Stephen Douglas Biography

Stephen Douglas was an American politician - a U. S. Senator and a Democrat leader. This biography profiles his childhood, political career, achievements, works, life and timeline.

Quick Facts

Nick Name: Little Giant

Birthday: April 23, 1813

Nationality: American

Famous: Political Leaders American Men

Died At Age: 48

Sun Sign: Taurus

Also Known As: Stephen A. Douglas

Born in: Brandon

Famous as: The Designer of the Kansas–Nebraska Act

political ideology: Democratic Party


Spouse/Ex-: Martha Denny Martin, Rose Adele Cutts

father: Stephen Arnold Douglass

mother: Sarah Fisk

siblings: Sarah

children: Ellen, Jr., rnold Douglas, Robert Martin Douglas, Stephen A

Died on: June 3, 1861

place of death: Chicago

Ideology: Democrats

More Facts

education: Brandon Academy,, Canandaigua Academy

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Stephen Douglas was a US Senator known for the ‘Freeport Doctrine’. He was popularly known as ‘Little Giant’, because he was short in physique but was an eminent, political figure in the 19th century. He was actively involved in the ‘Young America Movement’ that wanted to supplant the dogmas and the tenets of the past with a young and a more effective political system. He also ran for President opposite, Abraham Lincoln, who was a Republican candidate, but failed to make it. As a party leader, he was known to have been extremely quick-witted and skillful, with great control over his oratory skills. He was dexterous in terms of political issues and worked towards popularizing the principle of ‘popular sovereignty’. His long and fruitful career also involved him working for the US Senate, where he was responsible for settling slavery-related issues and also endorsed the ‘Dred Scott’ decision. Apart from his political career, the ‘Lincoln-Douglas Debates’ that he held time-and-again with his long-time rival, Abraham Lincoln, became some of the most famous in history and came to be known as the ‘debates that defined America’.

Childhood & Early Life
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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’.
  • This famous American politician courted Mary Todd, who later became the wife of his arch rival and presidential opponent, Abraham Lincoln.

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- Stephen Douglas Biography
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Last Updated
- November 13, 2017
Stephen Douglas

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