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Stephen A. Douglas Discusses the 1860 Campaign
Digital History ID 340

Author:   Stephen A. Douglas


In retrospect, it seems likely that a majority of white Americans, North and South, may well have shared Stephen Douglas's views: his spread-eagle nationalism, his hostility toward Britain, his ardent support for westward expansion, his racism, and his lack of concern over the morality of slavery. But as political opinion grew increasingly polarized, Douglas would lose out.

In April 1860, the Democratic party assembled in Charleston, South Carolina to select a presidential nominee. Southern delegates insisted that the party endorse a federal code to guarantee the rights of slaveholders in the territories. When the convention rejected the proposal, delegates from the deep South walked out. The remaining delegates reassembled six weeks later in Baltimore and selected Stephen Douglas as their candidate. Southern Democrats proceeded to choose John C. Breckinridge as their presidential nominee.

In this confidential letter, Stephen Douglas candidly assesses the political problems he faced during the 1860 campaign.



Nothing but the constant demands on my time night and day has prevented my writing you before and returning the grateful service of my obligations to you. Our friends here are organizing thoroughly for the fight. The executive committee...have already entered upon their duties and will be...vigilant until the election. Our friends are forming their electoral ticket in every State in the South as well as the North. We receive the most alarming news from New York, Penn, N Jersey etc. The demonstrations for Breckenridge in the states are said to have been gotten up by the Republicans in order to elevate the crisis.... The Telegraphic reports about a compromise by running a double headed ticket is...recognized by our friends as a miserable trick, disgraceful to those who propose it and insulting to us. It is said here that a scheme has been formed to deceive...our friends.... I am informed that one of your Senators has said within the last two days that "Douglas would be the candidate in Missouri by common consent until after the August election, but that he would be thrown overboard & Breckenridge would be taken up." The Secessionists & the administration are counting largely on this movement['s'] success.... It cannot be denied that...[this act of] treachery...discourages the timid. One blast from your trumpet will blow this scheme to atoms. The Secessionsts are becoming alarmed & desperate. They are dismayed by the coolness, energy and determination of your friends. The reaction in our favor has already commenced. A bold fight in the South will enable us to make great [gains] at the North.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Stephen A. Douglas to N. Prescott

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