Stephen A. Douglas and the Dilemmas of Democratic Equality

Huston, James L. Stephen A. Douglas and the Dilemmas of Democratic Equality. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007.
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Publication Type
James L. Huston, Stephen A. Douglas and the Dilemmas of Democratic Equality (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007), 142.
Body Summary:
At the end of July, Lincoln and Douglas agreed to a series of seven debates. Lincoln and the Republicans originally wanted the two to debate throughout the state; Douglas suggested only seven times, and the Republicans accepted. The seven debates were to be held at Ottawa (August 21), Freeport (August 27), Jonesboro (September 15), Charleston (September 18), Galesburg (October 7), Quincy (October 13), and Alton (October 15. They were only part of a massive speaking tour undertaken by both candidates. Lincoln traveled four thousand miles and gave sixty-three major addresses; Douglas journeyed nearly five thousand miles and gave fifty-nine speeches. The joint debates, however, attracted national attention and earned Lincoln a national reputation.

First-time readers of the debates are often surprised at the extent of repetition in them – indeed, at the amount of repetition in all political activity. Candidates repeated themselves for a particular reason: they could not assume that the different audiences they addressed knew the issues, the logic of the politician’s stand, or the defects in their opponents’. Not everyone read the papers or conversed constantly about politics. The only safe route was endless repetition. Except for a few interesting deviations, the seven debates illustrated this facet of American electioneering.
James L. Huston, Stephen A. Douglas and the Dilemmas of Democratic Equality (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007), 169-170.
Body Summary:
Douglas may have partially acknowledged his desperate situation, but it was not in his personality to brood, ponder, and moan. Douglas was a fighter…He took to the national stage the way he took to the Illinois stage: a herculean speech-making effort that would bring the population to his side by dint of his oratorical powers.

Douglas and his organization never exactly laid out their plan to capture the election, but certain parts of it can be deduced. He expected to reinvigorate the northern party and again win the northern states that had once hoisted the Jacksonian banner – Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and the Great Lake states. He knew Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey were more problematic, but not lost. He expected to take much of the South – Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, and Georgia. Perhaps his hopes were so high because of the illustrious people enlisting in his cause, like Alexander H. Stephens, and because his correspondence from these states was so promising. Early in the campaign, he misjudged the appeal of the Breckinridge Democratic Party, believing that the party could only win South Carolina and Mississippi. The rest of the South, he felt, belonged to the Constitutional Union Party. Behind these estimates was a reasoning based on the election of 1856. Then Buchanan had won because the Republicans had not captured the Fillmore vote (Know-Nothings), and many conservatives had voted for the Democrats. He would hammer a campaign message that he stood for conservatism and abhorred sectionalism, thereby swaying the Fillmore voters to his standard.
James L. Huston, Stephen A. Douglas and the Dilemmas of Democratic Equality (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007), 143-144.
Body Summary:
In the [Lincoln-Douglas] debates, [Stephen Douglas] provided a vital perspective on how he joined popular sovereignty to the imperative of landed expansion. Douglas had lost none of his exuberance for adding territory to the United States; he was still an advocate of Manifest Destiny. He believed the mechanism for successfully adding new lands to the republic to be the granting of local autonomy in domestic relations and economic affairs to the small political units – that is, popular sovereignty. His understanding of the difference between the federal principle of the American “empire” as opposed to older empires, such as the Roman Empire, was the granting of local control to the administrative districts (states) and avoiding the imposition of rules from the imperial center.

In Douglas’s view, it was popular sovereignty that enabled Manifest Destiny to operate successfully. Moreover, territorial expansion was necessary to keep the American experiment in self-government alive – his solution to a Gordian knot of democratic equality – because population pressure, now abetted by European immigration, consumed available land and ruined prospects for proprietorship….And Douglas had an awesome vision for future expansion: when the time came, the United States would have to absorb Cuba, Mexico, and Canada, and even then American expansion would not cease. His objection to the slavery controversy was that it interfered with the acquisition of new lands. If Americans kept to the principle of popular sovereignty, that interference would disappear.
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