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BOOK REVIEWS Stephen A. Douglas. By Robert W. Johannsen. ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1973. Pp. xii, 993. $19.95. ) For a half century after his untimely death at the age of 48, Stephen Arnold Douglas ( 1813-1861 ) was so overshadowed by the fame of his great, martyred opponent, Abraham Lincoln, that he was too often passed off as a mere demagogue and opportunist. Even the judicious 1908 biography by Allen Johnson, which highlighted an awakening interest in Douglas, could not entirely rid itself of the dominating influence of a "Lincoln tradition," though it was accompanied by a tendency to alter previous evaluations of Douglas' political career. In 1934 George Fort Milton published The Eve of Conflict: Stephen A. Douglas and the Needless War, wherein he attempted to restore the "Little Giant" to his rightful rank among such American statesmen as Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. Milton's thesis was that Douglas, a clearthinking and courageous realist, followed from the 1850 Compromise onward the only course which could preserve the Union and prevent an unnecessary war and that Douglas waged his political battles not simply for his own advancement but in behalf of this great idea—only to be defeated in the end by emotional fanatics in both sections, aided by the villainous President James Buchanan and other sinister, corrupt, and unscrupulous politicians. In 1959 Gerald M. Capers' Stephen A. Douglas: Defender of the Union, though more critical of Douglas than Milton, was distinctly favorable and stressed the Illinois senator's incessant endeavors to maintain the Union, even at the expense of his presidential ambitions. In Damon Wells' Stephen Douglas: The Last Years, 1857-1861 ( 1971 ) an avowedly admiring scholar found Douglas falling victim to his own virtues, being nationalistic in an age of sectional conflict, and preaching compromise in the fact of predominantly hardline attitudes on both sides. Now, with the much-anticipated arrival of Robert W. Johannsen's massive, superb biography, Douglas' rebirth as a towering figure of his age is afforded complete substance. Douglas was born during the War of 1812, "the first vivid expression of American- nationalism," and died during the Civil War, when that nationalism confronted, and ultimately vanquished, its most serious threat. His New England ancestry, his solitary removal to the Illinois frontier country when he was but twenty, and his marriage into a wealthy, upper-class southern slaveholding family in North Carolina afforded him unique ties to the three major sections of the Union. Doug277 278CIVIL WAR HISTORY las' espousal of nationalism emerged as his most persistent belief, whether he dealt with frontier expansion, railroad construction, foreign relations, or the slavery issue. When he campaigned for the presidency in 1860 and implored American voters to support the "Douglas" wing of the Democratic party, which he regarded as the only national political organization then still extant, it was not his own aspirations for the White House that motivated him to such an appeal so much as his conviction that only his election could prevent the secession of the slave states from the Union. It takes Johannsen over 700 pages to get to the dramatic 1860 campaign , but the lengthy historical journey, from Douglas' birth in Brandon , Vermont, to the Charleston and Baltimore conventions, is exceptionally rewarding, despite its inordinate length. As a schoolboy, Douglas fell in love with politics and history, and like many of his youthful contemporaries he became a strong adherent of Andrew Jackson . He studied law in Canandaigua, New York, tried living in Cleveland , Ohio, for several months, but at the age of twenty he chose to make Illinois his adopted state. A few months later, Douglas publicly opposed a prominent Jacksonville, Illinois, lawyer on the question of Jackson's veto of the Second United States Bank bill, launching a lifelong reputation as a skilled political debater. Though physically unprepossessing ( he had very short legs and a disproportionately large head ), Douglas' scrappy determination, instinct for leadership, and strongly held ideas made him a commanding voice in county and then statewide Democratic councils. He was instrumental in establishing effective local party machinery, always stressing the importance of "party discipline." Then came a string of elective and appointive public offices that widened his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 277-279
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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