in favor; William Seward spoke against; and Henry Clay spoke in favor.

When the votes were counted the Omnibus bill was rejected. A worn out Henry Clay departed and the 37 year old Stephen A. Douglas took over. Douglas broke the Omnibus bill up into its separate parts and by late September each of the parts had been passed by the Senate. Douglas played an active roll in guiding the compromise through the House of Representatives and was often in that chamber when important votes were taken. When the compromise bills finally passed the House of Representatives there was a great celebration and Douglas woke up the next morning with one whale of a headache. But, he had done a great job and even his worst adversary, Jefferson Davis, said: "It is the Senator from Illinois who has a right to be proud on the passage of these measures."

What was the Compromise of 1850? In short it was this: California was admitted into the Union as a free state. The rest of the Mexican Cession would be admitted without restriction on the subject of slavery. Popular Sovereignty was to decide, but it was unclear when such sovereignty was to be exercised. The Texas boundary dispute with New Mexico was settled. Texas was to be compensated for property surrendered to New Mexico by United State assuming its pre-annexation $15,000,000 bond debt. Slave trade in the District of Columbia was abolished but the immunity of interstate slave trading from Congressional interference was affirmed. And, finally a much stronger fugitive slave law was passed.

Douglas was the hero of the hour and the “savior of the Union.” In the North his name was now mentioned as the 1852 Democratic candidate for President, and Douglas liked the sound of that. But he launched his campaign to gain the nomination much too early, relying heavily on an organization of youthful Democrats called "Young Americans." He depended on foolish and inept lieutenants who alienated the "Old Fogies" of the Democratic Party, who turned against him and his "Young Americans." Franklin Pierce received the nomination and won the election. Even though, Douglas campaigned hard for Pierce, the new President snubbed the Little Giant and his followers when the spoils of victory were distributed. Despite this, Douglas remained loyal to the Democratic party. He was still a young man, and there would be another presidential election in 1856.

Brady portraitIn January 1853, Douglas's wife Martha died giving birth to their third child, who also died shortly thereafter. Despondent, he took a European tour for five months. On his return, he was ready to take up his task of engineering the country's growth from the Mississippi River to California. Douglas as a Westerner was always interested in railroads. He was instrumental in getting the Federal Government, as a first, to give land grants to the Illinois Central Railroad, which ran from northern Illinois to Cairo in the South of that state, and then under other ownership to Mobile, Alabama, He had even sold that railroad some of his land in Chicago at a very substantial profit. He felt the time was ripe to join his state to the new state of California by railroad. Before the railroad could be built, it was necessary to populate the land West of the Mississippi River. To this end he had supported free, 160 acre homestead legislation. But this legislation was blocked by the Southerners. As chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories he was anxious to organize territorial governments in the Kansas and Nebraska territories. But under the terms of the Missouri Compromise slavery was banned in those territories. Southerners were not anxious to support the organization of new territories in which their slave property was banned. Douglas knew that any attempt to repeal the Missouri Compromise would cause a great uproar in the North, so he attempted to circumvent the Missouri Compromise. The legislation he drafted did not mention it. Instead, he used the language of the Compromise of 1850 for the territories of New Mexico and Utah which he now insisted set a new standard for all future territorial legislation.

The people of any new territory would decide for themselves whether or not they wanted slavery, and any litigation arising out of the slavery question would be decided by the Supreme Court of the United States. In effect Douglas' new legislation supplanted the Missouri Compromise without overtly repealing it. The powerful Southerners to whom he showed his draft of the legislation supported it.

The bill was introduced, but three days later, claiming there had been a printing mistake, a new section was added to the legislation which did nothing, except to emphasize that Popular Sovereignty would control the issue of slavery in the new territories. Again, the Missouri Compromise was not mentioned. But a Whig from Kentucky, Senator Archibald Dixon, to Douglas' great discomfort, introduced an amendment to the bill, formally repealing the Missouri Comprise, claiming that as long as that Compromise was extant, Southerners would be prohibited from taking their property into the territory and in that case there would be no slave owners in the territory to vote for slavery when the people exercised their right to vote under Popular Sovereignty.

The Southern Democrats who had supported Douglas' legislation, not wanting a Whig from Kentucky to get credit for repealing the Missouri Compromise, jumped on that band wagon and insisted that the Missouri Compromise must be specifically repealed. Great pressure was brought to bear on Douglas. At a Sunday meeting in the White House, brought about by President Pierce's Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, the only man who could prevail on the President to conduct business on the Sabbath, with Douglas and many of the Southern leaders of the Democratic party in attendance, it was decided that it would be the policy of the Democratic party to repeal the Missouri Compromise. Douglas agreed with this decision even though he knew there would be a storm of protest in the north. After perhaps the bitterest congressional battle in history, during which Douglas once again took the lead, the Kansas Nebraska bill was passed and the Missouri Compromise was repealed.

Forcing SlaveryIt was the worst mistake of Stephen Douglas' political career, and it set in motion once again the angry sectionalism that had threatened war before the Compromise of 1850, but this time most of the boiling anger was coming out of the North. Douglas had badly misjudged the rising antislavery feelings in the North. As a result, in the Congressional elections of 1854 and 55, the Northern Democrats lost 66 seats out of the 91 they had held and lost control of the lower house of Congress. The Republican party was formed as a direct answer and reaction to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. And, “bloody Kansas” was born.

Douglas, who always claimed that slavery could never take root in Kansas, because nature would not allow it- - the climate and soil called for small farmers and free laborers-- had a rough time of it after the passage of his Kansas-Nebraska Act. His railroad to the Pacific legislation was defeated, homestead and internal improvement bills were again rejected. After Congress adjourned, as Douglas headed back to Chicago, he reported: "I could travel from Boston to Chicago by the light of my own effigy." On his return to Chicago he tried to speak before a large audience, but was shouted down.

Douglas, a man of boundless self confidence, was convinced that Popular Sovereignty was the solution to the slavery problem and that all of his fellow Democrats would come to see it his way. He launched a dynamic campaign to convince the voters of Illinois that he was right. But now he faced stiff opposition. Abraham Lincoln had been shocked out of his so-called political retirement by the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The two of them debated the Act, not as they would later face to face, but now sometimes a half a day apart and other times a full day, but usually from the same platform. Douglas was very disappointed when his Democratic candidates took a severe beating on election day. Once again, his self confidence and optimism reasserted itself and he soon moved on to try for the big prize that he longed for.

The presidential election would take place in November 1856. Douglas was ready to make an all out effort for the nomination. This time he did not start his campaign too early and he tried not antagonize the other Democratic candidates. It would be basically be a three way race between President Pierce, James Buchanan and the Little Giant. Pierce was not a popular president. Buchanan was an experienced politician and states-man who had been Secretary of State under President James K. Polk, had served as Ambassador to Great Britain for the past four years and was unsullied by the dirt thrown up by the Kansas-Nebraska Act or by Bloody Kansas. The Democratic convention was held in Cincinnati, Ohio. On the second day of balloting and on the 16th ballot, Buchanan had 168 votes and Douglas had 122 votes after President Pierce's votes had swung over to him. A two- thirds majority was necessary to win and neither candidate had the strength to reach that level. It appeared that the convention would have to turn to a dark horse candidate. At this point, Douglas, for the good of the party, threw this votes to Buchanan who became the unanimous party candidate.

Douglas had hoped for the support of the Western states, but this support did not materialize--his Kansas-Nebraska Act was not popular there. His main support came from the South, where the repeal of the Missouri Compromise was very popular. The Little Giant did draw some solace from the Party Platform which unanimously pledged support for his “Great Principle” of Popular Sovereignty. Douglas went all out to get James Buchanan elected, reportedly spending $42,000 of his own money. His main arguments was since the Whig Party had dissolved, the Democratic Party was the only national party without which there would be no Union. On election day, James Buchanan won in a three-way race. The Democrats also won back a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives and, of course, continued to control the Senate. The results, however, were closer than anticipated. Buchanan received only 46.3% of the popular vote. John C. Fremont, the Republican candidate made a decent showing, with 33.1%. Millard Fillmore, the “Know Nothing” candidate drew 21.6%.

Adele CuttsThree weeks after the election, Douglas surprised everyone by marrying Adele Cutts, a lovely young lady, 22 years his junior, whose mother came from a prominent Washington Catholic family and whose father was a Federal clerk. Ironically, her aunt, Rose O'Neal Greenhow was later convicted as a Confederate spy. Adele was described as “beautiful as a pearl, sunny tempered, unselfish, warm hearted, unaffected, sincere.” She was very good for Douglas, who in the three years since Martha’s death had relapsed into his old habits of slovenly appearance, careless manners and heavy drinking. She was a devout Roman Catholic. Douglas, who never showed much interest in religion, was probably a Baptist. While he did not become a Catholic, he permitted Adele to take charge of his two sons’ education at a Catholic school.

Although Douglas had extended himself to get Buchanan elected, the new President did not treat him well. Douglas's friends were not rewarded with the patronage to which Douglas thought they were entitled. The reason was simple: the President disliked Douglas, who was everything that Buchanan was not. Douglas was charismatic, a dynamic debater, imaginative and unafraid to take a determined position. Buchanan had none of these attributes. Adele turned their Washington home into the center of Washington society, outshining the jealous old man, living alone in the White House.

From the outset of the new administration things went wrong for Douglas. The first problem arose out of the Dred Scott decision handed down by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney of the Supreme Court two days after President Buchanan's inauguration. The decision first held the Missouri Compromise to be unconstitutional because Congress did not have the power to ban slavery in the territories. Taney further ruled that a territorial legislature could not ban slavery in its territory. Finally, not only did every citizen have the right to take his slave property into a territory, but the Federal Government was obligated to protect this right!  The decision struck a devastating blow to the Republican Party, whose existence depended upon Congress' power to ban slavery in the territories. It also eviscerated Stephen A. Douglas’ concept of Popular Sovereignty. If a territorial legislature could not ban slavery in its own territory at any time, Popular Sovereignty was dead. Douglas held his peace and did not comment on the Dred Scott decision for three months. Then he said the court had ruled and it was the duty of all citizens to obey its decision. He insisted, however, that as a practical matter his concept of Popular Sovereignty still lived despite the Court's ruling that a master’s right to take his slave to any territory could not be barred by an act of Congress or a territorial legislature. Douglas felt he had harmonized the Dred Scott Decision with his concept of Popular Sovereignty by explaining that a slave holder may have the right to take his slave property to any territory, but the people of the territory had the right to provide or withhold the protective police legislation necessary to the existence of that institution. Surprisingly, this explanation did not immediately anger the Southern members of the Democratic Party.

BuchananBy the Summer of 1857, another serious national and territorial problem was occupying the attention of the country. In March 1857, President Buchanan appointed Robert J. Walker of Mississippi as Governor of the Kansas Territory. The President promised the new governor in writing that he would not allow Kansas to adopt a constitution, unless there was a full and fair vote on the entire constitution by the people of the territory. Douglas, a long-time friend of Walker, agreed with his appointment and with the President’s determination to have the people vote on the entire constitution. On November 8, 1857, a Constitutional Convention meeting at Lecompton, Kansas (controlled by proslavery delegates elected without participation by the antislavery faction) adopted a Constitution for the future State of Kansas over the objection of Governor Walker. The Constitution provided that the people could vote for the "constitution with slavery" or "the constitution without slavery," but in either event the two hundred or so slaves presently in Kansas and their decedents would remain in bondage. The people would not have the opportunity to accept or reject the entire constitution.

President Buchanan now buckled under pressure from his pro-Southern cabinet and Southern friends and hedged by saying that what he had promised Governor Walker was a vote on a constitution with or without slavery and not on the entire constitution. He went on to say that he considered Kansas as much a slave state as Georgia or South Carolina. It was obvious to Douglas that because of the enormous influx of Northerners into Kansas, a fair vote on the full constitution would result in Kansas becoming a free state. The President, however insisted the Lecompton Constitution be submitted to Congress for the admission of Kansas.

Douglas faced a great dilemma. He believed in strict party discipline and loyalty. But, now his party was denying the people of Kansas their right to accept or reject their proposed constitution, nullifying Douglas’ idea of Popular Sovereignty and contravening the Party’s unanimously adopted Platform. At a fateful meeting, Buchanan warned Douglas that if he opposed the Administration on the Lecompton Constitution, he would be broken just as President Andrew Jackson had destroyed the Democrats who destroyed his programs. Douglas replied, “Sir, President Jackson is dead.”

The Lecompton Constitution won an easy victory in the Senate, where all Southern Senators, voting as a bloc, were joined by a few Northern Democrats. The House was another story. Here, Douglas, who was not even a member, led his Northern Democrats and the Republicans in a bruising six months battle against the Lecompton Constitution. The House finally passed a bill sending the Lecompton Constitution back to Kansas for a yes or no vote on the entire constitution. A joint committee came up with a strange “compromise:” If the constitution won, Kansas would be immediately admitted as a slave state, and would receive from the Federal Government the usual four million acres of land, plus an extra 5% of the net proceeds from the sale of two million acres. If the people rejected the constitution, Kansas would not be admitted to the Union until it had a population of 93,000, enough inhabitants to warrant one member in the House of Representatives. The people rejected the Lecompton Constitution by a vote of 11,000 to 2,000. Kansas did not become a state until 1862 when the Civil War was under way.

While the summer of 1858 solved one problem for Douglas, it brought him face to face with another. In November, he was up for reelection to the Senate. His star in the North was shining bright. So bright that even some of the Republican leaders in the East hoped to either recruit him as a Republican or to endorse his run for the Senate. The Republicans of Illinois had other ideas and unanimously endorsed Abraham Lincoln. Stephen Douglas was a national figure fresh from one of his brightest victories. Abraham Lincoln was a local politician not nearly so well known as Douglas, even in Illinois. Douglas, however, faced a double problem. He knew from almost a lifetime of experience that Abraham Lincoln was a formidable opponent on the campaign trail, and he anticipated that the Buchanan Administration would do everything in its power to defeat him. It would be a long tough campaign.

Douglas planned his campaign carefully and launched it in Chicago. Much to his annoyance, Lincoln, who was in the crowd, answered Douglas the next day. Wherever Douglas spoke, Lincoln, taking advantage of the large crowds that came out to hear the Little Giant, was there and announced that he would answer Douglas either that night or the next day. When the Democratic press objected, Lincoln informed Douglas personally that he was going to stop. However, when Lincoln’s campaign managers and The Chicago Tribune, a Republican newspaper, publicly urged joint debates, Lincoln wrote to Douglas suggesting it. Douglas knew there was no advantage for him as the better known candidate in the proposal, but at all costs he had to avoid any hint of the terrible smell of cowardice, so he quickly accepted, limiting the number of debates to seven and setting the rules. Lincoln accepted.

The first debate was held on August 21at Ottawa in Northern Illinois. Douglas spoke first and hit hard at Lincoln's House Divided speech, associating Lincoln with the Abolitionists who wanted to start a civil war. He asked, “Why can't the country continue half free and half slave? The Founding Fathers found it divided and left it divided. The country's greatness rested in its diversity.” The he turned to Lincoln's opposition to the Dred Scott decision, which, in part, held that a Negro could not be a citizen of the United States. Playing to the universal bias of his audience and voicing his own 19th century white man's prejudice against the black man, Douglas said:

“I believe this government was made on a white basis. I believe it was made by white men for the benefit of white men and their posterity forever, and I am in favor of confining citizenship to white men, men of European birth and descent, instead of conferring it upon negroes, Indians and other inferior races...  Nor do I believe that the Almighty ever intended the negro to be the equal of the white man... He belongs to an inferior race and must always occupy an inferior position. I do not hold that because the negro is inferior that therefore he sought to be a slave... I hold that humanity and Christianity both require that the negro shall have and enjoy every right, every privilege and every immunity consistent with the safety of the society in which he lives.”

The very fierceness of Douglas’ attack threw Lincoln on the defense and the first debate surely went to Douglas.

Lincoln hit back in the second debate at Freeport, in the far North of Illinois. He asked Douglas to answer several questions. The second question received and still receives all the attention: "Can the people of a United States territory in any lawful way . . . exclude slavery form its limits prior to the formation of a state constitution?" Douglas had no trouble answering, as he had done many times before: “I answer emphatically. . . that in my opinion the people of a territory can, by lawful means exclude slavery from their limits prior to the formation of a state constitution. [T]he people have 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.”

Lincoln, like any good lawyer, knew the answer to the question before he asked it. He wanted Douglas to answer for two reasons: first, to show that Douglas claimed to support the Dred Scott ruling but was flouting it by urging the territorial legislators to violate their sworn oath to uphold the Constitution, as interpreted by the Dred Scott decision, and "permit and protect slavery” in their territory; and second to aggravate the breach between Douglas and the Buchanan administration, which was vigorously attacking Douglas for depriving the Dred Scot decision of its practical effect in the territories.

By the fourth debate at Charleston in central Illinois, Douglas’ accusations that Lincoln spoke one way about the negro and slavery in Northern Illinois and another way in the Southern part of the state drove Lincoln defend himself by saying (and his admirers down through the years have struggled with these words):

“... I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and the black races. ... I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people ... there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will for ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality ... [and] while they do remain together there must be a position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

Lincoln-DouglasLincoln hit back hard at the weakest point in Douglas' armor. Douglas as a practical politician had always refused to discuss whether slavery was right or wrong. For Douglas slavery existed and it had to be accommodated. The only issue was the best way to do this. He often said that he did not care whether slavery was voted up or voted down, as long as it stopped being a threat to the existence of the Union. Lincoln argued that the real issue between the parties was whether slavery was right or wrong. Lincoln concluded the debate at Alton, Illinois on October 15th by saying:

“It is the eternal struggle between these two principles--right and wrong--throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time, and they will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings. ... It is the same spirit that says, ‘You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.’ No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.”

Douglas was never quite able to rise to the question of the immorality of the institution of slavery and was forced each time to fall back on the race card. This did not quite work with growing numbers of Illinois Protestants, who were beginning to see slavery as a moral evil.

The campaign finally came to an end. There was no direct vote for state senator. Senators in those days were elected by the state legislature. Douglas and Lincoln were really campaigning for the legislators who would vote in the legislature for one or the other. Because of holdover legislators and gerrymandered districts, Douglas received 54 votes and Lincoln 46. Douglas was still the Senator from Illinois. But in the Illinois popular election for State Treasurer, the highest office being so contested, the Republican candidate got 125,430 votes to the Democratic candidate’s 121,609, while the Buchanan administration’s candidate received only 5,071 votes. The Republican Party was growing up!

After an excursion through the South where he had great receptions, Douglas arrived back in Washington to find that, in his absence, the Democratic caucus, controlled by Southerners, had stripped him of his Chairmanship of the Committee on Territories. Douglas refused to display disappointment at being removed from the seat of power, while the Southerners, angry over his Lecompton victory and what was now referred to as his Freeport doctrine, taunted him that his doctrine of Popular Sovereignty was worse than the Wilmot Proviso. Then, President Buchanan jumped into the fray with his annual message to the Senate, saying:

“The Dred Scott decision was ‘the final settlement.   of the question of slavery in the Territories.' It established the ‘right.   of every citizen’ not only ‘to take his property of any kind including slaves into the common territories" but also "to have it protected there."

DavisDuring 1859, the Little Giant kept a low profile in the Senate. He began, however, to mature his plans for an all out effort to win his party's nomination for the presidency in the 1860 election. He tried to avoid conflict with the Southern radicals in the hope that he could attract Southern moderates to his banner. He set about to build a modem political organization, including enlisting the aid of New York bankers to secure its financial well being. He was successful in the East and in the West, but had difficulty organizing support in the South. Lecompton and his Freeport Doctrine were heavy burdens for his Southern allies to bear.

Then, in February 1860, his Southern enemies opened fire on him. Senator Jefferson Davis, expanding upon President Buchanan's message to the Senate, introduced a resolution which the Democratic caucus adopted, which read:

“It is the duty of the Federal Government... to afford ... the needful protection [for slavery in the territories], and if experience should at any time prove that the judiciary does not possess power to insure adequate protection, it will be then become the duty of Congress to supply such deficiency."

The Democratic National Committee Convention was to take place in Charleston, South Carolina on April 23rd. Davis' goal was to destroy Douglas' viability as a candidate at the Convention. Douglas had made it abundantly clear that he opposed this “Federal Slave Code” resolution because it violated his principle of popular sovereignty. The South was lining up with the Buchanan administration against Douglas. The Democratic Party in Alabama had instructed its delegation to insist on a Slave Code plank in the Democratic platform. Without it, the Alabama delegation was instructed to walk out.

Snake-charmerThe City of Charleston, in April 1860, was prosperous and beautiful, but it was the worse place the Democrats could have picked for their convention. Northerners found the heat oppressive, the accommodations inadequate, the prices too high, and the press and people hostile. The atmosphere in that most southern of states rights’ cities was not conducive to conciliation. When Douglas's majority on the floor of the convention refused to adopt the platform committees' Slave Code plank, many Southern delegates walked out. Because the convention rules required that a candidate be nominated by 2/3rds of all convention members (event the ones who had walked out!), not 2/3rds of the members present, the convention was forced to adjourn without being able to nominate a candidate. It would reconvene again in Baltimore in June to try again. Before that date the Republican Party nominated Abraham Lincoln as it candidate for President.

When the Democratic Convention reassembled, all of the bolting Southern states except South Carolina sent delegates, but now Northern blood was up, and the Convention refused to seat the original delegations from Louisiana and Alabama. Led by Virginia, most of the Southern states, along with California and Oregon walked out. The great Democratic Party was broken in two. The Baltimore Convention nominated Douglas. His third try to be his party's candidate had finally succeeded, but sadly, this man who had dedicated his life to his party and its unity, now presided over only a shadow, a half shadow of its former self.

The southern half of the Democratic Party, with the Buchanan Administration's help, assembled at Richmond and nominated Buchanan's Vice President, John C. Breckinridge, to be its Presidential candidate and adopted a Slave Code platform. A fourth party chose the name Constitutional Unionists and nominated John Bell as its contender.

PinDouglas’ confidence in his own ability to overcome great difficulties gave him the strength to face the daunting task of winning the Presidency with only half a party. He hoped that he had enough moderate friends in the south to overcome the fire eating radical dissolutionists who had broken the party. He knew that something special had to be done. So he did what no other presidential candidate had ever done. He personally took to the campaign trail and waged a dynamic and exhausting battle for the presidency. He received considerable criticism for stump speaking around the country--it was too undignified for many people-- and the campaign did not go well. Money was short as the opinion gained strength that nothing could stop Lincoln. Late in August, Douglas decided to try to rally support in the South As he traveled the south, it become apparent to him that disunion was no longer an abstract threat, but a real possibility. Douglas decided to go South again, not to campaign for himself, but to fight for the Union. Despite threats and curses, he spoke in Memphis, Nashville, Huntsville, Atlanta and several other places in Georgia, and in Montgomery, Alabama. While Douglas carried only the state of Missouri and received three electoral votes from New Jersey, he made fairly good showing in the popular election returns: Lincoln received a little less than 39% to Douglas' 29% of the popular vote. He had more popular votes then both Breckinridge and Bell. He was still the leader of the Democratic party, at least in the North, but the country was faced with an imminent break up. During the winter of dissolution, Douglas served on the Senate's Committee of Thirteen under the chairmanship of John J. Crittenden of Kentucky, seeking to extend the old Missouri Compromise line to California and that all territory South of that line be open to slavery and North of the line be free. The Republicans rejected the idea of any new slave territory. So the Southern states seceded and the nation drifted towards civil war.

Douglas hoped that President Lincoln would withdraw the Federal troops from Fort Sumter in order to avoid a collision with the Confederacy. That collision occurred on April 12th, when the Confederate guns opened fire on the Fort. On April 14th, the day Fort Sumter surrendered, Douglas was urged by a prominent Republican, to go to the White House and confer with the President. Douglas went to see the President, who was alone when he arrived. Lincoln was delighted to see his old political rival and said he planned to issue the next day calling for 75,000 volunteers. Douglas advised him to ask for 200,000 volunteers. The two men talked for nearly two hours. Douglas later issued a formal statement in which he said that while he "was unalterably opposed to the administration on all its political issues, he was prepared to sustain the President in the exercise of all his constitutional functions to preserve the Union, maintain the government and defend the Federal Capital." A week or so later, Douglas and his wife left Washington to return to Chicago. On the way there and in Chicago he spoke forcibly in defense of the Union and urged his fellow Democrats to give wholehearted support to the war effort. On May 1st he fell ill. The illness at various times was diagnosed as acute rheumatism, which later assumed a "typhoid character," but was later called "torpor of the liver." Medical science of the day had no cure for any of those illnesses and on June 3, 1861 the Little Giant died. He was only 48 years old, but what a life he had lived!

Editor’s Note: The compilation of 2009 and 2010 Newsletters in book form is ready for the publisher. All we need is for at least 25 members to pony up $25 apiece to make it economically feasible to print that many copies. If we get 25 orders, all revenue in excess of expenses (estimated to be approximately $12.50 per book) will go into the coffers of the Roundtable to offset expenses and to enhance contributions to the Civil War Trust. If you want a copy, simply make out a check for $25 payable to Stephen L. Seftenberg and mail it to 2765 White Wing Lane, West Palm Beach, FL 33409. I will report at each meeting. If we get enough orders to meet expenses, I will have that many books printed.

Last changed: 08/06/11

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