Stephen Douglas Biographical Information:
- Born: April 23, 1813, Brandon, Vermont
- Died: June 3, 1861, Chicago Illinois
- Full name: Stephen Arnold Douglas
- Most distinctive physical trait was his short stature, as Douglas stood five feet four inches tall
- Married Martha Denny Martin in 1847
- Martha died in 1853, and Douglas married Adele Cutts in 1856
- Douglas had two sons with his first wife
Fame and Reputation of Stephen Douglas:
- Known as the "Little Giant" for his political power and short stature
- Also known by the nickname "A Steam Engine in Breeches" for his boundless energy
- Having served on the Illinois Supreme Court, he was often addressed in later life as "Judge Douglas"
- Though he is generally remembered today for having debated Lincoln, for most of their own lifetimes Douglas was by far the better known of the two men
Early Career of Stephen Douglas:
- Apprenticed to cabinetmaker in his youth in New England
- Fascination with politics began at age of 15
- Did not attend law school
- Became a lawyer in Illinois at age of 20, March 1834
- First elected to public office in 1836, and served in Illinois legislature along with Abraham Lincoln
- During 1840 election season, Douglas and Lincoln debated in Illinois as Lincoln campaigned for William Henry Harrison and Douglas campaigned for Martin Van Buren
- Named to Illinois Supreme Court in 1841
- Elected to US House of Representatives in 1843
Senator Douglas was a Washington Power Broker:
- Served in US House of Representatives, 1843-1847
- Served in US Senate, 1843 until death in 1861.
- Was member of powerful Committee on the Territories in the US Senate
- Was involved in all major legislation involving new western territories
- Gained a reputation for skillfully getting his way in legislative matters
- Enemies considered him ruthless
Legislative Accomplishments of Stephen Douglas:
- Legislative career intertwined with the issue of slavery
- Helped pass Compromise of 1850
- Was architect of Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, highly controversial piece of legislation dealing with slavery in new territories
- His work on Kansas-Nebraska Act inspired Abraham Lincoln to return to a political career so he would oppose Douglas and his work
Views on Slavery of Stephen Douglas:
- Douglas did not have deep convictions about slavery
- In private, he denounced slavery, but in political life he generally defended the institution
- Douglas's first wife had inherited a Mississippi cotton plantation and numerous slaves
- Denied being a slave owner himself, and managed his wife's plantation through a middleman
- Douglas seemed to believe that slavery would become economically impractical and would thus disappear eventually
The Lincoln-Douglas Debates:
- Abraham Lincoln's opposition to Douglas and the Kansas-Nebraska Act inspired his aggressive return to politics in 1854
- Lincoln ran for the US Senate seat held by Douglas in 1858
- Lincoln and Douglas agreed to a series of seven debates across Illinois from August to October 1858
- In the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Douglas often resorted to crude race-baiting, asserting that blacks were an inferior race
- The debates were covered closely by newspapers, and stories about the debates reached a national audience
Stephen Douglas as a Candidate in the Presidential Election of 1860:
- Douglas had great ambition to run for president
- He was the candidate of a splintered Democratic Party in the 1860 election, which featured four candidates: Douglas, Lincoln, John Breckenridge, and John Bell
- Douglas spoke out against secession during the 1860 campaign
- Lincoln won the election, and Douglas tried to find some compromise to prevent the southern states from seceding
- When war broke out, Douglas threw his support behind Lincoln's efforts to run the shattered country
- Douglas contracted typhoid fever and died June 3, 1861, just as the Civil War was beginning
Stephen Douglas Led a Life of Controversy and Contradictions:
Stephen Douglas was born into a well-educated New England family, though Stephen's life was changed profoundly when his father, a doctor, died suddenly when Stephen was two months old. As a teenager Stephen was apprenticed to a cabinetmaker so he would learn a trade, and he hated the work.
The election of 1828, when Andrew Jackson defeated the reelection bid of John Quincy Adams, fascinated the 15-year-old Douglas. He adopted Jackson as his personal hero.
The education requirements for being a lawyer were considerably less stringent in the west, so Douglas, at the age of 20, set out westward from his home in upstate New York. He eventually settled in Illinois, and trained with a local lawyer and became qualified to practice law in Illinois just before his 21st birthday.
Douglas's rise in Illinois politics was sudden, a great contrast to the man who would always be his rival, Abraham Lincoln.
In Washington, Douglas became known as a tireless worker and crafty political strategist. After being elected to the Senate he took a place on the very powerful Committee on the Territories, and he made sure he was involved in critical decisions involving western territories and new states that may come into the Union.
With the exception of the famed Lincoln-Douglas debates, Douglas is best known for his work on the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Douglas thought the legislation might lessen tensions over slavery. In fact, it had the opposite effect.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act spurred Abraham Lincoln, who had put aside political ambitions, to oppose Douglas.
In 1858 Lincoln ran for the US Senate seat held by Douglas, and they faced off in a series of seven debates. The debates were actually quite nasty at times. At one point, Douglas made up a story designed to inflame the crowd, claiming that the famed abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglas had been seen in Illinois, traveling the state in a carriage in the company of two white women.
While Lincoln may have been considered the victor of the debates in the view of history, Douglas won the 1858 senatorial election. He ran against Lincoln in a four-way race for president in 1860, and of course Lincoln won.
Douglas threw his support behind Lincoln in the earliest days of the Civil War, but died soon after.
While Douglas is most often remembered as a rival of Lincoln, someone who antagonized and inspired him, during most of their lives Douglas was far more famous and was considered more successful and powerful.