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Stephen A. Douglas and Antebellum Democracy

 Martin H. Quitt, Cambridge University Press

Stephen A. Douglas advocated that the federal government should allow states and territories to make their own decisions about slavery, indifferent to moral arguments being made against it by abolitionists. It is not widely known, however, that Douglas had a personal stake in the issue, since he served as a manager-overseer of the Mississippi plantation his wife had inherited. In Stephen A. Douglas and Antebellum Democracy, Martin H. Quitt dives into this and other controversial aspects of Douglas’ life.

Antebellum journalists afforded public figures a degree of privacy that would be envied by today’s politicians. Imagine, for example, what today’s media would do with evidence of Douglas’ involvement in a plantation made profitable by slave labor. Quitt notes that his story can fully be told today only because of a recently discovered letter that Douglas wrote to his second wife in 1859.

Quitt also delves into other aspects of Douglas’ life, including reports that he declared his love to a male classmate and reportedly enjoyed sitting in men’s laps. Previous accounts of Douglas’ life and career have often depicted him as odd or unaccountable. Quitt’s scholarship does little to diminish the “Little Giant’s” well-earned reputation for eccentricity.


Originally published in the June 2013 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.