Stephen A. Douglas
The film Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940) has perhaps the best recreation of the Lincoln-Douglas debates ever put on film. The debate portrayed has remarks culled from all the debates, is an excellent recreation of the main arguments made by each of the men, and is evocative of their speaking styles.
Ironically neither of the actors portraying Lincoln and Douglas were Americans. The actor portraying Douglas was Gene Lockhart, a Canadian. If his voice sounds vaguely familiar to you, it is probably because you recall him as the judge in Miracle on 34th Street. His daughter June Lockhart, of Lassie and Lost in Space fame, carried on the thespian tradition of the family.
Lincoln was portrayed by Raymond Massey, also a Canadian. Massey was one of the great actors of his day and bore a strong physical resemblance to Lincoln. Massey served in the Canadian Army in both World War I, where he saw combat on the Western Front as an artillery officer, and World War II, becoming a naturalized American citizen after World War II. Like Lincoln he was a Republican and made a TV ad for Goldwater in the 1964 campaign.
Here is a transcript from the film script of the debate: Continue reading
Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, the great antagonist of Abraham Lincoln, gave many eloquent speeches in his career, but the finest one he delivered was at the end of that career on April 25, 1861 to a joint session of the General Assembly of the State of Illinois. In broken health, his coming death on June 3, 1861 already foreshadowed, he summoned the energy to help save his country. Always first and foremost a patriot, Douglas was intent on rallying members of his party to the cause of the Union. After one of the most vitriolic presidential contents in the history of the nation, it was an open question as to whether most members of the Party of Jackson would stand in support of the efforts of the Lincoln Administration to fight to preserve the Union. Douglas, putting country above party, helped ensure that they would.
Immediately after the election of Lincoln he made it clear that he would make every effort in his power to fight against secession. At the inaugural speech of Lincoln, he held the new President’s hat, giving a strong symbol of his support. Illinois was a key state for the Union in the upcoming conflict. Pro-Southern sentiment was strong among Illinois Democrats in the southern portion of the State, with even some talk that “Little Egypt”, as the extreme southern tip of Illinois is called, should secede from the rest of the state and join the Confederacy. To rally his supporters for the Union, and at the request of President Lincoln, Douglas returned to Illinois and on April 25, 1861 had his finest hour.
The speech he delivered that day has gone down in Illinois history as the “Protect the Flag” speech. It was received by both Republicans and Democrats with thunderous applause and cheers throughout. Although there would be much dissension in Illinois during the War, Douglas helped ensure that Illinois would be in the forefront of the war effort, with its quarter of a million troops, among whom was Ulysses S. Grant, who would ultimately fight under the Stars and Stripes being absolutely crucial to Union victory.
Here is the speech, interspersed with comments by me: Continue reading
I live in rural Central Illinois in Livingston County. Like most counties in Central Illinois, we have our Lincoln sites, places Lincoln visited while he was riding the circuit as a lawyer. In those more civilized days, courts in most areas only operated part time. On a court day, the judges and attorneys would arrive at a county seat, and the trials on the court’s docket would be called and tried. So it was on May 18, 1840 when Lincoln and his fellow attorneys rode into Pontiac, the then tiny county seat of Livingston County, for the first ever session of the Circuit Court in Livingston County.
Lincoln by this time was beginning to be well known in Central Illinois. He was a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, and was one of the leaders of the Whig Party in Central Illinois. He was only 31 and was clearly a young man on his way up in the world.
Lincoln was not the only celebrity attorney present that day in Pontiac. Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln’s great antagonist, was also present. Only 27, Douglas was already famous throughout the State. Douglas was a fervent Democrat and one of the great orators of his day. Already he had been Attorney General of the State, and a member of the Illinois House of Representatives. Later that year he would be appointed Secretary of State, and in 1841 he would be appointed a Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, the youngest man ever to serve on that tribunal. Douglas was also clearly a young man rising swiftly in the world.
However, on May 18, 1840 Lincoln and Douglas were not concentrating on grand issues or the future. Their attention was riveted on the case of William Popejoy vs. Isaac Wilson, the first case filed in the Circuit Court in Livingston County. Wilson had accused Popejoy of stealing meat from a Sarah McDowell, and Popejoy was suing him for slander. Slander lawsuits were not uncommon in Central Illinois of that period, and Lincoln, as was the case with most attorneys, represented quite a few clients in regard to such cases.
There was no love lost between Popejoy and Wilson. Wilson had previously sued Popejoy for the death of a horse of his that Wilson had allowed him to borrow. The horse had died and Wilson, represented by Stephen A. Douglas, had sued for $300.00 in damages. Lincoln had represented Popejoy. The jury had returned a verdict for Wilson, but assessed damages at $70.25.
In the current lawsuit for slander, Lincoln again represented Popejoy and Douglas again represented Wilson. Lincoln won the case, with the Jury deliberating on a pile of sawlogs on the bank of the Vermilion River which winds through Pontiac. Continue reading