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Stephen A. Douglas

Stephen A. Douglas

Senator Stephen A. Douglas (D-Jacksonville, Illinois) was Chairman of he Territories Committee in the U.S. Senate. He sponsored and passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 which effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise and would permit the expansion of slavery west of the Mississippi River to new territory. He called his justification "popular sovereingty" which was camouflage for the pro-slavery position. Because of this act, former Congressman Abe Lincoln who was a Whig came out of retirement to speak out against the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In 1855, Lincoln gave up his own race for Senator among state lawmakers to block the pro-Douglas Democrats by throwing his support to Sen. Lyman Trumbull who was an anti-Nebraska Democrat. In 1858 Lincoln and Douglas held a famous series of debates in Illinois that focused on slavery. While Lincoln did not specifically take an abolitionist stand, he did come out clearly against any expansion of slavery to the west. Douglas was from far southern Illinois and he might not have been considered a racist in the context of attitudes of his day but he always stood for slavery even though Illinois entered the Union as a free state in 1818. Democrats in the Illinois state legislature passed laws making it difficult for even free African-Americans to settle in the state and the underground railroad was set up to help former slaves escape to the north.

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