July 9, 1861: Stephen A. Douglas eulogized in the Senate

Stephen A. Douglas
Stephen A. Douglas

On July 9, 1861, Lyman Trumbull submitted a resolution to the Senate honoring the late Stephen Douglas:


Mr. TRUMBULL announced the death of Hon. STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS as follows:

MR. PRESIDENT: At the close of the last day in the month of May, 1861, on entering the City of Chicago, after a brief visit to this place, I was informed by a friend, who met me at the depot, that my colleague in this body, Hon. STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS, was dying, and would not probably survive an hour. As I approached the Tremont House, in which he lay, I found the sidewalks and the vestibule of the hotel thronged with people, anxiously inquiring after the condition of the dying man. The next morning it was some relief to know that he was still alive, though it was said, with little hope of a recovery. He continued in this condition the whole of the day and the next, when the public began to entertain exportations of his restoration to health. The fears and hopes of the immediate attendants, friends and relatives who watched over him during those awful hours of suspense, and until 9 o’clock on the morning of the 3d day of June, when he expired, I have no disposition, had I the power, to portray.

The solemn duty of announcing my late colleague’s decease imposes upon me no such obligations, and God grant that the wounds then inflicted may not be opened afresh. Mr. DOUGLAS was born in Brandon, Vermont, April 23, 1813, being but 48 years of age at the time of his decease. He was descended from Puritan ancestors by both parents. Of one, his father, he was bereft in infancy; his mother still survives. After acquiring such an education as could be obtained at the common school and the academy, not having the means to perfect it by a collegiate course, at the early age of 20 he emigrated to the State of Illinois, where he taught school for a short time, and in 1834 was admitted to the bar to practice law. In 1835 he was made State Attorney, and from that day to the day of his death was almost constantly engaged in the public service of either the State or the nation. He held the offices of State Attorney, Representative in the Legislature, Secretary of State, and Justice of the Supreme Court in the State of Illinois, and also that of Register of the Land Office at Springfield, in that State, by appointment from Mr. VAN BUREN, before he entered the councils of the nation as a Representative in the other branch of Congress in 1843. He was three times elected by the people to the House of Representatives, and thrice by the Legislature of his State to a seat in this body, and was continuously a member of one House or the other from his first entry in 1843 until his death, four years of his last Senatorial term still remaining unexpired.

From this brief history, it appears that Judge DOUGLAS devoted more than half his life, and all the years of his manhood, to the public service, and so prominent was the part he took in public affairs, so intimate the connection between his own rise and fame, and the progress and renown of his State and the nation, that the history of the one would be incomplete without that of the other. No great public movement has taken place since he entered public life, which has not felt the influence of his will and his intellect. Perhaps no one man, since the Government began, ever exercised a greater influence over the masses of the people than he. No one ever gathered around him more devoted followers, or more enthusiastic admirers, who were willing to do and dare more for another, than were his friends for him. What this charm was that so linked the popular heart to him, that it never faltered, even under circumstances apparently the most discouraging, seems almost mysterious. This feeling of attachment followed him even to the grave, and was never more manifest than after his decease, when he had become alike indifferent to the adulation of friends or the censure of enemies, and when his power had forever departed, either to reward the one and punish the other.

It was then, if ever, as his body lay lifeless, in the city of Chicago, that the true feeling of a people would manifest itself, and it did show itself not only there, but throughout the nation, to an extent scarcely if ever witnessed since the death of the Father of his Country. The badges of mourning were seen displayed not only from the public buildings and the mansions of the rich, but the cottages of the poor, the carts of the workmen, and the implements of the laborer were everywhere to be seen draped with the habiliments of woe, all the more touching as they were simple and plain. The people’s favorite in life, he was followed by their lamentations in death.

But Judge DOUGLAS possessed not only the power of fascinating the masses, he was a marked man wherever he went and with whomsoever he associated. No matter whether as a lawyer at the bar, as a Judge on the bench, at an agricultural society where the skilled in mechanic and industrial pursuits were assembled, at some college commencement where the learned were convened, in the other House of Congress in the midst of the tumult and commotion of its most excited debates, in this more deliberative body, or before the popular assembly of the people, wherever he appeared, he always shone conspicuous. He was one of the few men who have proved themselves equal to every emergency in which they have been called upon to act. I remember well when he was transferred from the House of Representatives to the Senate, his enemies predicted, and his friends feared, that his talents were not fitted for this body, and that he would be unable to sustain the reputation he had acquired in the more popular branch.

He entered here when the great men, whose talents, and learning, and eloquence, have shed an undying luster on the American Senate, when CLAY, WEBSTER, BENTON and CALHOUN, in the vigor of manhood, full of wisdom and experience, were still here, and proved himself no mean compeer of either. His speech of 1850, wherein he met and refuted the positions of the great Carolinian upon the very points which have been made the pretexts of the Southern rebellion, was perhaps the greatest effort of his life.

The distinguishing characteristics of Judge DOUGLAS which enabled him to cope successfully with the greatest intellects of the age, were fearlessness, quickness of apprehension, a strong will and indomitable energy. He knew no such word as fail. He had full confidence in himself and in his ability to accomplish whatever he undertook. In controversy he was unsurpassed, and without pretension either to accomplished scholarship or eloquence, there was a fullness in his voice, and earnestness in his manner, a directness in his argument, and a determination in his every look and action, which never failed to command attention, and often, electrifying the multitude, would elicit unbounded applause. This crowded Chamber has often been witness of the delight with which the multitude hung upon his words.

Of the political course of Judge DOUGLAS and its effect on the country, it does not become me to speak, but I may be permitted to say that when a portion of the opposition to the Administration assumed the position of armed resistance to its authority, and attempted by force to dismember the Republic, he at once took sides with his country. His course had much to do in producing that unanimity in support of the Government which is now seen throughout the loyal States. The sublime spectacle of twenty millions of people rising as one man in vindication of constitutional liberty and free government when assailed by misguided rebels and plotting traitors, is to a considerable extent due to his efforts. His magnanimous and patriotic course in this trying hour of his country’s destiny was the crowning act of his life.

All his life long a devoted partisan of the Democratic faith, he did not hesitate when his country was in peril, chiefly from those who had formerly been his political associates, to give his powerful support and the aid of his great influence to the Government, though controlled by political adversaries. If in thus discharging his duty, Judge DOUGLAS manifested a disinterestedness, a magnanimity and a patriotism which entitles him to credit, it is but just to say that he was met by his political opponents in a similar spirit.

Perhaps the highest compliment ever paid him, and one which few statesmen have ever received, was that extended to him by the Legislature of Illinois after his return to the State after the close of the last session of the Senate. That body, controlled in both Houses by his political adversaries, unanimously invited him to address them on the condition of the country, and nobly did he respond to the invitation. His address delivered on that occasion, which by order of the Legislature was extensively circulated through the State, will ever remain an enduring monument to his fame, and an example, worthy of all imitation, of the sacrifice of pride to principle, of self to country, and of party to patriotism.

In social life Judge DOUGLAS was genial and attractive. Open, frank, and generous almost to a fault, he never failed to exercise a large influence over all with whom he came in contact, and few men have ever had more numerous or more devoted personal friends.

Such were some of the characteristics of our departed brother. Inheriting neither wealth nor position from an illustrious ancestry, he acquired both by the active, energetic, laborious and never-ceasing use of those noble faculties with which he was endowed by the Great Author of all; and if the wealth he at one time possessed does not remain to those who were dependent on him, it is because the energies of his great mind were devoted rather to the country and to the whole people than to providing for his own. Laboring under the defects of an imperfect education in early life, his industry and his energy supplied the want. He was emphatically a self-made man, and the history of his life affords a striking illustration of what industry and energy, united with a strong will, can accomplish. But that iron will which had so often met and overcome obstacles, was compelled at last to yield to the king of terrors, for it is appointed unto men once to die.

Only a few months ago Judge DOUGLAS, in vigorous health, went forth from this chamber to rally his countrymen to the support of the Constitution and the laws, and then to die. To die at the very zenith of his fame, when a whole loyal people, forgetting past political ties, stood ready to do him honor. His death in the full vigor of manhood should admonish us who are left, that here we have no abiding-place, it may be not even for the brief periods for which we are chosen members of this body.

Mr. DOUGLAS was not a professor of religion in the sense of being attached to any particular Church, but in his will, executed several years before his decease, after providing for his worldly affairs, he says: “I commit my soul to God, and ask the prayers of the good for His divine blessing,” thus leaving on record the evidence of his trust in the Supreme Ruler of the world.

He leaves surviving him a widow, and two children by a former marriage. Into the domestic circle broken by his departure I do not propose to enter; nor to attempt by any poor words of mine to administer consolation to those who were bound to him by the closest of ties. How unutterable must be the anguish of the aged mother, the sister, the children, and the bosom companion of him whose departure has clothed a whole nation in mourning. I can only point them to him who has promised to be a Father to the fatherless, and the widow’s God.

On the 7th day of June all that remained of our departed brother was interred near the City of Chicago, on the shore of Lake Michigan, whose pure waters, often lashed into fury by contending elements, are a fitting memento of the stormy and boisterous political tumults through which the great popular orator so often passed. There the people whose idol he was will erect a monument to his memory, and there in the soil of the State which so long without interruption, and never to a greater extent than at the moment of his death, gave him her confidence, let his remains repose so long as free Governments shall last, the Constitution he loved shall endure. I offer the following resolution:

Resolved, That the members of the Senate, from a sincere desire of showing every mark of respect due to the memory of Hon. STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS, deceased, late a Senator from the State of Illinois, will go into mourning by wearing crape on the left arm for thirty days.
Resolved, unanimously, That, as an additional remark of respect for the memory of Hon. STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS, the Senate do now adjourn.

Mr. MCDOUGALL followed, seconding the resolutions, and speaking in high terms of the public and private character of Mr. DOUGLAS.

Mr. COLLAMER said Mr. DOUGLAS was a native of Vermont, and he claimed to utter a few words at this time. Mr. DOUGLAS’ career was a firm evidence of the efficiency of our institutions; his whole career comprised in nearly 20 years, yet secured the affections of the great mass of the Democratic Party, and he held their hearts in his hands; Mr. DOUGLAS supported the Democratic Party as a National party, and was defeated, not by the body of the party, but by a conspiracy of leaders in the party, who were enemies of the country.

Messrs. NESMITH, BROWNING and ANTHONY next spoke in eulogy of Mr. DOUGLAS. Adjourned.

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