Stephen Douglas Facts, Accomplishments, and Timeline

April 23, 1813–June 3, 1861

Important facts about Stephen A. Douglas, a three-term United States Senator who championed popular sovereignty and was influential in the enactment of the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.

Stephen Douglas, Portrait

In the 1860 presidential election, Stephen Douglas finished second to Republican Abraham Lincoln in popular votes. In the Electoral College of balloting, Douglas finished a distant fourth. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Facts About the Birth of Stephen Douglas

  • Full Name: Stephen Arnold Douglas
  • Date of Birth: April 23, 1813
  • Place of Birth: Brandon, Vermont
  • Parents: Stephen Arnold and Sarah (Fisk) Douglass

Facts About the Education and Career of Stephen Douglas

  • Education: Canandaigua Academy
  • Occupation: Politician, Lawyer
  • Career Summary: U. S. Congressman, U.S. Senator
  • Nickname: Little Giant

Facts About the Family Tree of Stephen Douglas


  • Martha Denny (1847)
  • Adele Cutts (1856)

Facts About the Death and Burial of Stephen Douglas

  • Place of Death: Chicago, Illinois
  • Date of Death: June 3, 1861
  • Place of Burial: Stephen A. Douglas Tomb, Chicago, Illinois

Important Facts About Stephen Douglas, His Life, and Accomplishments

This timeline of the life of Stephen Douglas presents his life, career, and accomplishments in chronological order.

  • Stephen Douglas was the only son and second-born of two children of Stephen Arnold Douglas and Sarah Fisk Douglass.
  • Stephen Douglass dropped the last “s” in the family name later in life.
  • Stephen Douglas’s father was a successful physician who died unexpectedly of a heart attack on July 1, 1813, just nine weeks after his son’s birth.
  • At about the age of 14 or15, Stephen Douglas apprenticed himself to a cabinetmaker in Brandon, and later to another in and nearby Middlebury.
  • Stephen Douglas attended Brandon Academy for one year.
  • In 1830, Stephen Douglas enrolled at Canandaigua Academy where he studied for about two years.
  • In 1833, Stephen Douglas studied law with local attorneys for six months.
  • Stephen Douglas left home on June 24, 1833, in search of better opportunities in the West.
  • In 1833 Stephen Douglas founded a subscription school in Winchester, Illinois, where he taught for one term.
  • In March 1834, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Samuel D. Lockwood certified Stephen Douglas’s admittance to the bar.
  • In 1834, Stephen Douglas founded his own law firm in Jacksonville, Illinois.
  • In 1834, Stephen Douglas assumed a leadership role in recruiting members and organizing the Democratic Party in Illinois.
  • In 1834, Stephen Douglas was elected as state’s attorney of the first judicial district in Illinois.
  • In 1836, voters elected Stephen Douglas to the Illinois General Assembly.
  • In 1835, Stephen Douglas’s support of President Martin Van Buren landed him an appointment as registrar of the federal land office in the new state capital at Springfield, Illinois.
  • In 1840, Stephen Douglas received an appointment as secretary of state of Illinois.
  • In 1841, Stephen Douglas was appointed as an associate justice on the expanded Illinois Supreme Court.
  • In 1842, voters of Illinois’s 5th Congressional District elected him to the United States House of Representatives.
  • Stephen Douglas sat in the 28th and 29th Congresses from March 4, 1843 to March 3, 1847.
  • Stephen Douglas was a vocal proponent of America’s Manifest Destiny and westward expansion.
  • Stephen Douglas was a staunch supporter of the annexation of Texas and the Mexican-American War.
  • In 1847, the Illinois legislature selected Stephen Douglas to represent the state in the United States Senate.
  • Stephen Douglas served three terms in the United States Senate from 1847 until his death on June 3, 1861.
  • On April 7, 1847, Stephen Douglas married Martha Denny, the daughter Robert Martin, an influential North Carolina planter and slaveholder.
  • Stephen Douglas’s shrewd political maneuvering paved the way for the enactment of several momentous pieces of legislation, collectively known as the Compromise of 1850.
  • Stephen Douglas was a leading proponent of popular sovereignty as an answer to the sectional dissent regarding the extension of slavery in the United States.
  • Stephen Douglas was unsuccessful in securing the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in 1852.
  • On January 19, 1853, Martha Douglas died, leaving Stephen Douglas as the single father of two small sons.
  • As chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Territories, Stephen Douglas championed the enactment of the Kansas-Nebraska Act on May 30, 1854.
  • Stephen Douglas championed the construction of a transcontinental railroad following a northern route that included Chicago.
  • Stephen Douglas was unsuccessful in securing the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in 1856.
  • On November 20, 1856, Stephen Douglas married his second wife, Adele Cutts Douglas.
  • In 1858, Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln participated in the famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates.

Abraham Lincoln, Portrait, Gardner

Stephen Douglas is forever linked with Abraham Lincoln because of their 1858 debates during the campaign for Senator of Illinois. Image Source: Wikipedia.

  • On August 27, 1858, during the second of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Stephen Douglas publicly expressed his Freeport Doctrine that the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision was inconsequential in a practical sense because territorial residents could discourage the spread of slavery by enacting restrictive or unsupportive local legislation.
  • Stephen Douglas’s Freeport Doctrine antagonized southerners and it created a sectional crack in the Democratic Party, which proved to be monumental in 1860.
  • In 1860, Stephen Douglas secured the Democratic nomination for President of the United States.
  • In the 1860 presidential election, Stephen Douglas finished second to Republican Abraham Lincoln in popular votes (1,865,908 to 1,380,202). In the Electoral College balloting, Douglas finished a distant fourth with 12 electoral votes, compared to 180 for Lincoln, 72 for Breckinridge, and 39 for Constitutional Union Party candidate John Bell.
  • Stephen Douglas firmly supported the Union when the Civil War erupted.
  • In 1861, Stephen Douglas made a trip through the Midwest to rally support for the war.
  • In May 1861 Stephen Douglas fell ill, suffering from typhoid fever, pneumonia, or possibly cirrhosis of the liver.
  • After lingering near death for several weeks, Stephen Douglas died at Chicago’s Tremont House at 9:10 P.M. on Monday, June 3, 1861, at the age of 48.
  • Stephen Douglas was buried on a tract of land he owned near the shores of Lake Michigan about four and one-half miles from Chicago’s city hall.
  • A towering monument sitting over Stephen Douglas’s tomb was dedicated in his honor in 1881.

Citation Information

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  • Article Title Stephen Douglas Facts, Accomplishments, and Timeline
  • Date April 23, 1813–June 3, 1861
  • Author
  • Keywords Stephen Arnold Douglas
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 22, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 11, 2023