DOUGLAS: THE LITTLE GIANT
By PHYLLIS CONNOLLY
Puffy white clouds floated lazily through
the hot June sky on the day young Stephen
Arnold Douglas left his home and family in
New York state to seek fame, and possible
fortune, in the West. The year was 1833; al-
though only twenty years old, Stephen's am-
bitions knew no bounds. As he paused for a
moment at the gate and turned to kiss his
mother good-bye, she asked him, "When will
you come back to see me ?" Young Douglas re-
plied, "On my way to Congress."
But Stephen Douglas did not intend to stop
there. He had already decided that some day
he would be President of the United States.
He was impatient, too, this young Douglas.
To get a start in politics, he knew, one should
be a lawyer. But that took several years in
New York state; he did not want to wait that
long. In Cleveland, Ohio, he had heard, one
could be admitted to the bar within a year.
So, breaking his ties with the East (he had
been born in Brandon, Vermont, and educated
in Canandaigua, New York), he set out for the
West—the land, he hoped, of opportunity.
On arriving in Cleveland, however, he was
stricken with typhoid fever and spent the
next four months in bed. After his recovery,
Douglas decided to continue even farther west
before settling down. His travels took him
to Cincinnati, Louisville, and St. Louis before
he finally stopped at Jacksonville, in Morgan
County, Illinois. Here he was told that the
town of Winchester, ten miles distant, wanted
a teacher. Douglas, tired and poor, was happy
to take any job that came his way and short-
ly found himself master of a school. In his
spare time he read borrowed law books, and
in March, 1834, the Illinois Supreme Court
granted him a license to practice law. One
month later, he turned twenty-one.
The young attorney soon discovered that
clients were few in Jacksonville. He did not
seem to mind much, however, for he found
more agreeable ways of spending his time
than in a stuffy office poring over dry and
dusty law books. Jacksonville was a fast-
growing town, and Douglas liked to mingle
with "the boys"—those recent arrivals from
Kentucky and Tennessee who had come to
farm the Illinois prairies. Under their influ-
ence Douglas quickly put away his eastern
clothes for a pair of blue jeans and adopted
the rough manners and the democratic poli-
tics of the frontiersman.
The Democratic party was older but more
people in central Illinois at this time (1835)
voted for the Whig party. The Democrats
traced their beginnings to Thomas Jefferson
and their popularity to the colorful General
Andrew Jackson. "Old Hickory," as he was
nicknamed, was a self-made man; so were his
frontier followers—and so was Stephen A.
Douglas, who shortly became the leader of the
Stephen A. Douglas as he appeared in 1858