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.
- Stephen Arnold Douglas
- April 23, 1813
- Brandon, Vermont
- Stephen Arnold and Sarah (Fisk) Douglass
- Canandaigua Academy
- U. S. Congressman
- U.S. Senator
- Martha Denny (1847)
- Adele Cutts (1856)
- Little Giant
Place of Death:
- Chicago, Illinois
Date of Death:
- June 3, 1861
Place of Burial:
- Stephen A. Douglas Tomb, Chicago, Illinois
- 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.