Stephen Arnold Douglas, 1813-1861

Stephen Arnold Douglas, from the Library of Congress

Stephen Arnold Douglas was an Illinois politician who served in the United States House of Representatives and United States Senate. A rival of Abraham Lincoln, Douglas defeated Lincoln in the Senate race of 1858 following a series of debates across Illinois. As the Democratic Party nominee in the 1860 presidential election, however, Douglas lost soundly to Lincoln.

Born in Brandon, Vermont, Douglas migrated to Winchester, Illinois in 1833, working as an itinerant teacher and opening a school. He was admitted to the bar after settling in Jacksonville, Illinois. Nicknamed the “Little Giant” due to his short height of five feet, four inches, Douglas became a resourceful politician. After brokering the Compromise of 1850, drafted by Whig Senator Henry Clay to settle the question of slavery in new territories, Douglas renewed the issue by designing the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which opened some territories to slavery under the principle of popular sovereignty, a citizen majority. Opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act led to formation of the Republican Party.

Friendship with John A. Logan

Douglas was friends with John A. Logan, who gained recognition throughout the state by campaigning for Douglas during his debates with Lincoln. Douglas supported war to preserve the Union while Logan took a neutral stance at the beginning of Lincoln’s presidency, leading to a falling out between them. But after Douglas died in 1861, Logan showed his admiration by repeating phrases used by Douglas, saying:

"The time must come when a man must be for or against his country, not for or against his state. How long could one state stand up against another, or two or three states against others? The Union, once dissolved, we should have innumerable confederacies and rebellions. I, for one, shall stand or fall for this Union, and shall this day enroll for the war. I want as many of you as will to come with me. If you say “No”, and see your best interests and the welfare of your homes and children in another direction, may God protect you."


Letter from Stephen A. Douglas to John A. Logan, November 23, 1857

Chicago Nov 23rd 1857

My Dear Sir,

I regret that I will not be able to carry out my cherished object of paying you a visit this fall. I intended to have made a thorough tour through Egypt and to have visited you at your home. But at the very time I had set apart to make the trip I was attacked with the pleurisy and have scarcely left the house for the last three weeks. I am now quite well however, and


expect to start for Washington in the course of this week. I regret exceedingly that I could not have seen you and have arranged the plan of campaign for next summer. As I shall necessarily be absent until midsummer, I must rely upon you and other friends to lead off in early spring and put the army in motion. The prospect now is that the Kansas Battle is to be fought over again. Come what may the principle of the Nebraska act, guaranteeing the right of the people of each


State, old & new, to form & regulate their own domestic affairs, must be carried out in good faith. I stood on that principle and will go wherever its logical consequences may carry me, and defend the position against whomever may assail it. Upon this point the Democracy of Illinois and the North West will be a unit. I hope you will write me frequently and freely, for I want your aid & advice in


the great work we have to perform. Direct your letters to me at Washington D C, as I will leave too soon to receive an answer at this place.

I am, Dr Sir, very truly your friend

S. A. Douglas

Hon John A Logan

P.S. Present my kind & respectful regards to your good Lady.


Special thanks to Aaron M. Lisec, Research Specialist, Special Collections Research Center, for supplying the Douglas correspondence and transcription.