m. 7 Apr 1847
Facts and Events
Stephen Arnold Douglas (April 23, 1813 – June 3, 1861) was an American politician from Illinois and the designer of the Kansas–Nebraska Act. He was a U.S. Representative, a U.S. Senator, and the Democratic Party nominee for President in the 1860 election, losing to Republican Abraham Lincoln. Douglas had previously defeated Lincoln in a Senate contest, noted for the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. He was nicknamed the "Little Giant" because he was short in physical stature, but a forceful and dominant figure in politics.
Douglas was well known as a resourceful party leader, and an adroit, ready, skillful tactician in debate and passage of legislation. He was a champion of the Young America movement which sought to modernize politics and replace the agrarian and strict constructionist orthodoxies of the past. Douglas was a leading proponent of democracy, and believed in the principle of popular sovereignty: that the majority of citizens should decide contentious issues such as slavery and territorial expansion. As chairman of the Committee on Territories, Douglas dominated the Senate in the 1850s. He was largely responsible for the Compromise of 1850 that apparently settled slavery issues; however, in 1854 he reopened the slavery question with the Kansas–Nebraska Act, which opened some previously prohibited territories to slavery under popular sovereignty. Opposition to this led to the formation of the Republican Party.
Douglas initially endorsed the Dred Scott decision of 1857. But during the 1858 Senate campaign, he argued its effect could be negated by popular sovereignty. He also opposed the efforts of President James Buchanan and his Southern allies to enact a Federal slave code and impose the Lecompton Constitution on Kansas.
In 1860, the conflict over slavery led to the split in the Democratic Party in the 1860 Convention. Hardline pro-slavery Southerners rejected Douglas, and nominated their own candidate, Vice President John C. Breckinridge, while the Northern Democrats nominated Douglas. Douglas deeply believed in democracy, arguing the will of the people should always be decisive. When civil war came in April 1861, he rallied his supporters to the Union with all his energies, but he died a few weeks later.