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Stephen A. Douglas

He was a Major Force in Pre-Civil War Politics
as Congressman, Senator

Stephen Arnold Douglas is best remembered for his association with Abraham Lincoln in the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, Douglas had been downgraded in the process of extolling Lincoln even though Douglas won the disputed election to the U.S. Senate. The comparison has been unfair to the “Little Giant” who was an outstanding congressman and senator from Illinois. He was also a major political force during the critical and highly emotional days that preceded the Civil War. Stephen A. Douglas was born April 23, 1813 in Brandon, Vermont. His father was a physician who died when Stephen was two months old. He was a sixth generation descendant of William Douglass who came from Scotland in 1660 at age 20. After study in Eastern schools, Stephen A. Douglas moved west, settling in Jacksonville, Illinois. He completed his law training and was admitted to the bar at age 20. By the time he was 27 he was a justice of the Illinois Supreme Court. Before that he had served in the state legislature and had been Illinois attorney general. In 1843 he resigned from the bench to run for congress. From then on until his death, he spent most of his time in Washington. After the Lincoln-Douglas debates, the two men met again in the crucial presidential election of 1860. Lincoln had been nominated by the Republicans and Douglas by the Democrats. Douglas probably would have won and been President instead of Lincoln but Southern Democrats split the party with many refusing to support Douglas. Douglas alienated the South by insisting that the Union must be preserved at all costs when the South was arguing the right to secede. He supported Lincoln in his efforts to avoid war. On a visit to Chicago he contracted typhoid fever and died on June 3, 1861.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish-American History Club
2800 Des Plaines Avenue
North Riverside, IL 60546