Stephen Arnold Douglas was born in Brandon, Vermont in 1813. He left New England at the age of 20, and moved to Illinois. He was an important factor in creating the Illinois sector of the Democratic Party. He became increasingly popular with southern farmers who had migrated north. He used his enthusiastic working ethic, and his gifted speaking skills to become elected to the House of Representatives in 1843. Because of his small stature, bulky figure, and booming voice, he was nicknamed the “Little Giant.” Douglas was an avid supporter of westward expansion, and advocated the assimilation of Oregon, Texas, California, and the Mexican War (1846-1848). He also supported the building of the transcontinental railway. Douglas was then elected to the Senate in 1846, remained there for the rest of his life, and became deeply involved in the North vs. South debate on slavery. He was afraid the nation would be divided. Douglas felt that the population of a state should decide if it has slavery or not. This is called popular sovereignty. Stephen helped Henry Clay pass the Compromise of 1850.
The Compromise admitted California as a Free State and gave Utah and New Mexico popular sovereignty. Douglas also had other thoughts on his mind. “In 1854, Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois saw an opportunity to run for the presidency, and he wanted the support of southern Democrats. The Democratic Party was particularly in favor of states’ rights and believed states should get to decide for themselves the legality of slavery.” (American History – Part 1-The Nation Torn Apart (1844 – 1865). Douglas created the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which essentially stated that Kansas and Nebraska would vote on whether they become Slave States or not. The Act was passed by Congress, effectively repealing the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The Missouri Compromise stated that the latitude of 36° 30’ N determined whether a state was slave or free. South of the latitude line were Slave States, and north of the line were Free States.
Douglas gained popularity in South, but unintentionally created the Republican Party, whose solitary motive was abolishing slavery. The Republicans were angry that the Kansas-Nebraska had been passed, and broken the laws of the Missouri Compromise. Republicans were rapidly gaining backing from northerners and abolitionists. They soon had a Presidential Candidate for the 1860 election. His name was Abraham Lincoln, Douglas’s old nemesis from Illinois. Southern Democrats formed their own party backing John Breckenridge, abandoning Douglas. He remained in the election and represented the northern Democrats.
The Constitutional Union Party selected John Bell as their nominee. The Election came down to Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin and Douglas with John Herschel. At one point in the election they were at level pegging, but eventually Lincoln won both the Electoral and Popular votes. This was, in its own way, revenge for Lincoln against Douglas. Two years before the Presidential election, Douglas and Lincoln were running for the Senate, and Stephen defeated Lincoln. He remained a senator till his death in 1861. After the election and the beginning of the war, Stephen continued to support the North. Douglas deemed seceding traitorous, and threw unrelenting criticism at the Confederacy. He died weary and tired from his exertions in 1861.
American History – Part 1-The Nation Torn Apart (1844 – 1865)-Causes for Separation, Page 12
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