Stephen A. 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. [Wikimedia Commons]

Stephen Arnold Douglas Facts

April 23, 1813 - June 3, 1861

Key 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.

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Full Name:

  • Stephen Arnold Douglas

Birth Date:

  • April 23, 1813

Birth Location:

  • Brandon, Vermont

Parents:

  • Stephen Arnold and Sarah (Fisk) Douglass

Education:

  • Canandaigua Academy

Occupation:

  • Politician
  • Lawyer

Career Summary:

  • U. S. Congressman
  • U.S. Senator

Spouse(s):

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

Nickname(s):

  • Little Giant

Place of Death:

  • Chicago, Illinois

Date of Death:

  • June 3, 1861

Place of Burial:

  • Stephen A. Douglas Tomb, Chicago, Illinois

Significance:

  • 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” to expand its borders.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Stephen Arnold Douglas Facts
  • Coverage April 23, 1813 - June 3, 1861
  • Author
  • Keywords Stephen Arnold Douglas
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 30, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 29, 2021