Stephen Arnold Douglas was an American politician born on April 23, 1813 in Brandon, Vermont to Sarah Fisk and Stephen Arnold Douglass. By the age of 20, Douglas moved to Jacksonville, IL and quickly rose to a position of political prominence. Douglas served as a Supreme Court Justice for the state of Illinois from 1841 to 1843 before being elected into the House of Representatives. On March 4, 1843, Douglas was elected to the House of Representatives. By 1844, Douglas had become a very prominent figure in Congress and received the nickname “Little Giant” because, although short in stature, Douglas definitely proved himself as a political “giant”. In December of 1847, Douglas was elected as a member of the senate. He served as a senator until June 3, 1861- the day he died. As a political figure, Douglas had several feats including defeating Lincoln in several eloquent debates in 1858 and being elected as the democratic nominee for presidential election in 1860.

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Early Life:
Stephen Douglas was born into what many would consider a tough life. Douglas’ father died in July 1813- just 4 months after Douglas was born. As a result, Douglas was left under the care of a bachelor until he was 14 years old. When Douglas was 14 years old, his uncle married and Douglas was put into their care. Douglas apprenticed under a cabinetmaker in Middlebury, VT, but soon abandoned his “trade”. After this, Douglas decided to study law in Canandaigua, NY. After he finished studying law, Douglas moved to Jacksonville, Illinois where he would soon become a prominent political figure.

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Career: Douglas arrived in Jacksonville in 1833. Over the next two years, Douglas practiced Law. In 1835, Douglas’ life truly began to change. Douglas decided to get involved with politics. Douglas quickly identified himself with the Jackson democrats and his rise is now regarded as remarkably rapid even for the Midwest of the 1830’s. In December of 1836, Douglas took on his first political role- he became part of the state legislature. In 1837, Douglas was appointed registrar of the land office of Springfied, Illinois by President Martin Van Buren. Over the next three years, Douglas did all that he could to fulfill his role and for a few months, Douglas even became secretary of the state of Illinois. In 1841, Douglas was appointed a judge of the supreme court of Illinois. He remained a judge on the state supreme court until his election into the House of Representatives on March 4, 1843. Although Douglas was one of the youngest members of Congress, he was definitely one of the most “well-spoken.” Douglas quickly sprang into prominence by his clever defense of Jackson during the consideration by the House of a bill remitting the fine imposed on Jackson for contempt of court in New Orleans. Douglas quickly became known as one of the most energetic speakers in the Democrat party and a firm believer in “manifest destiny” and expansionism. In December of 1847, Douglas was elected into the Senate. He served there until his death in 1861. It was here that Douglas truly made his mark on history. In 1858, Douglas had seven very eloquent debates with the republican candidate for senate, Abraham Lincoln. The main topic of these debates was slavery and evidently they foreshadowed the same challenges that Lincoln would face in his upcoming election in 1860. Through these debates, Douglas proved that he earned his prominence by defeating Lincoln and regaining his Senate seat once again. Two years later, Douglas and Lincoln met again in the presidential race. Sadly for Douglas the final result of the race was not in his favor. He lost in a landslide: 12-180 (electoral votes). Although Douglas did not win, he had a lasting effect on politics and truly played a critical role in the development of our government.

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Douglas’ Effect on the Kansas Nebraska Act:
Douglas played a critical role in a few major events in American history including the very sectionalist Kansas-Nebraska Act. At the time, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was still being considered in Congress. Many people opposed this law because it would create a new state that could potentially become either a slave state or a free state. People were scared that this law could potentially affect congress because it would give more power to the slave states. People also disliked this law because it totally disregarded the Missouri Compromise and led to its repealing. People were also scared of this law because it could lead to conflict between those who supported slavery and those who didn’t. Bloody Kansas was a major result of this law being passed. Ultimately, Stephen Douglas was right in the middle of this whole event- he was the major proponent of the idea of popular sovereignty which would allow the new states to decide whether or not to become slave or free themselves based on what the people wanted. Due to Douglas’ great oration skills, the Kansas Nebraska Act was soon passed- thus leading to a new development in American History and setting the basis for the bloody civil war that was to come.

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How Stephen Douglas relates to Sectionalism and Nationalism:
Although it is hard to pinpoint a person as either a sectional or nationalistic figure, Stephen A. Douglas’ ideas have definitely come to be viewed as Sectionalist. Douglas is best known for his central role in the sectional conflict that led to war: his struggles to fashion a middle ground between North and South succeeded only in driving the two sides further apart. Obviously, the Kansas Nebraska Act, which Douglas designed, was a very sectional even that led to much controversy throughout the country. Although Douglas was neither pro nor anti-slavery, he definitely became involved in the controversy by creating the Kansas Nebraska Act. The Kansas Nebraska Act ultimately led to Bloody Kansas- an event in which several lives were lost due to harsh disagreements over slavery.
Although Douglas is definitely regarded as a very sectionalist figure one must not forgot that he also represented many nationalistic ideas including manifest destiny. Douglas definitely liked the idea of expansion and, as a result, became a very aggressive politician, supporting any ideas that allowed for the United States to expand and gain more territory. Douglas supported the Mexican War and the annexation of Texas. Douglas also wanted to see the territories of: Minnesota, Oregon, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, Kansas, and Nebraska all admitted into the United States all admitted into the United States.
Through these facts and ideas, Stephen Douglas, although a sectionalist figure, represented both sectionalism and Nationalism.

Stephen A. Douglas
Stephen A. Douglas