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Autobiography of 

Stephen A. Douglas 


Reprinted From The 

Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 
October, 1912. 



From daguerreotype owned by his son, Hon. Robert M. Douglas. 



While collecting material for a biographical study of Stephen Arnold 
Douglas, Judge Robert M. Douglas of North Carolina, a son, kindly 
loaned me this little autobiography. Added to the story as told me 
personally by the late Colonel John Dement and the sketch published 
years ago in Harper's Monthly Magazine by Daniel Roberts, we now 
are enabled for the first time to secure a correct knowledge of the early 
life of Douglas. 

When Stephen A. Douglas kissed his mother good bye at the home- 
stead gate near Canandaigua, New York, her last inquiry was: "And 
when shall you come home to visit us, my son?" "On my way to Con- 
gress, mother," he answered. And so the first visit was to be made ten 
years afterwards, almost to a day. Douglas started westward deter- 
mined to make for himself a political career. Just what point he should 
seek was undetermined; so at Cleveland, he tarried with relatives for the 
purpose of getting his bearings. With the personal manipulation of those 
bearings, Douglas had so little to do that it might be said he literally 
drifted until circumstances, none of them propitious, landed him, sick, 
footsore from his ten mile walk from Exeter, at the end of a raw day 
of November, in the little village of Winchester, then in the county of 
Morgan, in the State of Illinois. 

He was so worn by his long sickness that he could scarcely stagger 
along the road, yet he walked bravely forward with but a shilling in 
money as the total of his worldly possessions. He presented his boyish 
but courageous face to the landlord and asked for a credit in board un- 
til he could secure pupils enough to warrant his remaining in Winches- 
ter. Like the western tavern keeper of his time, that one was charmed 
by the manly little chap who requested it. He read in his big eyes the 


story of an honest purpose, pursued disastrously, yet so valiantly and 
persistently, that failure could not be possible. The incredible courage 
of the youngster aroused the sympathy of the village and almost before 
Douglas went to bed that night 40 pupils had been secured for the little 
school he desired to teach and from which he hoped to earn money enough 
to start him in his chosen profession of the law. Had he been permitted 
to go on to Pekin that environment might not have prevented his sub- 
sequent political achievements, but the location certainly would have 
retarded his progress many years. Jacksonville was the most important 
city in the state at the time. The ablest lawyers of the state practiced 
there. It was the pole star among Illinois cities. Everything which 
had political ambition behind it pointed to Jacksonville. It was the 
home of Gen. John J. Hardin, said to be the most brilliant and one of 
the ablest men in the state. To incur his displeasure was regarded by 
many as political suicide whether the poor victim was of the same polit- 
ical faith or not. When Douglas came to town, Hardin could not bend 
forward far enough to find the youngster and so the youngster remained 
unnoticed until the states attorney incident was brought to notice by 
John Wyatt who had been a member of the eighth General Assembly, 
1832-34. The incident excites laughter in Illinois to this very day when 
related. Douglas weighed but ninety pounds at the time and was only 
five feet four inche's tall, while Wyatt was over six feet, angular, broad- 
shouldered and naturally when looking down on his companion when 
with him, he grew to call him "Little Douglas". 'In manner too, Wyatt 
was a typical westerner; a Kentuckian, rough and ready, fearless, adroit 
and possessed of a vocabulary which on occasion would frighten a fish 
woman. In the ungentle art of tongue lashing, no man in Illinois could 
face him. This man early became attached to Douglas and ever con- 
tinued a helpful associate. 

Wyatt planned his campaign with military precision and with the 
genius of a great general. When he knew how the legislature stood 
politically, he took particular pains to make a street scene and declare 
his intentions thus: "Wouldn't it be fun to beat Hardin with little 
Douglas!" Wyatt loaned Douglas a horse. Arrived at Vandalia the 
state capital, not a room could be found. In despair Wyatt approached 
Major John Dement then state treasurer, a man of great political weight, 



a former member of the legislature and a man of the same height as 
Douglas, five feet four, though somewhat stouter. Dement invited 
Douglas to share his room. After settling that important detail he 
took Douglas to a barber shop ordered a hair cut and a shave for the 
young man and together they sallied forth to get votes to carry the 
measure through. Douglas was dressed in blue jeans, considerably too 
short in the arm and the leg, but that was a day when coat and pants 
cut little figure in politics or for that matter, social life. Under the guid- 
ing spirit of Dement, Douglas made famous progress. Very soon the 
conspiracy reached the ears of Governor Duncan, a great friend of 
Hardin's. At once the governor approached Dement and remonstrated 
against the latter's interest in the little unknown stranger. Before 
leaving he requested Dement as the political favor of a lifetime to urge 
a few friends to vote against the bill. 

Now it happened that just a few weeks previous, Dement had been a 
candidate for state treasurer and he wanted certain votes of legislators. 
Accordingly he had approached Duncan and asked him to intercede with 
some of the members for votes. Greatly offended, Governor Duncan 
somewhat haughtily declined with the statement that it would be 
altogether too undignified for him to ask a member of the legislature 
for his vote. Therefore when Duncan approached Dement on a mission 
identical with his own, Dement drew his five feet of manhood to its high- 
est point and declared it would be altogether undignified for him to ask 
a member of the legislature to vote against a personal bill. The next 
day with the help of Wyatt and Dement the bill was passed and Douglas 
was elected later on. 

The personality of that boy with his boyish insistence and courage 
was the same when he solicited a seat in the United States Senate. He 
was a boy on the day of his death, an affectionate and altogether irre- 
sistible boy, ambitious, resourceful, voluble, but never a gushing boy. 
It seemed as though he was just as alert the day he entered the village 
of Winchester and looked into the barroom of the hotel with its crack- 
ling fire as he was when fighting the attacks made against him for the 
part he took in repealing the Missouri Compromise. The only difference 
between Douglas at twenty and Douglas at forty was twenty years. 

When he stood upon the corner watching the progress of the adminis- 
trator's sale, he attracted the attention of the administrator just as he 
attracted attention on the floor of the Senate afterwards. The boy was 
just as magnetic. He was but a boy when he made his famous race for 
Congress against Stuart at 29 and came within 35 votes of beating 
him in a strong Whig district. On the canal dump he held the laborers 
spellbound. Were he to enter the supreme court room half an hour later, 
he held the judges just as closely. 

At Winchester he extended his acquaintance. He attended a debat- 
ing society and strengthened his forensic powers. On Saturdays he 
tried law suits before the village squire. He attended house raisings. 
He was economical and industrious and in the spring he emerged with 
something like $100.00 in money to tide him over the professional 
drought in Jacksonville. But his master stroke at Winchester was the 
action which secured to him the lasting friendship of S. S. Brooks, the 
leading journalist of the day in Illinois. 

While at Winchester he received a prospectus from Brooks in effect 
stating that if a list could be secured in Morgan county, he would start 
a Jackson newspaper at Jacksonville. With his customary unselfish- 
ness and vigor he secured for Brooks a large number of subscribers. 
Brooks thereafter became the publicity manager for Douglas. His 
constant attention to the wants of others without the expectation of 
reward; his ability to make lasting friendships remained through life 
just as it had been pursued at little Winchester. He had been there but 
a few days when a merchant named Miner became so attracted towards 
him that he asked Douglas to share his room with him and "batch it" 
in their joint efforts to save some money. Shortly afterwards Miner 
lost his heart to a young lady and the partnership with Douglas was 
dissolved. Upon request to "stand up" with Miner, Douglas was com- 
pelled to decline because he owned no boiled shirt. It was a common 
enough occurrence in those days to be without one. In fact the man 
who owned one was out of the ordinary amongst his fellow man. Miner 
happened to be one of the few who owned not only one but two and 
one of the two was loaned Douglas to take part in the important event 
with his very warm friend, Miner. 


The Jacksonville editor who pushed Douglas' political fortunes and resigned his 
candidacy upon the Democratic ticket in favor of Douglas, who was elected. 

Birthplace of Douglas in Brandon, Vermont. 

Numerous biographies of Douglas have been written, but in every one 
this part of his early life has been garbled badly especially, the lonely 
and very long and painful walk to Winchester. In this little auto- 
biography, but lately known to exist, the names of his old benefactors 
have been given, thus correcting the traditions so long believed. It 
sets at rest the gossip which has been permitted to become history. 
More than ever before, it recites how little he had to do with the control 
of his destiny, though with the charming personality which it discloses, 
Douglas in any environment would have risen far above the multitude. 

This autobiography was written in a little memorandum or pass book 
with a pencil. It was written with no more intention for publicity than 
another would put into his diary when he noticed a visit to a friend or 
commented on the weather, although in the first two lines there might 
have been concealed the thought that some day he expected greater 
things. "For the purpose of refreshing my mind in future upon sub- 
jects that might otherwise be forgotten," he wrote. But if he did have 
the hope for preferment, little he could have dreamed of the power 
he was destined to wield in twelve short years from that date, when 
Webster and Clay and Calhoun and Benton listened to him and when 
after the "Omnibus Bill" had failed to pass in the vain fight for a 
compromise, his separate bills were taken up one after another and passed 
as the compromise measures of 1850. 

Douglas the man and senator grown, was Douglas the boy back at 
Winchester, earnest, impulsive, generous but a boy none the less. 

SEPTEMBER 1, 1838. 

I this day commence this memorandum or journal of passing events 
for the purpose of refreshing my mind in future upon subjects that might 
otherwise be forgotten. It may be well to turn my attention to the past 
as well as the future, and record such facts as are within my recollection 
or have come to my knowledge, and may be interesting or useful to 
myself or others hereafter. 

I learn from my mother that I was born in the town of Brandon in 
the County of Rutland and State of Vermont on the 23d day of April, 
1813. My father, Stephen A. Douglas, was a graduate of Middlebury 


College, a physician by profession, and a man very much beloved by all 
who knew him. I only speak of my father as I have always heard others 
speak of him, for he died when I was only about two months old, and of 
course I cannot recollect him. I have often been told that he was holding 
me in his arms when he departed this world. My mother, who thank 
God yet lives, was a Miss Sarah Fisk before she was married. My par- 
ents had but two children, my sister Sarah A. Douglas (who has since 
married Julius N. Granger of Manchester Centre, Ontario county, N. Y.) 
and myself. Upon the death of my father, my mother moved to a small 
farm left her by her father about three miles north of my native village, 
and resided with her brother Edward Fisk, who was an industrious, 
economical, clever old bachelor, and wanted some one to keep house 
for him. This arrangement suited them both as their farms joined, 
and each was so situated as to need the aid of the other. Here I lived 
with my mother and uncle upon the farm until I was about fifteen years 
of age, and then determined to select some other mode of living. I 
had no great aversion to working on a farm, nor was I much dissatisfied 
with my good old uncle, but thought him rather a hard master, and 
unwilling to give me those opportunities of improvement and education 
which I thought I was entitled to. I had enjoyed the benefits of a 
common school education three months each year, and had been kept 
diligently at work the rest of the time. I thought it a hardship that my 
uncle would have the use of my mother's farm and also the benefit 
of my labour without any other equivalent than my boarding and clothes. 
I therefore determined upon leaving my home and my true friends, 
and see what I could do for myself in the wide world among strangers. 
My mother remonstrated, warned me of the dangers and temptations 
to which young men are exposed, and insisted upon my selecting some 
trade or engaging in some business that would give me a steady home 
and regular employment. I promised to comply with her wishes, that 
is, keep good company, or in other words keep out of bad company, 
avoid all immoral and vicious practices, attend church regularly, and 
obey the regulations of my employer; in short I promised everything she 
wanted, if she would consent to my leaving home. Accordingly in the 
Spring of 1828, being about fifteen years of age, I bid my mother, sister 
and uncle farewell, and left home for Middlebury, about fourteen miles 


Mother of Stephen A. 


Dunlins. From portrait owned 
Robert M. Donplas. 

by her grandson. Judge 

Tlie Old Afademy, Canandaigua, N. Y 

distant, 1 and engaged to learn the Cabinet making trade with one 
Nahum Parker. I put on my apron and went to work, sawing table 
legs from two inch plank, making wash stands, bed steads, &c., &c. I 
was delighted with the change of home and employment. There was 
a novelty about it that rendered it peculiarly interesting. My labor 
furnished exercise for the mind as well as the body. I have never been 
placed in any situation or been engaged in any business which I enjoyed 
to so great an extent as the cabinet shop. I then felt contented and 
happy, and never aspired to any other distinction than that connected 
with my trade and improvements in the arts. Towards the end of the 
year I became dissatisfied with my employer in consequence of his 
insisting upon my performing some menial services in the house. I 
was willing to do anything connected with the shop but could not consent 
to perform the duties of a servant in the house. A difficulty soon arose 
between Mr. Parker and his wife and myself, and resulted in my leaving 
him and returning home. So much was I attached to the life of a 
mechanic, I could not content myself at home and soon got a situation in 
the shop of Deacon Caleb Knowlton, a cabinet maker in Brandon, my 
native village. I remained with my new employer about a year, and 
pursued my business strictly, as all the apprentices in the shop were 
required to do. Whilst I lived with Mr. Parker I formed a taste for 
reading, particularly political works, by being associated with a number 
of young men who spent their time nights and Sundays in reading and 
study. At this time politics ran high in the presidential election between 
General Jackson and J. Q. Adams. My associate apprentices and myself 
were warm advocates of Gen. Jackson's claims, whilst our employer 
was an ardent supporter of Mr. Adams and Mr. Clay. From this 
moment my politics became fixed, and all subsequent reading, reflection 
and observation have but confirmed my early attachment to the cause 
of Democracy. 

In the winter of 1829 and 1830 I was taken sick and compelled to 
return home. My physicians informed me that my physical strength 
was too feeble to enable me to work at the cabinet business, and that it 
would be necessary for me to select some other occupation. Finding 
my health too feeble to work in the shop, I commenced going to school 


at the Academy in Brandon, under the direction of J.N. Chipman, and 
continued under his instruction until the fall of 1830, when I removed to 
Canandaigua, Ontario county, N. Y. My sister had previously married 
Julius N. Granger, and removed to his residence in Manchester Centre, 
Ontario County, N. Y., and this year, 1830, my mother married his 
father; and now the father and mother and only son and only daughter 
became united in one family where they continue to reside in the enjoy- 
ment of peace, plenty and happiness. Upon removing to the State of 
New York in December, 1830, I became a student in the Academy in 
Canandaigua under the superintendence of Prof. Henry Howe, where 
I continued until the latter part of 1832. Whilst connected with the 
Academy at Canandaigua I devoted myself zealously to my studies, the 
Greek and Latin languages, mathematics, rhetoric, logic, &c., and 
made considerable improvement. 

About the 1st of January, 1833, 1 left the Academy and entered the 
office of Walter & Levi Hubbell as a student at law. I pursued my law 
studies diligently five days in the week, and the sixth I spent in review- 
ing my ^classical studies, until sometime in the month of June in that 
year. Finding myself in straightened pecuniary circumstances, and 
knowing my mother's inability to support me through a regular course 
of law studies, which would continue about four years longer according 
to the statutes of New York requiring a course of seven years classical 
and legal study before admission to the bar, I determined upon removing 
to the western country and relying upon my own efforts for a support 
henceforth. My mother and relatives remonstrated, urging that I was 
too young and inexperienced for such an adventure; but finding my 
resolution fixed and unchangeable, they reluctantly consented, and 
kindly furnished me with three hundred dollars, the last of my patri- 
mony, with which to pay my expenses. On the 24th of June, 1833 (being 
20 years of age) I bid farewell to my friends, and started alone for the 
"great west," without having any particular place of destination in 
view. The first night I arrived at Buffalo, and thence took a trip to the 
Battle Grounds of Chippewa, Niagara, the Falls &c., &c., and returning 
to Buffalo in a few days, I embarked on a steam boat for Cleveland, 
Ohio. Arriving at Cleveland I presented a few letters of introduction 
to some gentlemen of that place which I had received from Messrs. 

Historical Museum, Canandaigua. N. Y. 



Francis Granger, Mark H. Sibley and other kind friends. By means 
of these letters I immediately became acquainted with Sherlock J. 
Andrews, Esq., an accomplished and intelligent gentleman and dis- 
tinguished lawyer of that city. Being pleased with Cleveland and its 
prospects for business, and also with the few acquaintances I formed 
there, I immediately determined upon remaining there. By the sta- 
tutes of Ohio I was required to pursue the study of law one year within 
the limits of that State before I could be admitted to practice. For 
this purpose Mr. Andrews was kind enough to offer me the use of his 
office and library, which I gladly accepted, and entered upon my studies 
with increased spirit and zeal. In a very few days however, I found my- 
self prostrate upon my bed with the bilious fever, and was confined until 
some time in the month of October, about four months. * This sickness 
has often since been, and still continues to be, the subject of the most 
serious and profound reflection. My condition, the circumstances with 
which I was surrounded, the doubtful and sometimes hopeless issue, 
and especially my feelings, thoughts, and meditations, are all now fresh 
in my mind. I was among entire strangers. During the whole tune 
I never saw a face I had ever seen before; I was so feeble as to be entirely 
helpless, unable even to turn myself in bed; I was advised by my phys- 
icians that there was no reasonable hope of my recovery, and that I ought 
to be prepared for my final dissolution which was then expected to take 
place from day to day. I was in the full enjoyment of my senses, per- 
fectly conscious of my condition, and listened patiently and calmly to 
all they told me, and felt perfectly indifferent as to the result. I felt 
satisfied with the past and no particular hopes or apprehensions of the 
future. I thought I was on the dividing line between this world and 
the next, must continue to exist in the one or the other, was willing to 
take either, and felt no choice which. In short, during that four months 
of severe sickness, I enjoyed more peace and contentment of mind, 
more perfect freedom from all care and trouble, except occasional bodily 
pain, and more negative happiness than during any other similar period 
of my life. 

That such should have been the state of my mind under such peculiar 
and trying circumstances, has ever been to me the subject of curiosity, 

' He lived vrith a cousin, Daniel P. Rhodes, by name. 


wonder and amazement. I can account for it upon no principle of 
philosophy or human nature, and now make this private record of the 
same for the purpose of seeing if future experience and observation 
shall solve the mystery. 

Upon regaining my strength in the month of October so far as to be 
able to walk, I paid off all my bills occasioned by my sickness or otherwise 
and found I had about $40.00 left. I then became reckless and adven- 
turous, and determined to leave the place. Accordingly I took passage 
on a canal boat for Portsmouth on the Ohio River, thence on a steam 
boat to Cincinnati 3 , thence to Louisville, 8 thence to St. Louis, Mo., 
remaining in each place a few days, without any particular object in 
view, and ready to embark in any adventure adapted to my taste and 
feeling which should present itself. 

At St. Louis I soon found my small pittance of money was about ex- 
hausted, and that I must immediately engage in some employment there 
which would defray my expenses, or go to some place not far distant 
where I could do so. My first effort was to obtain a situation in some 
law office in the city, where I could write and perform office labor suf- 
ficient to pay my expenses, and during the rest of the time pursue my 
law studies. Here a difficulty presented itself which I had not foreseen 
and guarded against. I was more than a thousand miles from home, or 
from any person whom I knew or who knew me, and had no letters of 
introduction. Perceiving this difficulty I felt great delicacy in offering 
my services. Stern and impending necessity staring me in the face, I 
resolved at all hazards to make the effort. I first called on Mr. Bates, * 
introduced myself and told him my business and situation. He re- 
ceived and treated me kindly and politely; and informed me that he 
had nothing for me to do; but would be happy to see me at his office, 
&c., for all which I tendered him my grateful acknowledgments and 
retired. After making a similar effort with like success with Mr. Spauld- 
ing, I paid my Tavern bill and left the city, going to Jacksonville, 

At Jacksonville I formed a few acquaintances and attempted to get 
into business of some kind, say teaching school, clerking, &c., but with- 
out success. When I arrived at Jacksonville I had left one dollar and 

He tried to secure work in each place but failed. 
Subsequently attorney general. 



twenty-five cents in money, and finding that would not pay my board 
more than one day at the tavern, I sold a few school books I had with 
me for a few dollars, and took up my lodgings at a private house, Mr. 
Heslip's, whose family I have known and esteemed ever since. One of 
my first acquaintances at Jacksonville was Murray McConnel, Esq., 
a lawyer of some reputation, who advised me to go to Pekin on the Illi- 
nois river and open a law office. I informed him that I had never 
practiced law, had not yet procured my license, nor had I any library. 
He informed me that he would furnish me with a few books, such as I 
would stand in the most need of immediately, and wait for the pay until 
I was able to pay him, and did so to the amount of $30.00 5 worth, which 
I received and subsequently paid him for. He told me that a license 
was a matter of no consequence, that I could practice before a justice 
of the peace without one, and could get one at any time I desired to do 
so. I concluded to take his advice, and consequently packed up my 
things and went to Meredosia on the Illinois river to take a steam boat 
to Pekin. Arriving at the River, I waited one week for a steam boat, 
and then learned that the only boat which was expected up the river 
that season had blown up at Alton, and consequently there would be 
no boat up until the next spring. What was now to be done? After 
paying my bill at the tavern, I had but fifty cents left. I could find 
nothing to do there, and had no money to get away with. Something 
must be done, and that soon, I enquired as to the prospect of getting 
a school, and was told by a farmer residing in the country a few miles 
that he thought that I could obtain one at Exeter, about ten miles dis- 
tant; and if I would go home with him that night, he would go to Exeter 
with me the next day. I accepted his invitation, left my trunk at Mere- 
dosia, rode behind the farmer on the same horse to his home, and the 
next day we both went to Exeter. He introduced me to several citizens 
who were very polite and kind; but did not think a school could be 
obtained there; but if I would go to Winchester, eight or ten miles further 
they had no doubt I would succeed in obtaining one. I thought this 
was rather poor encouragement; but what was to be done? I was out 
of money, and still in too feeble health to perform any very arduous 
labor; and must do something to live; for I was too proud to beg. I 

' For this kindness never forgotten, Douglas secured the appointment for McConnel of fifth auditor 
of the treasury department. 


therefore determined to go to Winchester and make another effort. 
Accordingly I parted with my friend, the kind hearted, hospitable farmer 
and taking my cloak on my arm, went to Winchester on foot that night. 
Arriving in the town, I went to the only tavern in the place, introduced 
myself to the landlord and told him I wished to stop a few days with him 
to which he readily assented. The landlord introduced me to the citizens 
generally, who seemed pleased with the idea of a new school in their little 
town, and in a few days obtained for me a subscription list of about forty 
scholars. In the meantime there was, on the second day after my arrival, 
an administrator's sale, at which all the personal property of a dead 
man's estate 6 was to be disposed of at auction, and the administrator 
applied to me to be clerk at the auction, make out the sale bills, draw 
the notes, &c., which I very cheerfully consented to do, and performed 
the duty in the best style I knew how, and received five dollars for two 
days labor therein. About the 1st of December I commenced my school, 
and closed it about the 1st of March, having during the whole time 
a goodly number of scholars, and giving as I believe general satisfac- 
tion to both scholars and parents. During this period I attended 
to considerable law business before justices of the peace, and formed an 
extensive acquaintance with the people in that part of the county. 
There was considerable political excitement growing out of the veto 
of the U. S. Bank and the removal of the deposits by Gen. Jackson, 
or rather the removal of the secretary of the treasury because he would 
not remove the deposits, and the appointment of Mr. Taney in his 
place, who did remove them from the vaults of the U. S. Bank. One 
evening at the Lyceum, Mr. Josiah Lambert, a lawyer of some 
distinction from Jacksonville, made a speech, denouncing the 
leading measures of Gen. Jackson's administration, and especially 
the veto and removal of the deposits. He characterized the first of 
those acts as arbitrary and tyrannical, and the last as dangerous and 
unconstitutional. Being a great admirer of Gen. Jackson's public and 
political character and a warm supporter of the principles of his ad- 
ministration, I could not remain silent when the old hero's character, 
public and private, was traduced, and his measures misrepresented and 
denounced. I was then familiar with all the principles, measures and 

Elihu Martin, deceased . 

Hull. ling' in which Stephen A. Douglas taught school. Winchester, Illinois. 


The man who procured the pupils for Douglas' school. From an old photograph 
owned by his daughter-in-law, Mrs. H. J. Rowan of Galesburt?, 111., made in 
the early GO'S. 


facts involved in the controversy, having been an attentive reader of 
the debates in Congress and the principal newspapers of the day, and 
having read also with great interest, the principal works in this country; 
such as the debates in the convention that formed the Constitution of 
the United States, and the convention of the several States on the adop- 
tion of the Constitution, the Federalist, John Adams' work denominated 
a defense of the American Constitution, the opinions of Randolph, 
Hamilton and Jefferson on the Constitutionality of the Bank, and the 
History of the Bank as published by Gales & Seaton, Jefferson's Works, 
&c. I had read all of them and many other political works with great 
care and interest, and had my political opinions firmly established. I 
engaged in the debate with a good deal of zeal and warmth, and defended 
the administration of Gen. Jackson and the cause of the Democratic 
party in a manner which appeared highly gratifying to my political 
friends, and which certainly gave me some little reputation as a public 
speaker; much more than I deserved. 

When the first quarter of my school expired I settled my accounts, 
and finding that I had made enough to pay my expenses, I determined 
to remove to Jacksonville, the county seat of the same (Morgan) 
county, and commence the practice of the law. In the month of March 
I applied to the Hon. Samuel D. Lockwood, one of the justices of the 
Supreme Court, and after a short examination, obtained a license, and 
immediately opened an office, 7 being then less than twenty-one years 
of age. During the first week of my residence at Jacksonville the Whig 
(alias Federal Party) called a county meeting, and made speeches and 
passed resolutions denouncing the administration in the severest terms, 
and more especially in relation to the bank and currency question. The 
next week the Democrats called a meeting, one of the most numerous 
and spirited I have ever witnessed in that county. It was composed 
principally of farmers and mechanics, men who are honest in their 
political sentiments and feel a deep interest in the proper administration 
of the public affiairs, although but few of them are accustomed to public 
discussion. It so happened that at that time out of twelve members 
of the bar there was not a Democrat among them. This meeting I 
attended, and at the earnest solicitation of my political friends, (for per- 
sonal friends I had not then had time to form) I consented to make a 

* In the court house. 


speech. The excitement was intense, and I was rather severe in my 
remarks upon the opposition; 8 so much so as to excite the bitter hos- 
tility of the whole of that party, and of course the warm support of my 
own party. The next week the Patriot, the organ of the opposition, 
printed and published by James G. Edwards, Esq., devoted two entire 
columns of that paper to me and my speech, and continued the same 
course for two or three successive weeks. The necessary consequence 
was that I immediately became known to every man in the county, 
and was placed in such a situation as to be supported by one party and 
opposed by the other. This notoriety, acquired by accident and founded 
on no peculiar merit, proved highly serviceable to me in my profession; 
for within one week thereafter I received for collection demands to the 
amount of thousands of dollars from persons I had never seen or heard 
of, and who would not probably have known that such a person as my- 
self was in existence, but for the attacks upon me in the opposition 
papers. So essential was the service thus rendered me by my opponents 
that I have sometimes doubted whether I was not morally bound to pay 
the editor for his abuse according to the usual prices of advertisements. 
This incident illustrates a principle which it is important for men of the 
world and especially politicians to bear in mind. How foolish, how 
impolitic, the indiscriminate abuse of political opponents whose humble 
condition or insignificance prevents the possibility of injury, and who 
may be greatly benefited by the notoriety thus acquired. I firmly 
believe this is one of the frequent and great errors committed by the 
political editors of the present day. Indeed, I sincerely doubt whether 
I owe most to the kind and efficient support of my friends, and no man 
similarly situated ever had better and truer friends, or to the violent, 
reckless and imprudent opposition of my enemies. Certain I am that 
without both of these causes united, I never could have succeeded as 
well as I have done. But I must forbear; for I find that I am philo- 
sophizing, which is far from my present purpose. 

During the summer of 1834 my time was about equally divided be- 
tween law and politics, reading and practicing the one and preaching 
the other. There was a general election pending for Governor, Congress- 
man, and members of the Legislature, in which I felt no ordinary in- 

He was carried away on the shoulders of his admirers and was dubbed "The Little Giant.' 

A pupil of Douglas. 



terest and took an active part. I supported the Democratic candidates; 
William Kinney for Governor against Gen. Joseph Duncan, and Wm. L. 
May for Congress against Benjamin Mills, and the Democratic ticket for 
the Legislature in my own county. We lost our Governor; elected our 
Congressman; and a part of our legislative ticket. 

At this time John J. Hardin, Esq., (now Gen. Hardin) held the office 
of state's attorney, under an appointment from Governor Reynolds, 
which then had two years to run. He had procured this appointment 
through the aid and influence of Col. James Evans, Col. William Weath- 
erford, Capt. John Wyatt and other leading Democrats, every one of 
whom he opposed at the next election after the appointment. Capt. 
Wyatt was the only one of them who succeeded in his election, and was 
so indignant at Hardin for what he called his ingratitude, that he deter- 
mined upon removing him from office at all hazards. The opposition 
having succeeded in electing their Governor, there was no hope from 
that quarter; and the only resort left was to repeal the law conferring 
the appointment upon the Governor, and make the office elective by 
the Legislature. At the request of Capt. Wyatt, I wrote the Bill, and 
on the second day of the session of the Legislature which commenced 
on the first Monday in December, 1834, he introduced his bill, and also 
another bill written by myself making the county recorder's election 
by the people, instead of being appointed by the Governor. I felt no 
peculiar interest in these bills any further than I thought them correct 
in principle, and desired to see them pass because my friends warmly 
supported them. Both the bills were violently opposed by the opposi- 
tion (alias Federal Party) and advocated by a large majority of the 
Democrats, and finally passed by a small majority. When sent to the 
Council of Revision (composed of the Governor and Judges of the Su- 
preme Court) for approval, they were both vetoed; the former as uncon- 
stitutional, and the latter because it was inexpedient. Then came a 
desperate struggle between the friends and opponents of the bills, and 
especially the states attorney bill. The opposition charged that its 
only object was to repeal Hardin out of office in order to elect myself 
in his place, and that the whole movement had its origin in Wyatt's 
malice and my selfishness and ambition. I will here remark, and most 


solemnly aver it to be true, that up to the time this charge was made 
against me, I never had conceived the idea of being a candidate for the 
office, nor had any friend suggested or hinted to me that I could or ought 
to receive it. But from that moment forward, the friends of the bill 
declared that, in the event they passed the bill over the heads of the 
Council, I should be elected to the office. At this time I did not desire 
to be a candidate, for I had no reason to suppose I could be elected over 
so formidable an opponent who had been a long time a resident of the 
State, had fought in the Black Hawk War, and was well acquainted 
with the members. My short residence in the State, want of acquain- 
tance, experience in my profession and age, (being only twenty-one 
years old) I considered insuperable objections. My friends however, 
thought differently, passed the bill, 9 and elected me on the first ballot 
by four votes majority. 

I will here remark that although I wrote this bill and reaped first 
fruits under it, and was inclined at that time to think it was correct 
in principle and ought to become a law; yet subsequent experience, 
observation and reflection have convinced me of my error; and I now 
believe that all Legislative elections ought to be abolished, and the 
officers either appointed by the Governor and Senate, or elected by the 
people. In this remark I do not mean to include clerks of our courts, 
whose appointments, I am inclined to think, ought to be vested in the 

Immediately upon my election as states attorney I procured all the 
standard works upon criminal law within my reach, 10 such as Archbold, 
Chitty, Roscoe, McNally, Kale's Pleas of the Crown &c., &c.; and 
devoted myself to the study of them with a determination of making 
myself master of that branch of my profession. My official duties 
being exclusively within the line of my profession, I now applied myself 
assiduously to study and practice. How far I succeeded in this, I must 
leave to others, who are more impartial judges than myself. An amus- 
ing circumstance occured in McLean county at the first court after 
my election as prosecuting attorney. The grand jury had found a large 
number of indictments for different offences, and I had been engaged 

The bill was passed finally over the council's veto. 
i Daniel Roberts loaned Douglas these books. Wyatt loaned him the horse to ride over the circuit. 

Old Court House, Jacksonville, Illinois. Built 1S28. Vacated and torn down in 
1872 or 1873. 


all night in writing them, in great haste, in order to discharge the grand 
jury and enable them to return to their families. After the grand 
jurors were discharged John T. Stuart, Esq., came into court and moved 
to quash all the indictments, although he had been employed in but 
a small number of the cases. He stated his reasons for quashing the 
indictments, which were that they were presented by the "grand jurors 
in and for the County of McClean" when in fact there was no such 
County as " McClean," the true name of the County being "McLean". 
The manner of making this motion was very pompous and accompanied 
with some rather contemptuous remarks imputing ignorance to the 
writer of the indictments. Contrasting my youth and inexperience 
with the long practice and reputation of the opposing counsel, I con- 
sidered his conduct extremely ungenerous, and more especially in a 
county where he was well acquainted with the people and I was an 
entire stranger. The moment the motion to quash was made and the 
objection was pointed out, it struck my mind as being fatal to all the 
indictments, and had it been done in a respectful and courteous man- 
ner, I should have made no objection to the indictments being quashed. 
When the Judge (Stephen T. Logan) asked me if I had anything to say 
in support of the indictments, I told him I did not consider it necessary 
as yet to say anything, Mr. Stuart having made the motion and having 
the affirmative of the question, the burden of proof of course rested 
upon him. That I presumed the court would not take official notice 
that I had not spelled the name of the county right until some evidence 
had been adduced to sustain the motion, and when such evidence should 
be produced, it would then be time enough for me to rebut such evidence. 
The court decided that it could not officially take notice of the precise 
mode of spelling the name of the county, and gave Mr. Stuart time to 
procure the statute creating and naming the county. My object was 
now accomplished; knowing there was none of the statutes to be found 
in the county, and that it would require a good deal of traveling, trouble 
and expense to procure one, which would sufficiently rebuke the gentle- 
man's insolence; but not doubting that when the statute was produced, 
it would show that the defect in the indictments was fatal and they ought 
to be quashed. After a lapse of two days the Statute was procured from 
an adjoining county, and produced and read to the court by Mr. Stuart, 


when to his astonishment, and I will say to the astonishment of myself 
and the whole bar, it appeared that the name of the county in the in- 
dictment was right, and that the learned gentleman did not know how 
to spell the name of the county he had practiced in for years. It turned 
the joke upon him so completely, and excited so much mirth and humor 
at his expense, that he could not conceal his chagrin and mortification. 
The indictments were all sustained by the court, much to my gratifi- 
cation. Some time afterwards I took the pains to compare this printed 
statute with the enrolled bill in the office of the Secretary of State, and 
found there was a misprint, the true name of the County being McLean. 
This small incident, although of no consequence of itself, has been an 
instructive lesson to me in the practice of law ever since, to-wit : Admit 
nothing, and require my adversary to prove everything material to the 
success of his cause. Every lawyer's experience teaches him that many 
good causes are saved and bad ones gained by a strict observance of 
this rule. During the time I held the office of states attorney, I con- 
ducted many important criminal prosecutions, and as far as I have 
been able to learn, acquitted myself in a manner satisfactory to my 
friends and the public generally. 

In August, 1836, 1 was elected to the Legislature from the county of 
Morgan. The contest was a very spirited one, conducted almost solely 
upon national politics and party grounds. Each party ran a full ticket 
and strived to elect the whole ticket. The stump speeches were made, 
principally by Gen. John J. Hardin 11 on behalf of the Whig ticket, 
and by myself in support of the Democratic ticket. The contest resulted 
in the election of five Democrats and one Whig (Gen. Hardin). 

On the 1st Monday of December, 1836, 1 resigned my office of states 
attorney, and took my seat in the Legislature. * 2 It was during this 
session that Illinois embarked in her mammoth system of internal im- 
provements. Before the election I had announced myself in favor of a 
general system of internal improvements, and was really anxious to see 
one of reasonable extent and expense adopted; but never for a moment 
dreampt of anyone's advocating such a wild and extravagant scheme as 
the one which was finally adopted. 

1 1 Hardin desired an election as a vindication at home. He was the only Whig elected in Morgan 

i Twenty-three years old. Abraham Lincoln served in this Tenth General Assembly. It was 
the most notable in Illinois history. 

Facsimile of signature of the first American Douglas, ancestor of Stephen A. 


When I learned the nature and extent of the bill which the Committee 
on Internal Improvements were maturing, I attempted to arrest it by 
introducing resolutions by way of instructions (see House Journal of 
1836-7, page 36) setting forth the kind and extent of a system I thought 
ought to be adopted. My resolutions proposed 1st: To finish the 
Illinois and Michigan canal. 2nd: To construct a railroad from the 
termination of the canal to the mouth of the Ohio river. 3rd: To 
make a railroad from the Mississippi river to the Wabash to connect 
with the Wabash and Erie canal. 

I was willing and anxious to make these three works on the faith of 
the State; but was unwilling to go further. I believed the canal to be 
an important State and National work, which would be useful to the 
government and people. I entertained doubts whether the plan of 
construction adopted by the commissioners was the best one that could 
be pursued, but rather than hazard the success of the work by differ- 
ences of opinion as to the best manner of doing it, I determined to sup- 
port and did support the bill which was passed that session. In fact 
the bill passed that session was a compromise bill written by myself 
and introduced by Capt. Joseph Napier of Cook county from a com- 
mittee of which we were both members. 

But to return to the internal improvements system; when it was 
ascertained from my conversation, speeches, and resolution that I 
would oppose the mammoth bill, its friends procured me to be instructed 
by my constituents to go for it. It must be remembered that at that 
day the people were for the system almost en masse. So strong was 
the current of popular feeling in its favor that it was hazardous for any 
politician to oppose it. Under these circumstances it was easy to 
obtain instructions in favor of a measure so universally popular, and 
accordingly the friends of the bill got up instructions, which, from my 
known sentiments in favor of the doctrine of instruction, I did not feel 
myself at liberty to disobey. I accordingly voted for the bill under 
these instructions. That vote was the vote of my constituents and not 
my own. My own sentiments upon this subject are found recorded in 
the resolutions above referred to. If a limited and reasonable system, 
such as I proposed, had been adopted, instead of the one which did 

pass, l * I have no doubt it would have been entirely completed at this 
time, would be useful to the State and sustained by the people. 

There was another question which excited much interest during that 
session. Immense numbers of applications were made for charters of 
all kinds and description; railroads,, canals, insurance companies, hotel 
companies, steam mill companies &c., &c. I first attempted to arrest 
this whole system of legislation as unjust, impolitic and unwise. Fail- 
ing in this, I next attempted to cripple it by inserting in each charter 
a clause "reserving the right to alter, amend or repeal this act whenever 
the public good shall require it." 

NOTE: The original of the above sketch of Senator Stephen A. 
Douglas, of Illinois, is in a small blank book found among his private 
papers. It is in his own handwriting, hastily written and evidently 
never revised or continued. It is dated September 1st, 1838, when he 
was only twenty-five years of age, and does not extend beyond his service 
in the Legislature. It was evidently never intended for publication but 
may now have some public interest as the candid statement of the boy- 
hood and early manhood of a young man who had bravely and success- 
fully faced life's battle; and who was writing frankly purely for his own 
future information, and at a time when the circumstances were yet fresh 
in his mind. Autobiographies are generally carefully written in old 
age when the circumstances of early youth have grown dim, and perhaps 
unconsciously colored by the struggles and experiences of after life. 

March 5, 1909. 

> * The State was bankrupt for years in consequence. 





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