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04/29/16

Stephen Douglas of Illinois

This entry is part 16 of 18 in the series The Roots of the Civil War

Stephen DouglasStephen Douglas is best known for the Lincoln-Douglas debates that took place across Illinois during the 1858 Senate campaign. The two candidates debated seven times. Douglas won the election and was returned to the Senate.

Many historians suggest that his views cost him the Presidency in the 1860 election to the very same Abraham Lincoln. However, Douglas did have a distinguished and impactful career in the House of Representatives and the Senate that spanned 18 years. He gained the nickname “Little Giant” both for his diminutive stature and his achievements while in the Congress.

Stephen Douglas was born on April 29, 1813 in Brandon, Vermont to Stephen Arnold Douglass and Sarah Fisk. Douglas dropped the second “s” from his name some years later.

He migrated to Winchester, Illinois in 1833, where he served as an itinerant teacher and opened a school for three months at three dollars a pupil. He also studied law, and settled in Jacksonville, Illinois. By the end of the year, he wrote his Vermont relatives, “I have become a Western man, have imbibed Western feelings principles and interests and have selected Illinois as the favorite place of my adoption.” 

In 1934 Douglas began his political career with an appointment as State’s Attorney of Morgan County. He held the position for two years and then moved on to a succession of political positions, including the Illinois House of Representatives, registrar of the Springfield Land Office, Illinois Secretary of State and associate justice of the Illinois Supreme Court in 1841, at age 27.

He resigned from the Court upon being elected US Representative in 1843, and was re-elected in 1844. In Congress, he championed territorial expansion and supported the Mexican War. In 1846 the Illinois General Assembly elected him a US Senator. The Illinois Democrat had entered the biggest stage in American politics.

In 1850, Douglas supported the omnibus Compromise Bill of Henry Clay. However, it was defeated and Clay who was very ill and handed off the passage of the bill to Douglas. The omnibus bill had been defeated because too many senators were opposed to one part of the bill or another. Douglas realized this and the divided the bill into separate bills. The separate bills were thereby passed.

In 1852, Douglas vied for the Democratic Presidential nomination but was passed over for Franklin Pierce. The following year saw him easily reelected to the Senate.

Douglas was an avid promoter of railroads. He saw them as a means of tying the regions of America together. At the same time he saw them as a way of promoting commerce and trade for his hometown, Chicago. In addition, Douglas had a financial interest Chicago real estate that was expected to benefit if a central route for a transcontinental railroad was built.

In 1854, Douglas became involved in the Kansas-Nebraska controversy. Nebraska Territory, west of Missouri, was then being settled, and Congress needed to provide territorial organization for the region. The Missouri Compromise prohibited slavery there (because it was north of the 36°30′ compromise line), and the Compromise of 1850 had reaffirmed this.

Southern leaders proposed a deal: they would support the central route if slavery was permitted in the new Territories. Douglas agreed. In the first version of the Act, Douglas allowed for the Territories to choose slave or free status at statehood, but the Southerners demanded immediate permission for slavery there (an implicit repeal of that part of the Missouri and 1850 Compromises). Douglas discovered a “clerical error”, and revised the Act to suit their wishes.

Douglas was vilified throughout the North. He joked that he could travel from Washington back to Illinois by the light of burning effigies of him. But in order to respond to his critics he invoked “popular sovereignty“, the doctrine that the people of a community were rightfully entitled to decide such issues for themselves.

The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was assured with the votes of some Northern Democrats and of all Southerners, Democrat and Whig alike. Opponents of the Act saw it as a triumph for the hated Slave Power. The passage of the bill was responsible for the fundamental realignment of the political parties.

The Whig Party dissolved; anti-slavery Northern Whigs formed the Republican Party instead, joined by many “free-soil” Democrats. There was a Senate election in Illinois in 1855: Republicans and dissident Democrats elected “Anti-Nebraska” Democrat Lyman Trumbull, a clear rebuke to Douglas. He was passed over once again in the 1856 Presidential nominating process.

The 1857 Dred Scott decision presented Douglas with a tremendous dilemma. The decision declared that under the Constitution, neither Congress nor a Territorial legislature created by Congress had the power to prohibit slavery in a Territory. This struck down key elements of the Missouri and 1850 Compromises, made the Kansas-Nebraska Act irrelevant, and denied the basis of “popular sovereignty”.

If he rejected Dred Scott, he would lose the Southern support that he needed for the presidential election of 1860. If he embraced Dred Scott, he would lose Northern support. He tried to avoid both hazards, issuing a tepid endorsement of the decision, while continuing to assert popular sovereignty without explicitly saying the Court was wrong.

Campaigning for reelection in 1858, Douglas initially tried to avoid debating his Republican challenger Abraham Lincoln. But Lincoln followed Douglas around the state responding to each Douglas speech a day or two later. Finally, Douglas agreed to a series of seven debates which came to be known as the Lincoln-Douglas Debates.

In the debates, Douglas reiterated his support of popular sovereignty. He demanded to know whether Lincoln would ever vote to admit a new slave state, even if the majority of settlers favored slavery.

He denounced Lincoln for his insistence that slavery was a moral issue that had to be resolved by the nation as a whole. Douglas described this as causing an unnecessary conflict between free and slave states, which threatened to boil up into disunion and war. He also asserted that Lincoln supported civil and social equality between the races, and insinuated that Lincoln even accepted racial intermarriage.

Lincoln forced Douglas to commit himself on the question of Dred Scott versus popular sovereignty. In the second debate, at Freeport, he asked a direct question: “Can the people of a United States Territory, in any lawful way … exclude slavery from its limits prior to the formation of a State Constitution?”

If Douglas answered “No”, he would fully endorse Dred Scott, and would alienate Illinoisans and other Northerners. If he answered “Yes”, he would reject Dred Scott, and would alienate Southerners. Douglas declared that while the Supreme Court had barred explicit prohibition of slavery, that didn’t really matter, because the people of a Territory could exclude slavery in practice by “unfriendly legislation”. This became known as  the Freeport Doctrine.

It was barely enough to satisfy the voters of Illinois and Douglas won with a narrow majority in the Illinois legislature. But the Freeport Doctrine was vehemently rejected by most Southerners. The “Fire-Eaters” denounced Douglas as no better than an abolitionist.

The 1860 Presidential election matched Lincoln and Douglas again. However, the Democrats split along sectional lines and the Southerners nominated John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, the sitting Vice President while some former Whigs nominate John Bell under the banner of the Constitution Party.

The four way race ended with Lincoln winning the Presidency with almost 40% of the popular vote and 180 electoral votes. Douglas came in second with almost 40% of the vote but only 12 electoral votes. Six weeks after Lincoln’s election South Carolina voted to secede from the Union and began the secession of the other Southern states.

Douglas was opposed to secession and at Lincoln’s request he undertook a number of speaking engagements in the Border States and the Midwest to rouse the spirit of Unionism; he spoke in Virginia, Ohio and Illinois.

Douglas died in Chicago from typhoid fever on June 3, 1861. He was buried on the shore of Lake Michigan.

 

 

 

 

 

04/20/16

The Compromise of 1850

This entry is part 10 of 18 in the series The Roots of the Civil War

Henry Clay in the Senate-The Compromise of 1850The period after the Mexican War was a contentious time with between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North regarding the status of territories acquired during the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). The United States had acquired vast territories as a result of its victory over Mexico. The Compromise of 1850 would organize all of these territories and hold off disunion for another decade.

The South saw it as an opportunity to tip the balance in favor of the slave states. The North would never agree to this train of events and it appeared that the country was headed for a breakup and the possibility of civil war.

During the deadlock of four years, the Second Party System broke up, Mormon pioneers settled Utah, the California Gold Rush settled northern California, and New Mexico under a federal military government turned back Texas’s attempt to assert control over territory Texas claimed as far west as the Rio Grande.

In an attempt to sort out the various territorial and policy issues Senator Henry Clay, a Kentucky Whig, proposed a number of compromises to resolve these issues. But rather than place everything in one bill Clay urged Senator Stephen A. Douglas, Democrat of Illinois, to divide Clay’s bill into several smaller bills, and pass each separately. Clay who was very ill and would die two years later felt that he did not have the strength to push the bills through the Senate.

The Compromise of 1850 came to coalesce around a plan dividing Texas at its present-day boundaries, creating territorial governments with “popular sovereignty” (without the Wilmot Proviso) for New Mexico and Utah, admitting California as a free state, abolishing the slave trade in the District of Columbia, and enacting a new fugitive slave law.

Most Northern Whigs, led by William Henry Seward who delivered his famous “Higher Law” speech during the controversy, opposed the Compromise because it would not have applied the Wilmot Proviso to the western territories and because of the new fugitive slave law, which would have pressed ordinary citizens into duty on slave-hunting patrols. Northern Democrats and Southern Whigs supported the Compromise. Southern Whigs, many of whom were from the border states, supported it because of the stronger fugitive slave law.

The initial debates were quite acrimonious with compromise floor leader Henry S. Foote of Mississippi drawing a pistol on Senator Benton. Vice President Millard Fillmore and Senator Benton verbally sparred, with Fillmore charging that the Missourian was “out of order.”

In early June 9 representatives from 9 Southern states met at the Nashville Convention to consider what to do if the compromises were passed. Some talked about secession but the moderates won and they proposed a series of compromises, including extending the geographic dividing line designated by the Missouri Compromise of 1820 to the Pacific Coast.

The initial “omnibus” bill was defeated on July 31st with the majority of Clay’s Whig Party opposed to the measure. Clay left the Senate to recuperate from tuberculosis at Newport, Rhode Island and Douglas took over the shepherding of the bill. He immediately divided the measure into five separate bills.

President Zachary Taylor who had been neutral on the “omnibus” bill died in early July 1850 and Vice President Millard Fillmore succeeded him. Fillmore was in favor of the compromise and gave it his full support. The Northern Democrats held together and supported each of the bills and gained Whigs or Southern Democrats to pass each one.

The six bills were passed and signed by Fillmore between September 9th and September 20th.

  1. California was admitted as a free state. It passed the House 150-56. It passed the Senate 34-18.
  2. The slave trade was abolished (the sale of slaves, not the institution of slavery) in the District of Columbia.
  3. The Territory of Utah was organized under the rule of popular sovereignty. It passed the House 97-85.
  4. The Territory of New Mexico was organized under the rule of popular sovereignty. It passed the House 108-97. It passed the Senate 30-20.
  5. A harsher Fugitive Slave Act was passed by the Senate 27-12, and by the House 109-76.
  6. Texas gave up much of the western land which it claimed and received compensation of $10,000,000 to pay off its national debt.

The Compromise of 1850 Map

Many historians contend that the Compromise of 1850 postponed the Civil War for the next decade. What we do know is that over the decade a number of events took place that strengthened the North and pushed the country to war.

  • The divisive Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 introduced by Stephen Douglas, which repealed the Missouri Compromise.
  • This led to open warfare on the Kansas-Missouri border.
  • The Republican Party was formed in 1854 as a coalition of anti-slavery “Conscience Whigs“, Know Nothings and Free Soil Democrats.
  • During the decade the Northwest grew more wealthy and more populous and became closer in ideology to the Northeast.
  • The Southern stages for the most part stagnated.
  • The Fugitive Slave Law polarized the North and the South .
  • The free economy of the northern states to continue to industrialize adding many more miles of railroad, steel production, modern factories, and population.

 

 

 

07/16/15

The Great Compromiser Henry Clay

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series The Constitution and the Civil War

Young Henry ClayIn order to understand the history of the United States from the Missouri Compromise until the firing on Fort Sumter we must understand two legislators, Henry Clay and Stephen Douglas, who were instrumental in the legislation of that period. Today, we’ll look at the Great Compromiser, Henry Clay of Kentucky.

Clay represented Kentucky in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in the U.S. Congress. He served three different terms as Speaker of the House of Representatives and was also Secretary of State from 1825 to 1829. He lost his campaigns for president in 1824, 1832 and 1844.

Clay was a very dominant figure in both the First and Second Party systems. As a leading war hawk in 1812, he favored war with Britain and played a significant role in leading the nation to war in the War of 1812. In 1824 he ran for president and lost, but maneuvered House voting in favor of John Quincy Adams, who made him secretary of state as the Jacksonians denounced what they considered a “corrupt bargain.” He ran and lost again in 1832 and 1844 as the candidate of the Whig Party, which he founded and dominated.

As part of the “Great Triumvirate” or “Immortal Trio,” along with his colleagues Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun, he was instrumental in formulating the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850. He was viewed as the primary representative of Western interests in this group, and was given the names “Henry of the West” and “The Western Star.”[2] A plantation owner, Clay held slaves during his lifetime but freed them in his will.

In the summer of 1811 Clay was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and was elected as its Speaker on the first day of the first session. This extraordinary event was the only time other than the first Congress that a member was elected on his first day. During the fourteen years following his first election, he was re-elected five times to the House and to the speakership.

Clay would make the Speakership as the second most powerful position in the U.S. government. He immediately appointed members of the War Hawk faction (of which he was the “guiding spirit”) to all the important committees, effectively giving him control of the House. This was a singular achievement for a 34-year-old House freshman. During his early House service, Clay strongly opposed the creation of a National Bank, in part because of his personal ownership in several small banks in his hometown of Lexington. Later he changed his position and, when he was seeking the presidency, gave strong support for the Second Bank of the United States.

Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun helped to pass the Tariff of 1816 as part of the national economic plan Clay called “The American System,” rooted in Alexander Hamilton’s American School. It was designed to allow the fledgling American manufacturing sector, largely centered on the eastern seaboard, to compete with British manufacturing through the creation of tariffs.

After the conclusion of the War of 1812, British factories were overwhelming American ports with inexpensive goods. To persuade voters in the western states to support the tariff, Clay advocated federal government support for internal improvements to infrastructure, principally roads and canals. These internal improvements would be financed by the tariff and by sale of the public lands, prices for which would be kept high to generate revenue. Finally, a national bank would stabilize the currency and serve as the nexus of a truly national financial system.

In the early 1820’s Clay fostered the Missouri Compromise when a dispute erupted over the extension of slavery in Missouri Territory. Clay helped settle this dispute by gaining Congressional approval for a plan called the “Missouri Compromise“. It brought in Maine as a free state and Missouri as a slave state (thus maintaining the balance in the Senate, which had included 11 free and 11 slave states), and it forbade slavery north of 36° 30′ (the northern boundary of Arkansas and the latitude line) except in Missouri.

Clay was named Secretary of State by John Quincy Adams in March 1825. Many of his political opponents saw this appointment as a “corrupt bargain” after Clay was eliminated from the House voting because he came in fourth. Clay supported Adams because he felt would be both more sympathetic to Clay’s political views and more likely to appoint Clay to a cabinet position, which he did.

Clay had been elected by the Kentucky state legislature as their U.S. Senator in 1831. He had been in the Senate twice before for two very short terms in 1806 and again in 1810. He would serve in the Senate this time from 1831 until 1842 and then again from 1849 until 1852. He died ion office in 1852.

After the passage of the Tariff of 1828, dubbed the “tariff of abominations” which raised tariffs considerably in an attempt to protect fledgling factories built under previous tariff legislation, South Carolina declared its right to nullify federal tariff legislation and stopped assessing the tariff on imports. It threatened to secede from the Union if the Federal government tried to enforce the tariff laws. Furious, President Jackson threatened to lead an army to South Carolina and hang any man who refused to obey the law.

In 1833, Clay helped to broker a deal in Congress to lower the tariff gradually. This measure helped to preserve the supremacy of the Federal government over the states, but the crisis was Older Henry Clayindicative of the developing conflict between the northern and southern United States over economics and slavery.

In the early 1830’s Clay was part of the politicians that formed the Whig Party, primarily to oppose Andrew Jackson and the Democrats. hey opposed the “tyranny” of Jackson, as their ancestors had opposed the tyranny of King George III. Clay strongly opposed Jackson’s refusal to renew the charter of the Second Bank of the United States, and advocated passage of a resolution to censure Jackson for his actions. In 1832 Clay ran against Jackson for the Presidency but was crushed by a margin of 55% to 37%.

He ran again in 1840 and lost to James K. Polk, the Democratic candidate. Polk won by 170 to 105 electoral votes, carrying 15 of the 26 states. Polk’s populist stances on territorial expansion figured prominently—particularly his opinion on US control over the entire Oregon Country and his support for the annexation of Texas. Clay opposed annexing Texas on the grounds that it would once again bring the issue of slavery to the forefront of the nation’s political dialog and would draw the ire of Mexico, from which Texas had declared its independence in 1836.

Clay’s warnings about Texas proved to be accurate. The US annexation of Texas led to the Mexican-American War (1846–1848) (in which his namesake son died). The North and South came to increased tensions during Polk’s Presidency over the extension of slavery into Texas and beyond.

After losing the Whig nomination in 1848 to Zachary Taylor Clay retired to his estate. He had been out of the Senate for 7 years when he was reelected one more time. During his term, the controversy over the expansion of slavery in new lands had reemerged with the addition of the lands ceded to the United States by Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo at the conclusion of the Mexican-American War. David Wilmot, a Northern congressman, had proposed preventing the extension of slavery into any of the new territory in a proposal referred to as the “Wilmot Proviso“.

On January 29, 1850, Clay proposed a series of resolutions, which he considered to reconcile Northern and Southern interests, what would widely be called the Compromise of 1850. Clay originally intended the resolutions to be voted on separately, but at the urging of southerners he agreed to the creation of a Committee of Thirteen to consider the measures. The committee was formed on April 17. On May 8, as chair of the committee, Clay presented an omnibus bill linking all of the resolutions. The resolutions included:

  • Admission of California as a free state, ending the balance of free and slave states in the senate.
  • Organization of the Utah and New Mexico territories without any slavery provisions, giving the right to determine whether to allow slavery to the territorial populations.
  • Prohibition of the slave trade, not the ownership of slaves, in the District of Columbia.
  • A more stringent Fugitive Slave Act.
  • Establishment of boundaries for the state of Texas in exchange for federal payment of Texas’s ten million dollar debt.
  • A declaration by Congress that it did not have the authority to interfere with the interstate slave trade.

The Omnibus bill, despite Clay’s efforts, failed in a crucial vote on July 31 with the majority of his Whig Party opposed. He announced on the Senate floor the next day that he intended to persevere and pass each individual part of the bill. Clay was physically exhausted; the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him began to take its toll. Clay left the Senate to recuperate in Newport, Rhode Island. Stephen A. Douglas separated the bills and guided them through the Senate.

Clay was given much of the credit for the Compromise’s success. It quieted the controversy between Northerners and Southerners over the expansion of slavery, and delayed secession and civil war for another decade. Senator Henry S. Foote of Mississippi, who had suggested the creation of the Committee of Thirteen, later said, “Had there been one such man in the Congress of the United States as Henry Clay in 1860–’61 there would, I feel sure, have been no civil war.”

Clay continued to serve both the Union he loved and his home state of Kentucky. On June 29, 1852, he died of tuberculosis in Washington, D.C., at the age of 75. Clay was the first person to lie in state in the United States Capitol.