Page images




[ocr errors]

“THE issues of all human action are uncertain. No man can undertake to predict positively that even virtue will meet with its full reward in this world; but this much may be said with entire certainty, that he who succeeds in marrying his name to a great principle, achieves a fame as imperishable as truth itself.” Such was the language in which a senator from Virginia concluded an able and most eloquent speech upon the Kansas-Nebraska Bill. The prediction has been verified by history. By that act of legislation, the name of STEPHEN A. Douglas was married” to the principle of Popular Sov

DOUGLAS ereignty; and, even had he no other claim upon the grateful memory of the American people, that indissoluble blending of his name with the most vital principle of constitutional liberty would alone render his name as imperishable as truth itself. The name of STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS, therefore, has, by that single and most memorable act, been stamped ineffaceably upon the pages of his country's history, and, though contemporaneous writers may have recorded the most widely differing judgments upon his conduct, and future historians may differ as widely as those who were present at, and who were participants in the consequences of the passage of that great act as to the measure of censure or praise that should be awarded to him, still the assertion of the senator from Virginia will stand verified, and, in defiance of all the bitterness of his enemies, throughout all coming time the name of DougLAS and the great principle of Popular Sovereignty will be so linked in the records of the past, and so closely identified with the memories of the present, that the fame of the former can only perish in the overthrow of the latter—an occurrence only possible in the total destruction of truth itself.


That branch of the Douglas family from which the subject of this work is a descendant emigrated from Scotland, and settled at New London, in the province of Connecticut, during the earlier period of our colonial settlements. One of the two brothers who first came to America subsequently removed from New London, and settled in Maryland, on the banks of the Potomac, not very distant from the site of the present city of Washington. His descendants, now very numerous, are to be found in Virginia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, and other Southern States.

The other brother remained at New London, and his descendants are scattered over New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and the Northwestern States. Doctor Stephen A. Douglas, the father of the statesman of the present day, was born at Stephentown, in Rensselaer County, New York, and when quite a youth removed with his parents to Brandon, Rutland County, Vermont, where, after his regular course at Middlebury College, he studied medicine, and became distinguished in his profession. He married Miss Sarah Fisk, the daughter of an extensive farmer in Brandon, by whom he had two children—the first a daughter, and the second a son. On the first of July, 1813, without any previous illness or physical warning, he died suddenly of a disease of the heart. At the very moment of his attack and of his death, he was playing with the daughter at his knees, and holding his son Stephen in his arms.

In 1813 the country was at war with Great Britain-had undertaken a war with the most powerful nation in the world; at that time the United States, with an unprotected coast, with an overbearing, and insulting, and powerful enemy menacing both seaboard and frontier; with hostile navies swarming upon the lakes, and commanding every sea where the enterprise of American commerce had unfurled a sail, and veteran armies, fresh from Continental fields of renown, landing on our shores-at that time, when the infant republic, trusting in the justice of her cause, had risked every thing to preserve the sacred principle that an American citizen, no matter where he might be, who stood upon an American deck, was to be secured, at all hazards, in all the great rights guaranteed to him by the Constitution of his country — while this war was waging, and while the contest between absolute power and popular right was maintained with fire and sword from Detroit to Key West, in the midst of this struggle, on the 23d day of April, 1813, was born STEPHEN A. Douglas, who, fortyone years thereafter, became the great champion of that same sacred principle, -not, indeed, in behalf of the gallant men who tread the decks of the American fleets, but in behalf of those other and no less gallant heroes—the pioneers of American progress, the founders of American states, the builders of American sovereignties—the People of the American Territories.

The grandmothers, maternal and paternal, of Mr. Douglas were of the name of Arnold, and were both descended from William Arnold, who was one of the associates of Roger Williams in founding the colony of Rhode Island, and whose son was appointed governor of that colony by Charles the Second, when he granted the famous charter under which the state continued to be governed until even after the establishment of the American Union, and until the adoption a few years ago of the present Constitution of Rhode Island. The descendants of Governor Arnold are at this day very numerous in Rhode Island, and, indeed, throughout the whole country.

Immediately after the death of Dr. Douglas, his widow, with her two children, removed from their native village to a farm about three miles in the country, where she resided with her bachelor brother, Mr. Fisk, on their patrimonial estate. From his earliest childhood, Stephen was raised to a regular course of life-attending the district school during the winter seasons, and working steadily on the farm the residue of each year. When fifteen years of age, finding that a number of his schoolmates of his own years were about to enter the academy to prepare for college, he applied to his uncle, whom he had always been taught to respect as a father, for permission and means to enable him to take the same course.

This request was made in pursuance of an understanding which he supposed had existed in the family from his earliest recollection that he was to be educated and sent to college; so strong was this plan for the future impressed upon his mind, that it had never occurred to him that his uncle's marriage a year previous, and the very recent birth of an heir to his estate, had in the least changed their respective relations; nor had he seen in these events that cloud which was to darken the hitherto bright visions which had stimulated his youthful am


bition. An affectionate remonstrance against the folly of abandoning the farm for the uncertainties of a professional life, accompanied by a gentle intimation that he had a family of his own to support, and therefore did not feel able to bear the expense of educating other persons' children, was the response made to the boy's request. Instantly the eyes of young Douglas were opened to his real condition in life.

He saw at once that he could not command the means requisite for acquiring a collegiate education without exhausting the only resources upon which his mother and sister must rely; he also saw that if he remained on the farm with his uncle until he became of age, he would then be thrown upon the world without a profession or a trade by which he could sustain them and himself. Realizing the full force of these considerations, and perceiving for the first time that he must rely upon himself for the future, he determined to leave the farm and at once learn a mechanical trade, that being the most promising and certain reliance for the future. Bidding farewell to his mother and sister, he set off on foot to engage personally in the great combat of life ; on that same day he walked fourteen miles, and before night was regularly indentured as an apprentice to a cabinet-maker in Middlebury. He worked at his trade with energy and enthusiasm for about two years, the latter part of the time at a shop in Brandon, and gained great proficiency in the art, displaying remarkable mechanical skill; but, in consequence of feeble health, and a frame unable to bear the continued labor of the shop, he was reluctantly compelled to abandon a business in which all his hopes and pride had been centred, and to which he had become sincerely attached. He has often been heard to say, since he has been distinguished in the councils of the nation, that the happiest days of his life had been spent in the workshop, and, had his health and strength been equal to the task, no consideration on earth could have nduced him to have abandoned it, either for professional or olitical pursuits.

He entered the academy of his native town, and commenced a course of classical studies, to which he devoted himself for anout twelve months with all that energy and enthusiasm waich are a part of his nature.

In the mean time his sister had married Julius N. Granger, Esq., of Ontario County, New York, and shortly afterward his

« PreviousContinue »