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Stephen Arnold Douglas

Presidential Campaign and After

The Democratic national convention at Charleston, S.C., in 1860 adopted Douglas's recommendations in a platform advocating nonintervention with slavery in the territories; the demands of William L. Yancey that the federal government protect the institution were thus rejected, and Yancey and other Southern delegates withdrew. Although Douglas led on all 57 ballots taken there for the presidential nomination he was unable to muster the necessary two-thirds of the vote, and the convention adjourned. Reconvening at Baltimore, the Democrats finally chose him only after more Southern delegates withdrew to nominate their own candidate, John C. Breckinridge. Douglas won only 12 electoral votes, although he stood second to the victorious Lincoln in the popular count.

In the following months Douglas worked hard to effect a compromise between the sections; when that failed and the Civil War broke out, he vigorously supported Lincoln. One of the greatest orators of his day, he made a speaking tour to rally the people of the Northwest in the crisis, but after an eloquent speech at Springfield, he was stricken with typhoid fever and died. Douglas's reputation suffered with the growth of the Lincoln legend. In recent years, however, historians have asserted that he was one of the few men of pre–Civil War era with a truly national vision, and this was both the basis for his honorable attempts to reconcile differences and for his ultimate political failure, because the age was essentially one of bitter sectional controversy.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: U.S. History: Biographies

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