Who was Stephen Douglas?

Interestingly, a lot of the slavery debate of the 1850’s and 1860’s was borne out right here in Illinois, primarily because of one person: Stephen Douglas. Douglas was a Democratic senator from 1846 until his death in 1861.

As a northern Democrat he had a rather strict interpretation of the Constitution. While Douglas defended the rights of southern slave owners as constitutional, he also vehimitly fought against the secession of the sourthern states. Secession in his view was unconstitutional, if not outright treasonous.

Balancing these two ideas, led Stephen Douglas to be the consumate compromiser. Throughout the 1850’s he brokered many famous/infamous deals in the Senate. While appeasing the southerners so they would not leave the Union, Douglas partially prevented the expansion of slavery West of the Mississippi, which worked for the northern abolitionists.

  • To what degree was Stephen Douglas successful?
  • Was Douglas a brilliant statesman, or is he a blemish on American History?
  • In 1858 Douglas famously debated Abraham Lincoln. What were the arguments on either side, and who ultimatly won?
  • We still argue about the interpretation of the Constitution today. Does  a strict interpretation of the Constitution, like Douglas’ make sense, why or why not?

Find the answers these questions in the library, using books and our databases (use “Douglas, Stephen Arnold, 1813-1861” as a search term). If you need help, don’t forget to ask a librarian

This post is part of a series related to the One Book, One College selection Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz. Please attend our first event: an open book discussion, September 5 at noon, in the library.

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