Childhood & Early Life
Stephen Arnold Douglas was born on April 23, 1813 to Sarah Fisk and Arnold Douglass, in Brandon, Vermont.
When he was a teenager, he made cabinets, but the appeal of law and political studies got him to quit this craft.
In 1833, he shifted to Ohio and then Winchester, Illinois, where he studied for legal studies, while simultaneously working as a teacher.
He passed his bar examinations in 1834 and established his own practice in Jacksonville.
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In 1836, he was elected into the Illinois House of Representatives, which marked the beginning of his political career. In the next few years, he became a leader of the Illinois Democrats.
In 1841, at the age of 27, he was appointed as an associate justice of the Illinois Supreme Court. He resigned from this position after he was elected as a US Representative, two years later.
He was elected as a US Senator in 1846 and the next year, he became a member of the House of Representatives.
In the sectional crisis of 1850, he became one of the strongest supporters of ‘compromise’. However the ‘compromise’ bill was defeated.
By 1852, he was considered one of the Democrats’ national leaders. It was in this year he contended for the ‘Democratic presidential nomination’, but was ‘passed over’ for Franklin Pierce.
He was re-elected to the Senate in 1853, during which time he ardently advocated the railroad expansion. He was responsible to formulate the ‘land grant system’ to fund the Illinois Central track.
He sent up a radical cataclysm with the ‘Kansas-Nebraska Act’ in 1854. During this time, he also supported the prohibition of slavery through the ‘Missouri Compromise’ and also beseeched the highly ostracized belief of ‘popular sovereignty’.
During this period, Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln verbally attacked him in three public speeches pertaining to the issues of anti-slavery. This became one of the many debates that went on to be later known as the ‘Lincoln-Douglas’ debates.
In 1856, Douglas became a candidate for the ‘Presidential nomination’ and a highly popular candidate at the convention. His ‘popular sovereignty’ principle that slavery should be controlled by states individually appealed to a very small mass of society.
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However, with the declaration of the ‘Dred Scott decision’, Douglas’ party was denied ‘popular sovereignty’ and was denied the rights to abolish slavery in certain parts of the country.
He faced a dilemma. If he rejected ‘Dred Scott’, he would lose votes for his presidency and if he accepted it, he would lose whatever support he already had.
In 1858, he decided to run for the US Senate and so did the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln. The two decided to make appearances together and would debate, which came to be collectively known as the ‘Lincoln-Douglas Debates’. In the legislative elections that year, the Democrats won by a narrow margin.
In 1860, Douglas was chosen as a candidate for presidency but due to the split between Southern and Northern Democrats, the tension in the party increased, which led to Abraham Lincoln’s eventual success. Douglas placed second in the popular voting but placed last in electoral votes.
Towards the end of his life, he got back into the Senate and gave his full support to the Lincoln government. At the new president’s bid, he went on an undertaking to the Midwest and the Border states to awaken the spirit of Unionism.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1847, he married Martha Martin, with whom he had two sons; Robert M. Douglas and Stephen Arnold Douglas, Jr. During the birth of the couple’s third child, Martha passed away and so did the baby girl, the latter dying weeks after her birth.
In 1856, he married Adele Cutts, with whom he had a daughter, but who also survived only for a few weeks. She also suffered a miscarriage which weakened her immunity.
He passed away in Chicago after suffering from typhoid fever. He is interred on the shore of Lake Michigan. After his death, a monument and a tomb were erected in his memory, in 1883.
The place of his birth was venerated as a Museum and Visitor Center and number of counties in Nevada, Washington and Kansas (to name a few) were named after him.
His character and life has been the subject of a number of films including, ‘Young Mr. Lincoln’, ‘Abe Lincoln in Illinois’ and the film ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’.