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STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS (1813-1861)
THE LITTLE GIANT
HORT in stature but great in mental power was the man whom his
admirers fitly named “The Little Giant,” the diversity of his
physical and his mental stature being signified in this familiar title. A man of great fluency of language and quickness of thought, Stephen A. Douglas became one of the most famous orators of the West. He may justly be classed with his country's leading men. In oratorical skill few surpassed him, and he was a prominent actor in the prologue to that great tragic drama of American history, the Civil War, though in the latter he took no part, dying in June, 1861, shortly after the armies met in actual conflict. In his famous contest with Lincoln he was on the losing side. Brilliant and specious, he lacked the deep insight of his antagonist, and weakly permitted himself to be drawn on to attempt to answer a series of subtle questions propounded by his shrewd opponent. His answer had its share in winning him the Senatorship. It proved fatal to him in his higher aspiration, that of being made President of the United States.
As an orator Douglas first gained high distinction in the canvass for President in 1840. Elected a Judge of the Supreme Court of Illinois in 1841, he became a member of the House of Representatives in 1843 and of the Senate in 1847. His candidacy for a third term in the Senate led to the debate spoken of in the sketch of Lincoln's
In the Senate he supported Clay's Compromise Bill of 1850, and was the author of the doctrine which became known as “Popular Sovereignty,” this being that the people of each Territory should decide whether it should be admitted as a free or slave State. In 1854 he reported the bill by which the Missouri Compromise was repealed. But when war actually began Douglas ranged himself on the side of
STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS
the government, making a patriotic speech at Springfield, Illinois, on April 25, 1861. He died while the first sounds of the conflict were in the air.
SLAVERY IN THE TERRITORIES [It was at Freeport, Illinois, on the 17th of June, 1858, that Douglas made the effort, fatal to his hopes of the Presidency, to answer a series of questions which his farseeing antagonist had propounded. One of these questions was whether there were lawful means by which slavery could be excluded from a Territory before its admission as a State. Lincoln's friends foresaw what Douglas would reply, and said that his answer would satisfy the legislature and insure his re-election. “I am after larger game,” said Lincoln. “If Douglas so answers he can never be President, and the battle of 1860 is worth a hundred of this.” Lincoln was right. Douglas's answer enunciated a doctrine which might keep slavery out of a Territory, in spite of the Dred Scott decision. As a result, he lost the support of the Southern Democracy, the party nominated two candidates, and Lincoln was carried triumphantly into the Presidential chair, Douglas receiving only twelve electoral votes. We give the reply so far as it relates to Lincoln's more important questions.]
I am glad that I have at last brought Mr. Lincoln to the conclusion that he had better define his position on certain political questions to which I called his attention at Ottawa. He there showed no disposition, no inclination, to answer them. I did not present idle questions for him to answer merely for my gratification. I laid the foundation for those interrogatories by showing that they constituted the platform of the party whose nominee he is for the Senate. I did not presume that I had the right to catechise him as I saw proper, unless I showed that his party, or a majority of it, stood upon the platform and were in favor of the propositions upon which my questions were based. I desired simply to know, in as much as he had been nominated as the first, last, and only choice of his party, whether he concurred in the platform which that party had adopted for its government. In a few moments I will proceed to review the answers which he has given to these interrogatories; but in order to relieve his anxiety, I will first respond to these which he has presented to me. Mark you, he has not presented interrogatories which have ever received the sanction of the party with which I am acting, and hence he has no other foundation for them than his own curiosity.
[We omit the first question which related to the terms of the admission of Kansas as a State.]
The next question propounded to me by Mr. Lincoln is : Can the people of a territory in any lawful way, against the wishes of any citizen of the United States, exclude slavery from their limits prior to the formation of a State constitution ? I answer emphatically, as Mr. Lincoln has heard me answer a hundred times from every stump in Illinois, that in
STEPHEN Á. DOUGLAS
my opinion the people of a territory can, by lawful means, exclude slavery from their limits prior to the formation of a State constitution. Mr. Lincoln knew that I had answered that question over and over again. He heard me argue the Nebraska Bill on that principle all over the State in 1854, in 1855, and in 1856, and he has no excuse for pretending to be in doubt as to my position on that question. It matters not what the Supreme Court may hereafter decide as to the abstract question whether slavery may or may not go into a Territory under the Constitution ; the people have the lawful means to introduce it or exclude it as they please, for the reason that slavery cannot exist a day or an hour anywhere, unless it is supported by local police regulations. Those police regulations can only be established by the local legislature ; and if the people are opposed to slavery, they will elect representatives to that body who will by unfriendly legislation effectually prevent the introduction of it into their midst. If, on the contrary, they are for it, their legislation will favor its extension. Hence, no matter what the decision of the Supreme Court may be on that abstract question, still the right of the people to make a slave Territory or a free Territory is perfect and complete under the Nebraska Bill, I hope Mr. Lincoln deems my answer satisfactory on that point.
[The third question was: “If the Supreme Court of the United States shall decide that a State of this Union cannot exclude slavery from its own limits, will I submit to it? The answer to this we shall omit.]
The fourth question of Mr. Lincoln is : "Are you in favor of acquiring additional territory, in disregard as to how such acquisition may affect the Union on the slavery question ?” This question is very ingeniously and cunningly put.
The black Republican creed lays it down expressly, that under no circumstances shall we acquire any more territory, under any conditions, unless slavery is first prohibited in the country. I ask Mr. Lincoln whether he is in favor of that proposition. Are you (addressing Mr. Lincoln) opposed to the acquisition of any more territory, under any circumstances, unless slavery is prohibited in it? That he does not like to answer. When I ask him whether he stands up to that article in the platform of his party he turns, Yankee fashion, and, without answering it, asks me whether I am in favor of acquiring territory without regard to how it may affect the Union on the slavery question. I answer that whenever it becomes necessary, in our growth and progress, to acquire more territory, that I am in favor of it, without reference to the question of slavery; and when we have acquired it, I will leave the people free to do as they please, either to make it slave or free Territory, as they prefer.
STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS
It is idle to tell me or you that we have territory enough. Our fathers supposed that we had enough when our territory extended to the Mississippi River, but a few years' growth and expansion satisfied them that we needed more, and the Louisiana Territory, from the west branch of the Mississippi to the British possessions, was acquired. Then we acquired Oregon, then California and New Mexico. We have enough now for the present, but this is a young and growing nation. It swarms as often as a hive of bees; and as new swarms are turned out each year, there must be hives in which they can gather and make their honey. In less than fifteen years, if the same progress that has distinguished this country for the last fifteen years continue, every foot of vacant land between this and the Pacific Ocean owned by the United States will be occupied.
Will you not continue to increase at the end of fifteen years as well. as now? I tell you, increase and multiply and expand is the law of this nation's existence. You cannot limit this great Republic by mere boundary lines, saying: “Thus far shalt thou go, and no further." Any one of you gentlemen might as well say to a son twelve years old that he is big enough, and must not grow any larger, and in order to prevent his growth put a hoop around him to keep him to his present size. What would be the result? Either the hoop must burst and be rent asunder, or the child must die. So it would be with this great nation. With our natural increase, growing with a rapidity unknown in any other part of the globe, with the tide of emigration that is fleeing from despotism in the Old World to seek refuge in our own, there is a constant torrent pouring into this country that requires more land, more territory upon which to settle; and just as fast as our interests and our destiny require additional territory in the North, in the South, or on the islands of the ocean, I am for it, and when we acquire it, will leave the people, according to the Nebraska Bill, free to do as they please on the subject of slavery and every other question.
I trust now that Mr. Lincoln will deem himself answered on his four points. He racked his brain so much in devising these four questions that he exhausted himself, and had not strength enough to invent the others. As soon as he is able to hold a council with his advisers, Lovejoy, Farnsworth, and Fred Douglass, he will frame and propound others.
THADDEUS STEVENS (1793-1868)
THE FRIEND OF FREEDOM AND EDUCATION
HADDEUS STEVENS, a native of Vermont, but identified with
Pennsylvania, made himself notable in two ways. It was his
powerful advocacy of popular education in 1835 that gave Pennsylvania her common school system. And his unrelenting hostility to slavery placed him in rank with such men as Garrison, Phillips, Parker, and their fellow friends of human freedom. Nearly half his life was spent in the service of his State and country, while the slave system found in him one of its bitterest adversaries. After the end of the war he became the most prominent member of the House and a strenuous opponent of President Johnson's policy. He and Sherman were the authors of the Reconstruction Bill that was adopted by Congress, and it was he who first advocated the impeach' ment of the President. He was one of the managers of the impeachment trial, and died soon after its end.
FANATICISM AND LIBERTY [Stevens did not mince language in dealing with the slavery question and its advocates. His feeling on the subject was intense, and he denounced it with burning cloquence. Those Northern statesmen who supported the Compromise of 1850, includirg Webster, were handled by him in the most vigorous language, as is evidenced in the following selection, taken from one of his speeches on this subject.]
Dante, by actual observation, makes hell consist of nine circles, the punishment of each increasing in intensity over the preceding. Those doomed to the first circle are much less afflicted than those of the ninth, where are tortured Lucifer and Judas Iscariot—and I trust, in the next edition, will be added, the traitors of liberty. But notwithstanding this difference in degree, all, from the very first circle to the ninth, inclusive, is hell-cruel, desolate, abhorred, horrible hell! If I might venture to make a suggestion, I would advise those reverend perverters of Scripture