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Stephen Douglas, Manifest Destiny and Popular Sovereignty (Huston, 2007)

Scholarship

James L. Huston, Stephen A. Douglas and the Dilemmas of Democratic Equality (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007), 143-144.

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.

How to Cite This Page: "Stephen Douglas, Manifest Destiny and Popular Sovereignty (Huston, 2007)," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/19950.