ESSAY –General Jackson is Dead

This essay original appeared in The Worlds of James Buchanan – Thaddeus Stevens, ed. Michael J. Birkner, Randall M. Miller, and John W Quist, LSU Press, (2019), 82-108.

“General Jackson is dead”: Dissecting a Popular Anecdote of Nineteenth-Century Party Leadership  

By Matthew Pinsker

President James Buchanan delivered an icy stare to Senator Stephen A. Douglas as they sat across from each other inside the White House on Thursday morning, December 3, 1857.  The Little Giant had just refused a direct request from Old Buck about the growing Lecompton controversy.  The new Congress was assembling and everybody had been talking for weeks about the fate of slavery in the Kansas territory.  The main question was whether national Democrats in Washington were going to accept the so-called Lecompton “swindle,” allowing pro-slavery forces in Kansas to essentially stack the deck for an upcoming constitutional referendum which they had manipulated shamelessly and then scheduled with dubious authority.   Under pressure from Southern Democrats, the president was prepared to acquiesce, but the Illinois senator, author of the original Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, had just revealed to him that he would not.  This was not the illustration of popular sovereignty which he had imagined for the territory. It was a tense moment.  “Mr. Douglas,” Buchanan finally observed, “I do wish you to remember that no democrat ever yet differed from an administration of his own choice without being crushed,” adding ominously, “Beware of the fate of Tallmadge and Rives.”  Defiant as ever, Senator Douglas stood up in the face of that implicit threat and replied coolly, “Mr. President, I wish you to remember that General Jackson is dead, sir.”


That striking scene has been recounted many times over the years by nineteenth-century historians and biographers.  Yet, it is better understood as an example of self-serving political fiction than any kind of transcript for real political drama.  This was a memorable story, for sure, but one that was told with a strategic purpose after the fact –first by a mysterious leak in the spring of 1858, and then again, with ever more elaborate detail from Douglas himself, in two combative speeches during the 1860 presidential campaign.  The beleaguered candidate’s unexpected degree of open betrayal then compelled the incumbent president to deny the whole story in public.  It was all wildly unprecedented. For this reason, the “General Jackson is dead” insult reveals even more about the pivotal 1860 election contest than it does about the earlier Lecompton crisis.


Such a complicated, evolving anecdote also illustrates a great deal about the challenges of writing antebellum political narrative.  Scholars have used this story for years without fully fact-checking its sources.  There are many possible explanations for this oversight, but mainly it is because historians, like the participants themselves, are often prone to oversimplify for the sake of making a dramatic point. Naturally, dissecting such an episode does kill much of the drama within it, but what remains is significant nonetheless.  The alleged Douglas retort provides both a case study in narrative methodology and also a pathway towards a more nuanced view about one of the most consequential feuds in American political history.

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There is no denying that some of the finest historians in the field have relished using this particular anecdote, even sometimes adding their own minor embellishments in ways that seem to owe more to Shakespeare than Herodotus.  In his magisterial volume on the breakup of the Democratic Party, Roy Nichols claims to know that both men were in “dictatorial moods” that December morning. Allan Nevins begins his colorful account with what he imagines as a “frigid” handshake between the politicians.  “Douglas stormed into the White House,” is how James McPherson frames the famous encounter in Battle Cry of Freedom (1988). Buchanan biographer Philip Klein implies that he knows the exact pacing of the private interview, detailing how the bitter rivals discussed the Lecompton problem “dispassionately at first,” but then “with increasing impatience, and rancor.”  In the course of summarizing their conversation, Douglas biographer Robert Johannsen goes deep inside his subject’s mind, emphasizing the Illinois senator’s shock “at being so peremptorily ignored” on Kansas matters. Klein has a dignified Buchanan rising to deliver his memorable threat about the now-obscure political figures, Nathanial P. Tallmadge and William C. Rives.  Nevins suggests it was the Little Giant who must have “tossed his mane of black hair angrily” as he stood in defiance of the embattled president.  Every leading scholar seems to quote Douglas’s nifty line about Andrew Jackson being dead, even those few, like David Potter or Kenneth Stampp, who quietly acknowledge some uncertainty surrounding its exact phrasing.  “I wish you to remember that General Jackson is dead, Sir,” really has become the “retort,” as Jean Baker describes it, “that in different forms and with different subjects has resonated throughout American history.”[1]


The original source material for these scholars comes almost exclusively from a hastily improvised Douglas campaign speech, delivered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on October 13, 1860.  This effort represented Douglas’s only extended first-hand public commentary on the affair.  In those remarks, he did not describe any “frigid” handshakes or “tossed” manes of hair, but the candidate did regale his audience with the colorful lines quoted at the outset of this essay. The full text of the Douglas statement then quickly appeared in several friendly Democratic newspapers, presumably provided by the senator’s longtime traveling assistant (and shorthand transcription expert), James B. Sheridan. Over the years, some scholars reviewed these accounts themselves, but most appear to have relied on excerpted versions of the speech that appeared in the 1880s and 1890s when it was brought back into circulation through two major post-war political studies.  Longtime Democratic newspaper editor Jeriah Bonham relayed part of the Douglas version in his memoir, Fifty Years Recollections (1883), though he mistakenly placed the speech in Chicago.  More significantly, former Lincoln aides John G. Nicolay and John Hay included an even lengthier excerpt from the Milwaukee speech in their influential 1890 multi-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln.[2]


Modern historians do not often quote from the initial public reports about the Buchanan-Douglas meeting, probably because they offer almost none of the dramatic details that Douglas shared in Milwaukee in 1860.  They also convey a far more uncertain impression of the encounter.  The New York Herald provided the most widely reprinted contemporary dispatch about the affair, transmitted by telegraph on the very day that it occurred. “Judge Douglas and the President to-day had a full and free interchange of opinion on the Kansas question,” claimed the Herald’s Washington correspondent, “without, it is understood, being able to arrive at the same conclusion in regard to the line of policy which justice and duty required each to pursue.”  Despite this allusion to intraparty conflict, the report from this leading Democratic newspaper then pointedly described the “interview” as “courteous,” before claiming the men had “parted as friends.”[3]   In a separate story within the same column, the paper also observed with apparent authority that Douglas “intends to suspend judgment until he sees what position the President takes in his message, and all the facts upon the subject are laid before the Senate,” predicting that only then, would he “take an early occasion to define his position.”[4]  Numerous Democratic newspapers carried some version of these initial dispatches.


The Republican press was naturally far more willing to stoke the flames of discord.  Both the New York Tribune and the Chicago Tribune almost immediately interpreted the Buchanan-Douglas meeting as a clear sign of growing division within the Democratic ranks.  “Senator Douglas and the President had a conference this morning on Kansas affairs,” wrote Horace Greeley’s correspondent on Thursday afternoon, December 3, “but without any satisfactory result.”  According to that account, “Senator Douglas denounced the Convention and maintained the whole Constitution ought to be submitted to the people.” This dispatch concluded, “The Democratic camp is troubled again.”  In Chicago, the Republican paper commented almost gleefully on the apparent disagreement over Kansas policy expressed at the “interview” where each man was “absolute in his position.”  On this point, the Tribune could barely contain its enthusiasm. “Has Douglas at last rebelled?” it asked.  “Has he mustered the courage to brave the lion in his lair?”[5]


This was the critical question, but the answer, at least coming out of the meeting itself, was more muted than one might expect given all of the later stormy retellings of the encounter.  On Friday, the Herald’s correspondent confirmed that Douglas seemed concerned but was holding his fire. “Judge Douglas denies that he has broken ground with the administration on the Kansas question,” came the definitive-sounding report.  “He says he disapproves much that has been done, but will wait until he sees the Message and hears all sides before determining definitely upon his course of action.  He hopes all differences will be healed.”[6]


Here was coded language for political truce, not war.  Buchanan and Douglas were circling each other warily, but the full open breach between them had not yet occurred.  It is important to recall that these two party leaders had spent much of the previous year working in harmony on the knotty Kansas question despite their lingering personal antipathy as previous rivals.  They were also both heavily invested as leaders in getting the nation and their party past the sectional troubles over the territory’s future.  If they now disagreed over the state’s flawed constitutional process, no matter how sharply, then each politicians was still pragmatic and experienced enough to realize that no good would come from an open feud about it.  Of course, they might well have threatened and insulted each other anyway inside the confines of the White House –nobody can know for sure– but even so, that would have meant practically nothing to these Washignton veterans.  They needed each other, and they knew it.  That was the essential message that Douglas appeared to be trying to convey through the pages of the New York Herald.


In his own stiff, halting manner, President Buchanan also tried to reciprocate.  He devoted nearly one-fifth of his annual message delivered to Congress on Tuesday, December 8, to the subject of Kansas, even though he grumbled near the end that in his opinion the troubled territory had “for some years occupied too much of the public attention.”  What consumed most of Buchanan’s verbiage was a paean to Douglas’s original territorial organizing legislation and its “great doctrine of popular sovereignty.”[7]   This was an internal peace overture of sorts, one that Buchanan and his advisors clearly hoped would placate the Illinois senator even as they ignored his warnings about endorsing the dubious constitutional referendum.  Even though some Douglas supporters in Illinois and elsewhere leapt at this rhetorical offering when they read the message, it was not nearly enough.[8]  Senator Douglas himself wasted no time in announcing right after the official reading that he “totally dissent[ed]” from the president’s position on the Lecompton matter and that he would speak from the Senate floor about it on the following day, Wednesday, December 9, 1857.[9]


That speech, which Douglas biographer Robert Johannsen calls “probably the most significant of his career,” marked the actual open breach with Buchanan, but even then, it is important to realize that it was not yet an irreparable one.[10]  Both sides continued to labor in the subsequent months to overcome their differences.  The Lecompton matter was complicated by a number of technical factors –whether or not the original convention had authority to draft a state constitution, how exactly that constitution should be submitted to eligible voters within the territory, and finally, and most explosively, whether the property rights of existing slaveholders could somehow be protected even if territorial voters rejected any future for slavery in the new state.  All of those factors had played into the “swindle” at Lecompton, but the complex nature of these issues made the crisis an inherently negotiable one –at least for national Democrats like Buchanan and Douglas, who were no longer beholden to a strong antislavery faction in their party after the tumultuous realignment of 1854 which had given birth to the Republicans.


So, for the time being, Douglas remained as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories, and retained much of his influence on Capitol Hill despite his open rupture with the president.  Though still a leading senator, he probably held his greatest sway during this period over Democratic forces in the House, where the combined anti-Lecompton votes of Republicans and selected Northern Democrats still held a shaky majority.  This reality in the House then compelled the president and his men to attempt to forge some kind of compromise measure. Hence, the so-called English bill emerged in the spring of 1858, a proposal drafted by William English, a House Democrat from Indiana, which shifted the debate away from the controversial December referendum and towards a plan for a new territorial vote tied to a land grant issue.  There were also other key compromise initiatives floated during that period, including one from Senator John Crittenden of Kentucky which Douglas supported, but ultimately it was the English bill which prevailed. For weeks and months, however, it was unclear exactly how these matters would shake out, and whether or not Douglas might be able to find common ground with the president and the national party.


That was how the dramatic story of the private Buchanan-Douglas meeting from December got a new lease on life.  On Wednesday, March 24, 1858, editor Henry J. Raymond reported to the New York Times from Washington in a fascinating column about the Kansas question that included an entirely new set of details about the earlier White House encounter.  Raymond began his dispatch by noting that “Nobody, in or out of Congress, talks or thinks of anything else,” besides “the fate of Lecompton.”  He claimed this was not really because of the slavery issue per se, but rather the result of all the stratagems over “party divisions, or party supremacy,” which he believed were “at the bottom of most of it.”  Raymond concluded that the president had made a near fatal error by insisting upon Lecompton as a party measure, and was now on the verge of feeling its defeat as “a death-blow to his Administration.”  By contrast, Douglas appeared to the Republican journalist from New York as almost indifferent to Buchanan’s fate and thoroughly unbowed by the “marked bitterness” being directed towards him from Southern Democrats.  To punctuate this point about the Little Giant’s unwillingness to appear either “mealy-mouthed” or “overfastidious,” Raymond then described for his readers some vague “interviews” between the senator and president, during “an early stage of his defection,” where:

the latter remarked to him that it was very perilous for a public man to put himself in opposition to his party –and that he must take the liberty of reminding him of the fate of Rives and Tallmadge, who rebelled against the policy of Gen. Jackson. “Permit me, Mr. President,” Douglas replied, “permit me to remind you that General Jackson is dead.


This outright defiance, according to Raymond, was “very much the tone which the Illinois Senator has taken throughout this contest.”[11]


That last characterization may or may not have been true, but these were certainly provocative new details of the Buchanan-Douglas feud that Raymond was now sharing with the public.  The journalist did not provide any sources for his intimate scene-setting, but the implication was that he got such confidential information from Senator Douglas himself, or at least from one of his trusted advisors.  The question is why would tongues from the Douglas camp have become loosened by March 1858, especially in front of a Republican journalist?  Perhaps it was an accident, someone just blurting out the literal truth of what had happened one night while drinking in Washington.  More likely, however, if Douglas or one of his aides had really been the source behind Raymond’s reportage, then it was probably because they were boasting, intentionally inflating (or perhaps even inventing) the General Jackson retort in order to enhance the senator’s image at a key moment in this ongoing partisan saga.


But there is an equally plausible scenario that suggests it was Raymond who might have been the one guilty of reshaping this anecdote for partisan purposes.  The Buchanan-Douglas feud represented an enormous opportunity for Republicans. Leading party newspaper editors from the East, such as Raymond and Horace Greeley, were practically salivating at the prospect of drawing the Little Giant out of the Democratic Party.  Their obvious interest in the Illinois senator had been the subject of intense parlor discussions for months, and a particular source of concern to Abraham Lincoln. From Springfield, he was asking sharply, for example, “What does the New-York Tribune mean by it’s constant eulogising, and admiring, and magnifying [of] Douglas?”[12]  Raymond was somewhat less openly admiring of Douglas than Greeley, but he was just as invested in flipping him.  Thus, by late March 1858, with the Lecompton debate at a critical juncture and with growing signs that Democrats were trying to find grounds for mutual accommodation, a shrewd Republican party journalist like Raymond might well have felt plenty of motivation to rekindle the embers of that high-level dispute, even at the cost of little political fiction.


One clue which suggests at least at some level of script-doctoring by Raymond was the pointed reference to “the fate of Rives and Tallmadge, who rebelled against the policy of Gen. Jackson.”  This was not such an uncommon usage in that era, but the way it was framed here was oddly wrong.   Rives and Tallmadge had been two respected Conservative Democrats from the 1830s and 1840s.  Rives had been the more prominent figure, a member of the Virginia gentry who had once studied law under Thomas Jefferson, served in Congress and then joined the Jackson administration as the American minister to France before entering the U.S. senate in 1832.  Tallmadge was an experienced New York politician, who had begun his senatorial career in Washington just one year after Rives had joined the upper chamber.  Both men sometimes defied President Jackson, such as over his Specie Circular in 1836, but they bickered much more openly with his successor, Martin Van Buren.[13]


Van Buren biographer Donald Cole provides an especially sophisticated account of the Conservative Democratic realignment in the late 1830s.   Cole situates Rives and Tallmadge and their conservative allies in a four-way policy battle that erupted in late 1837 over Van Buren’s independent treasury proposal, with Calhoun and his hard money faction on one extreme, and pro-bank Whigs led by Webster and Clay on the other.  The Conservative Democrats occupied a middle ground, preferring the old Jacksonian pet banks to the new president’s alternative.  For a time, they frustrated Van Buren administration efforts by voting occasionally with the Whigs.[14]  Naturally, tensions mounted, and by 1839, Rives and Tallmadge had officially switched party affiliations, as much from local forces in their respective states, however, as from any irreconcilable conflict with the administration.  With some hiccups (Virginia was without a senator for over a year in the early 1840s), they were able to continue in office as U.S. senators caucusing with the Whigs until 1844 and 1845, long after both Jackson and Van Buren had departed from Washington.  Ex-senator Tallmadge subsequently held an appointment as governor of the Wisconsin territory and Rives even enjoyed a second stint in Paris during the early 1850s as U.S. minister under the Taylor-Fillmore administrations.  Their “fate” as party bolters had not really been so dire, nor was it the result of any action by General Jackson.


True, both men were out of elective office by the 1850s, and their subsequent careers had exposed them to a degree of disdain from regular politicos. Tallmadge had become a noted spiritualist (claiming direct communication from the aura of the late Daniel Webster no less) and Rives, somewhat more quietly, was on his way toward becoming a respected historian, author of a soon-to-be published multi-volume biography of James Madison.[15]


Perhaps more than anything else that explains why these two figures had become a kind of editorial punchline in the 1850s whenever Democratic newspapermen were trying to discourage party bolting.[16]  Yet that is also why this seems suspiciously like something that Raymond might have found as useful source material if he was trying to come up with a credible (but fictional) line for a Buchanan threat. The problem is that he had Old Buck invoking Rives and Tallmadge, and then Douglas responding with a reference to General Jackson.  But it was Van Buren, not Jackson, who tangled with the disloyal senators.  Besides, neither president had really done much to destroy the careers of those men anyway.  Raymond was only a teenager living in upstate New York during the original controversy over the independent treasury proposal, so he probably just did not understand or even remember the full story.


Historians have not always been clear about these nuances when explaining the meaning behind Buchanan’s alleged threat.  Biographer Philip Klein claims flatly that Jackson “destroyed the careers” of Rives and Tallmadge. In Battle Cry of Freedom (1988), James McPherson describes them as “two senators who had gone into political oblivion after crossing Andrew Jackson.”[17]  That was the impression left by the Times story from March 1858, and also from the campaign version later embellished by Douglas in October 1860, but it was not the reality.  Douglas was older than Raymond, but also would have been too young to know the story first-hand. He had only been a novice state legislator in his mid-twenties, still serving with Lincoln in Vandalia, when the Conservative Democrats had first launched their revolt against Van Buren.  Ironically, the only one in this exchange who actually knew the episode well was President Buchanan.  He had served as a colleague in the Senate with both Rives and Tallmadge and had even remained on good terms with the New Yorker.  In fact, Tallmadge had publicly endorsed him during the 1856 presidential contest –yet another reason why it seems unlikely that Buchanan would have threatened Douglas with a reference to his friend’s “fate.”[18]


Still, the larger point here is that Douglas survived his presidential challenge in 1858, and did so with even greater aplomb than either Rives or Tallmadge.  His rupture with the president was made final by his decision to vote against the English Bill, which passed in late spring.  Despite all their efforts, there was to be no compromise between these two stubborn leaders.  Instead, Buchanan began to seek wholesale retribution against Douglas by early that summer, dumping many of the senator’s patronage appointees in Illinois and attempting to undermine his bid to win reelection to the Senate.  In his fury, Douglas even suspected Buchanan and Lincoln of conspiring against him, believing that the administration was actively helping his wily Republican opponent (designated as the “first and only choice” of Illinois Republicans in a defiant protest of their own against the machinations of opportunistic editors like Greeley and Raymond).  Yet the Little Giant ultimately beat them both, earning his third term in the U.S. Senate through a combination of closely-fought legislative battles in the fall elections and holdovers from the state senate.  Meanwhile, in August 1858, Kansas voters had rejected the new constitutional referendum, thoroughly repudiating the administration’s Lecompton policy. It had not been an easy year for Douglas, but in the end it was a remarkable personal triumph.


Victory for Douglas was so complete that he had some reason to hope he might be able to continue to overcome Buchanan’s venom and Southern bitterness in order to reunite the party for the national contest in 1860. Yet as Raymond had observed wisely in March 1858, Southern Democrats were so consumed by their anger at Douglas, they had seemingly “transferred their hatred of the Republicans to him, and their chief anxiety now is, that he should not reap the reward of his ‘treachery.’”[19]  Douglas was able to win the Democratic presidential nomination in June 1860, but not before Southern Democrats had bolted from the convention in disgust and set up their own campaign.  The defection of Southern votes hurt, but in a complicated four-way race (involving Lincoln for the Republicans, John Bell for the Constitutional Unionists, and Buchanan’s vice-president, John C. Breckinridge for Southern Democrats), it was not necessarily a fatal blow.  Yet it left hardly any margin for error.  Thus, when President Buchanan added to Douglas’s already imposing challenge by publicly signaling his unprecedented endorsement for Breckinridge and fellow party bolters in early July 1860, Douglas was truly in grave political jeopardy.[20]


Now facing his own set of crippling betrayals as the ostensible national leader of the Democratic Party, Douglas did not hesitate to lash out in public, and in so doing, he decided for the first time in public to retell the story behind his original Lecompton confrontation with Buchanan.  Douglas spoke about this matter at the end of July 1860 in Concord, New Hampshire, at the start of what would soon become a grueling and unprecedented national campaign.  Douglas was the first American presidential candidate to stump for the presidential office, a decision he had made impetuously in the summer of 1860, almost out of desperation following the break-up of the national party organization.  But as he did, Douglas determined to exact some personal revenge on Buchanan.


At Concord, Douglas described in seemingly candid terms the pivotal conversation he had conducted with Buchanan in December 1857.  “The President told me,” Douglas now claimed, “that if I did not obey him and vote to force that Lecompton Constitution on the people of Kansas against their will, that he would take off the head of every friend that I had in office.”[21]  There was no specific reference here to a meeting inside the White House, nor any mention of Rives and Tallmadge, nor even the late, lamented General Jackson, but as always, Douglas proved eager to impress his audience with vivid details about how he had delivered a sharp rejoinder in the moment of crisis.  In this version, he claimed he had responded to the president’s indelicate threat with an earnest invocation of principle:


I told him in reply, that my friends were as dear to me as those of any other man could be to him; but that if I had a friend who was not willing to lose his office rather than to degrade me into a tool of the Executive power, he did not deserve to be my friend.


Then Douglas proceeded to rant at some length about the dangers of unbridled executive power and Buchanan’s penchant for petty partisan leadership.  He reminded the audience how Buchanan’s vendetta against him in the famous senatorial campaign against Lincoln had failed and predicted that it would be overcome yet once again.[22]


Buchanan was bitterly offended by such public indiscretion, so much so that he also decided to break political traditions.  Within weeks after the Concord speech, the president’s allies were circulating a devastating public letter to Democratic newspapers, written by the president, categorically denying the charges. Buchanan began by quoting Douglas’s memorable line about him threatening to “take off the head of every friend” and observed coyly that there must have been some kind of “mistake.” “I never held any such conversation with Judge Douglas,” Buchanan informed Virginia congressman William H. Smith, his ostensible correspondent, on August 11th, “nor any conversation whatever affording the least color or pretext for such a statement.” He went on to add that it was simply “not in my nature to address such threatening and insulting language to any gentleman.”  Yet he could help but observe that the two men had not conversed at all, on any subject, since that moment in December 1857. By the president’s reckoning, the accusations about a patronage war against the Illinois senator were also wildly overblown, since he had “not removed one in ten of his friends, and not one of his relatives.”[23]  This was a common refrain of Buchanan’s.   On that same day that he wrote Congressman Smith, the president had dashed off a confidential note to a journalist claiming in this case that he had not removed “one in twenty of the Douglas office holders,” observing specifically that the senator’s father-in-law and brother-in-law both still held “lucrative offices.” “I do not indulge a proscriptive spirit,” Buchanan boasted, conveniently ignoring his earlier well-publicized purge of prominent Douglas supporters during the 1858 campaign.[24]


Regardless of who was right about the relative vindictiveness of the Democratic administration, this public spectacle was quite unusual in American political history.  Intraparty feuds were fairly common.  Discussing them directly in campaign speeches and through party newspapers was not. This much Buchanan acknowledged.  “I have transgressed a rule,” he admitted, before explaining that he had deemed “the present case a proper exception” because Douglas’s extraordinary public statement “comes with such force.”[25]  Douglas was never one to be cowed by a rebuke, but the high stakes nature of this intraparty spat seemed to propel him into greater discipline.  In the subsequent weeks, he continued to assault Breckinridge but does not appear to have returned to the Buchanan story, at least not until campaign conditions changed dramatically for him in mid-October.


The next time Douglas addressed the issue in public, he was hoarse and exhausted, speaking at an outdoor rally in Milwaukee on a Saturday afternoon, October 13, 1860.  The candidate was then in the midst of a period that biographer Martin Quitt describes as “a strenuous stretch of constant movement.”[26]  With Breckinridge and his administration allies still holding most Southern Democrats and even threatening by some accounts to steal votes among Northern conservatives in the complex race, Douglas was in dire straits. By mid-October, he had been campaigning almost without interruption since July. The Little Giant had traveled across New England, the Great Lakes region and had even dipped into some of the Border States of the Upper South, powered by the nation’s impressive antebellum railroad network and prodigious amounts of alcohol, at least according to persistent rumors of his inebriation.[27]  Just days prior to arriving in Milwaukee, however, Douglas had also received word that Republicans had swept state elections in Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania –a clear sign that Douglas’s electoral slate was going to be demolished at the national polls in November despite his strenuous efforts.  One can only imagine the mounting sense of frustration as the Little Giant came to realize that his campaign, and the country were falling apart.  From Douglas’s perspective, extremists from both sides –Republicans in the North and Breckinridge Democrats in the South– had ruined him.


You can hear it all in his recounting of the now-famous version of his showdown with President Buchanan.   He was determined to release his venom by embarrassing the president with lurid details about Buchanan’s un-Jacksonian behavior.  The immediate run-up to Douglas’s vivid anecdote, the one he delivered in full fury at Milwaukee, is critical to understanding his mindset and yet has almost always been left out of the narrative equation.  Douglas began his most colorful recounting of the events of December 1857 by announcing that an “Abolitionist newspaper” had “just been placed in my hands,” which contained what he termed “ludicrous and laughable” charges from a “Breckinridge committee in Kansas,” namely that he had been the secret architect of the Lecompton swindle.[28]  Douglas was referring to an article that had appeared just the day before in the Chicago Tribune containing testimony from several former delegates to the 1857 Lecompton constitutional convention detailing Douglas’s secret role in their deliberations.

This was a story that had circulated briefly in late 1857 before the Buchanan-Douglas feud had really escalated, but it had since disappeared from public discussion.[29]  Now, however, these Kansas men were recalling in writing how their convention president, the late John Calhoun, a former resident of Springfield, Illinois and one of Douglas’s closest patronage friends in the territory, had shared with them a secret letter from the senator endorsing what became their controversial plan to craft a phony, pro-slavery referendum for the territory.[30] Douglas snarled with disdain as he insisted that this idea was “false in every particular.”  The Milwaukee audience responded in boisterous fashion –“Fictitious undoubtedly” cried one listener while hundreds of others offered “Great laughter” and “Immense applause.”  The accusation had become almost impossible to believe.  It had long been understood that it was Douglas’s opposition to the maneuvers of the pro-slavery forces at Lecompton in 1857 that had earned him Buchanan’s unbridled wrath and which had actually placed him in his present gloomy political fix –being the losing presidential candidate of a shattered national party.  Now, if this charge were true, it would seem as if he had nothing left, not even the dignity of his principles.


Nineteenth-century American campaigns were very rough affairs, full of invective, falsehoods and often the worst kinds of bigotry or fear mongering.  Yet even by those low standards, this particular assault from the Democratic Association of Leavenworth was notably hard-hitting.  The charges, which first appeared in the New Orleans Delta on October 7, were considered highly sensational.  “STARTLING DISCLOSURES,” blared the headline in the Tribune and also within numerous other journals, which carried the story, North and South, throughout mid-October, “Read! Read! Read!”[31]  The Breckinridge forces in Kansas had pulled together ten separate, quite detailed and credible-sounding statements from leading Lecompton figures.  Six of the men testified that during the rump constitutional convention in autumn 1857 someone read to them from, or they heard about, a confidential letter by Douglas authorizing the partial submission of the pro-slavery constitution as a device to enable Kansas statehood.  Two additional delegates also claimed to have seen the actual letter, including one old ally of Douglas’s from Illinois days (a man named Green Redmon) who swore that he had even recognized the handwriting.  Two others confessed they had only heard about this mysterious document afterward, but one of them revealed that the Calhoun family now acknowledged possessing the letter and that some political agent (presumably from the Douglas camp) had recently offered them a bribe of two thousand dollars for it.


It was nearly three years since the Lecompton constitution had been originally drafted and just over two years since it had been killed, but these painstaking references to the “partial submission” schedule still mattered in American politics.  Everyone remembered how a handful of die-hard Lecompton delegates had once opposed what was being called full submission as they met to draft a new governing document between September and November 1857.  Most of those men had just wanted to craft a pro-slavery constitution and send it directly to Congress where their Southern allies held greater influence.  The Buchanan administration was already on record favoring popular sovereignty for the territory, but southern pressure was building on the president to find a way around what had suddenly become a very inconvenient doctrine for pro-slavery Democrats.  The solution they arrived at for Lecompton was a process deemed partial submission, which Surveyor-General John Calhoun, the convention’s president, eventually prevailed on a majority of the reluctant pro-slavery delegates to accept. Calhoun convinced them, perhaps using Douglas’s secret endorsement, that while they could not just skip the popular vote entirely, they might submit the question of slavery itself to the people –and only the question of slavery– in a manner that would stack the deck in their favor.   The delegates also devised what they called a “schedule” to implement this unusual vote.  It was this initial schedule for balloting on December 21, 1857 that became the source of all subsequent controversy, mainly because it framed the slavery referendum in a devious way (by guaranteeing the continuation of at least some slavery no matter how residents voted), but also because it stripped Governor Walker, a leading moderate, of his powers to interfere in this process.[32]


None of the damaging affidavits that appeared near the end of the 1860 campaign mentioned this hated schedule, but they did refer more obliquely to a “plan” of “partial submission,” which various delegates claimed that Douglas had either suggested or endorsed in his letter to Calhoun.  Thus, it was quite revealing that when Douglas launched into his litany of denials in Milwaukee, he began by disputing a variety of straw man claims.  “I never saw the Lecompton constitution until after it had been adopted in Kansas,” he declared at the outset.  Of course not, that would have been physically impossible. “I never saw the schedule by which the slavery clause was submitted,” he continued, “until after it was forwarded to the states for publication.”  On this point, he was most emphatic, adding, “I never heard, nor conceived, nor dreamed, that any man on earth ever thought of such a scheme.”  Yet that was not what the Breckinridge forces were accusing him of –at least not directly.  The questionnaire that the Democratic Association of Leavenworth had circulated to delegates in late 1860 did not use the word “schedule” at all, but instead asked if the men had seen or heard about a letter from Douglas that “foreshadowed” the final “plan of submission” which they had adopted in 1857.  This formulation was vague enough to allow a range of interpretations, but Douglas intentionally misread these details in order to distract attention from a messier reality and to give extra force to his denials.  It was a classic performance from a master debater who appreciated the benefit of staying on the offensive.  In Milwaukee, Douglas explicitly tried turning the tables on his enemies.  “It seems as if the disunionists of the South and the abolitionists of the North,” he complained, “are determined to hunt me down by all the means that malice can invent.”[33]


It was at this moment that Douglas then unleashed a four thousand-word recollection of his “personal history” with the Lecompton swindle, providing a litany of sharp anecdotes and allegedly verbatim quotations from high-level private conversations, of which the December 3, 1857 interview at the White House played only a minor part.  Douglas began this lengthy narrative in the spring of 1857, describing how he had helped the president convince Robert Walker to accept the position as territorial governor.  He went on to detail the administration’s support for popular sovereignty or full submission during its first year in office, by relating a series of exchanges he had with Walker that seemed to prove Buchanan’s commitment to the policy.  On one point, however, Douglas’s memory grew noticeably fuzzy.  He could not seem to remember what if anything he had communicated to Surveyor General Calhoun about the process of drafting and submitting the state constitution.  “I may possibly have written him,” Douglas conceded, but surely only for minor patronage matters.  “I am not in the habit of writing political letters,” claimed the Illinois senator, almost laughably.


But Douglas was perfectly clear about his reaction to the notorious referendum schedule.  “I denounced it the very instant I heard of it,” he declared.  “I did not wait one hour or one minute when I discovered the trick by which the people were to be cheated.”  Yet he did wait several hours, minutes, and even days before publicly denouncing the Lecompton swindle.  The convention adjourned late on Saturday night, November 7, 1857.  By mid-November reports of the so-called “swindle” were being circulated among the nation’s newspapers.  The Chicago Tribune offered a reasonably accurate if harsh account of the final schedule on November 12, under the headline, “ASTOUNDING DISCLOSURES” with a follow up on November 16 confirming the adjournment and the final decision for partial submission.[34]  Other newspapers followed suit. Douglas made no public comment during this period, however, claiming that he needed to await the full text of the proposed constitution and all the relevant details about the schedule.  He began writing private letters expressing his concern, even disgust, at the news from Lecompton, however, by Monday, November 23, 1857.  “I regret the present position of things in Kansas,” Douglas confessed to an ally in the territory, “and fear the consequences.”  He was still unsure of exactly what had happened, but was becoming more critical of Calhoun’s actions.  “I fear he has made a fatal mistake,” wrote Douglas, “and got us all into trouble.”[35]


According to his recollection, Douglas was defiant from the beginning, responding to the crisis on the “very night the news arrived at Chicago.” But that was just hyperbole. In reality, he was deeply concerned about Lecompton by mid-November but not fully committed to any single course of action. He did not wait long to announce his position and to defy the president in public, but he did wait for a bit.  This slight hesitation was only common sense because despite some clear signals coming from the Buchanan newspapers during the second half of that month, there was no certainty about the president’s final position.[36] That would not come until the annual message on December 8, 1857. This nuance matters because it helps explain an otherwise glaring inconsistency in Douglas’s Milwaukee speech.  He said he did not wait “one hour or minute” to denounce the swindle, but then suggested how after reaching Washington in early December, and going “directly” to the White House to explain his views, the president had “begged” him “not to say anything upon the subject.”


At Milwaukee for the first time, Douglas also revealed that he had responded to Buchanan’s desperate request for loyalty with a counter-offer.  The senator would keep quiet until after December 21 if the president would do so as well.  When Buchanan declined, explaining that his annual message would generally support the Lecompton schedule, Douglas claimed he got angry.  “I replied that if he did I would denounce it the moment his message was read.”  Then the senator shared with his audience all of those now-famous details about their fiery exchange regarding the threat about Tallmadge, Rives, and General Jackson.  He dressed up the language slightly from the way Raymond had reported it back in the spring of 1858.  Now, Douglas had Buchanan saying more ominously (and with the name order suddenly reversed), “Beware of the fate of Tallmadge and Rives.”  More importantly, his reply to this threat was even cooler than previously described. “Mr. President,” Douglas now recalled saying, “I wish you to remember that General Jackson is dead, sir.”


There was no doubt about the impression that Douglas intended to convey at Milwaukee.  The December 1857 meeting was his moment of truth –a turning point.   The president threatened to crush him.  Douglas responded with courage.  The battle was joined.  What resulted was total triumph for the Little Giant, at least in the short term.  The Lecompton Constitution was rejected in the second referendum.  Then the senator from Illinois won a tough reelection contest.  It was a rare moment of pure vindication. As Douglas put it that day in Milwaukee, “And one thing is certain, the people of Illinois decided in 1858 that James Buchanan was not General Jackson.”  During very worst moment of his 1860 campaign, it must have felt reassuring to recall the magic of his greatest political triumph.


This also helps explain why the confrontation story had grown so much in his retelling.  What had worked in Concord back in July no longer seemed rousing enough by mid-October.  So Douglas punched up the details.  He may have done so because it was the truth, or perhaps because he had since consulted the old newspaper clippings from the spring of 1858, but there can be no doubt that his story had changed, and that even within his final, most elaborate retelling, there were a host of inconsistencies and incredible claims.


Nobody really found the time to challenge him directly on such points in 1860, but many of Douglas’s contemporaries were skeptical of his veracity.  The Washington correspondent for the New York Herald was particularly caustic.  “The speech of Mr. Douglas at Milwaukee is regarded here as showing to what lengths a Longbow can draw his string.”  The Herald dismissed the candidate as “a first rate story teller” who “can dress up imaginary conversations equal to [Charles Walton] Sanders [a popular children’s school book author].”  “The only thing they want,” smirked the powerful Democratic newspaper, “is a seasoning of the truth.”[37]  The Republican newspaper in Milwaukee, edited by the well-regarded Rufus King, quoted this observation from the Herald approvingly just two weeks after Douglas had departed the city.  “We supposed at the time, that the ‘conversation’ which Mr. D. related, as having occurred between President Buchanan and himself, in regard to the Lecompton Constitution, was an ‘imaginary’ one; and the Herald’s correspondent confirms this belief.”[38]


In fairness, the remainder of Douglas’s recollected narrative at Milwaukee was somewhat more credible than what had come before it. The senator related how he had spoken out against the president’s Kansas policy on December 9th, immediately after the presentation of the annual message, and how he had participated in the debates that escalated in early 1858 once the returns from Lecompton referendum were officially received.  He recalled how Calhoun then came to Washington to view these debates, and how the two of them met once, late at night, at Douglas’s home to discuss how things had fallen apart.  Douglas provided a litany of details about their alleged discussion, insisting that when they were actually face-to-face, Calhoun “never intimated that he had any authority from me, that I approved that scheme … [or] that he had received a letter from me.”  To support this claim, Douglas identified a witness to their conversation, U.S. attorney William Weer, from Kansas, who was with them on that night in the Douglas library.  Sure enough, two weeks later at the very end of the 1860 campaign, Weer published an account in a Kansas newspaper fully backing his candidate, and providing a transcript of a letter allegedly written by the senator on November 23, 1857, testifying to his concern over the Lecompton swindle and vowing to remain true to his principles.[39]


Douglas also heatedly denied the charge that his agents had tried to bribe the Calhoun family in order to recover the so-called secret letter, which had provided evidence of his involvement in the partial submission scheme.  He counter-attacked aggressively on this point, bewailing what he described as a character assault on poor old widow Calhoun, whose husband had died just the year before.  He also revealed his own secret information suggesting it was actually a Buchanan office holder from Nebraska who had approached Mrs. Calhoun with the two-thousand-dollar bribe.  By that point in his narrative, Douglas was reaching full throttle on his indignation.  “What can you think of a body of men,” he asked, “who will go around trying to bribe widow women to betray the private correspondence of their dead husbands?”  Naturally, the answer from the audience was, “They’re worse than republicans.”  And with that rejoinder, Douglas finally concluded his lengthy diatribe.  Less than a week later, in Springfield, he took notice of the charges again, because they had been reprinted by the Republican newspaper in town, but he declined to go much further than referring his audience to the “full history” of the Lecompton episode, which had he recounted at Milwaukee and which had been “published” and “before the country for some days.”[40]

*                                  *                                  *


The usual story about the end of the 1860 election is that when Douglas first heard the disappointing results from the October states, he immediately changed his campaign schedule, nobly devoting the rest of his political efforts toward preventing secession.  “Mr. Lincoln is the next President,” he reportedly told his assistant, James Sheridan.  “We must try to save the Union.  I will go South.”  This is at least what Sheridan starting telling people, like John W. Forney and Henry Wilson, after Douglas’s death in 1861, and what historians have generally relayed as fact almost ever since.[41]  Yet again, just like the anecdote about Buchanan, this was not even close to the full reality.  Douglas did go South, and he did argue against secession, but he spent much of October in the North, embroiled in a last-ditch effort to slander President Buchanan as a way to save his own dignity and secure some measure of personal revenge in their long-running feud over Lecompton.


It is probably unfair to conclude that everybody in this affair was lying –Buchanan, Douglas, Raymond, Sheridan or any of the many bit players who contributed at some stage to this partisan drama.  But it must be acknowledged that their stories changed frequently and often contradicted each other.  There is no legitimate reason to accept anyone’s version as the literal truth, and certainly no justification for putting unqualified quotation marks around the most popular lines from this legendary battle royal.


Historians who have written about this episode by presenting it almost exclusively in Douglas’s terms and without any context about the evolution of the anecdote are not not guilty of lying either, but they are perhaps exposing a disciplinary weakness for a good story.  The paragraph that opens this essay really does belong in something like a prequel to Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” movie, and not in a piece of serious historical writing.  That paragraph, and so many others like it that have appeared elsewhere, are just too misleading.  All nineteenth-century historians use recollected material, and few can afford the luxury of deconstructing every shaky memory or conflicting account.  Nonetheless, this famous story has an astonishingly weak pedigree.  Douglas said it, that is true, but there are just too many reasons to doubt him.  Yet very few seem to doubt.


So why have historians generally reported the anecdote as delivered?  Partly, the answer is that we have our own pressures to simplify.  There is something powerfully appealing about the Douglas account that helps transform the complicated minutiae of Lecompton policy into a dramatic clash of egos.  Yet the story behind the memory reveals so much more about the complex culture of antebellum partisanship.    These were not yet the machines of Gilded Age lore, or the marketing monoliths of twentieth-century campaigns.  Partisan organizations still functioned throughout the 1850s as loose coalitions of what good Jacksonians always termed “men and measures.”  Patronage sometimes bound these men, but so did policy measures and nothing matters more in decoding the Buchanan-Douglas confrontation than a deep understanding of Lecompton policy and its surprising last-minute implications for the 1860 presidential contest.


It is also worth recalling just how new political parties were to the scene even in the years before the Civil War.  The Democratic Party was the oldest mass political organization in the world, and yet that history translated into an existence of only about twenty-five years by the time of the Lecompton controversy.  The first national Democratic convention had taken place in Baltimore in 1832.  But occasional nominating conventions hardly equated to formal organization, and it would be fair to observe that Buchanan and Douglas were vying to control a national movement that was built on vapors.  Democratic presidents from this period, even ones generally regarded as weaker figures such as Van Buren or Buchanan, were remarkably involved in the day-to-day management of administration policy.   So, too, were the few Whig executives, like Tyler or Fillmore, who struggled mightily to impose their will on balky partisan operations.  Yet these often-unhappy leaders made do with hardly any staff and relied on the most indirect and inefficient communication tools.  It is a wonder they accomplished anything.


That is almost certainly why they were so prone to imagine an easier past for themselves.  The mythology of General Jackson’s strong leadership had a powerful allure that transcended party lines.  Abraham Lincoln, for one, was always happy to invoke Old Hickory whenever he was communicating with fellow partisans behind the scenes.  He once warned Zachary Taylor’s cabinet that their president was at risk of being portrayed “as a mere man of straw” because he was not being decisive enough.  According to the former Illinois militia captain, the Whig president (and renowned general) “must occasionally say, or seem to say, ‘by the Eternal,’ ‘I take the responsibility.’ “Those phrases,” he had written in 1849, “were the ‘Samson’s locks’ of Gen. Jackson, and we dare not disregard the lessons of experience.”[42]  Lincoln himself once received similar advice from none other than Nathaniel Tallmadge.  “The only complaint I hear is that the Administration moves too slow,” wrote the former New York senator, exactly ten days after the firing on Fort Sumter and about twenty-five years into his alleged “oblivion.”  “Strike terror into your country’s foe — make him believe and feel that the spirit of Jackson is with you.”[43]  The ritual invocations about the “spirit of Jackson” and retorts that reminded people that “General Jackson is dead” were potent symbols of the era, but ultimately, they represent a political mythology that historians need to decode and not perpetuate.


[1] Roy F. Nichols, The Disruption of American Democracy (New York: Free Press, 1948), 137; Allan Nevins, The Emergence of Lincoln (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1950), 1: 253; James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 166; Philip S. Klein, President James Buchanan: A Biography (University Park: Penn State University Press, 1962), 301; Robert W. Johannsen, Stephen A. Douglas (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1973), 586; Kenneth M. Stampp, America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 292-3; David M. Potter, (completed and edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher), The Impending Crisis: 1848-1861 (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), 316; and Jean H. Baker, James Buchanan (New York: Times Books / Henry Holt, 2004), 101-2.

[2] “Mr. Douglas and the Lecompton Constitution,” New York Herald, October 20, 1860, p. 4.  Jeriah Bonham, Fifty Years Recollections (Peoria, IL: J.W. Franks & Sons, 1883), 195, and John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History (9 vols., New York: Century, 1890), 2: 120.

[3] “The Position of Judge Douglas on the Kansas Question,” New York Herald, December 4, 1857, p. 4: 6.

[4] “News from the National Capital,” New York Herald, December 4, 1857.

[5] New York Tribune, December 4, 1857, p. 4: 6.  Chicago Tribune, December 4, 1857, p.1: 1.

[6] “Affairs at Washington,” New York Herald, December 5, 1857, p. 4.

[7] Annual Message, December 8, 1857.

[8] Abraham Lincoln to Lyman Trumbull, December 18, 1857, Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (8 vols., New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 2: 428.

[9] Quoted in Johannsen, 589.

[10] Johannsen, 592.

[11] H[enry] J. R[aymond], “The Kansas Question; Prospect in the House; Feeling in Kansas; The Future,” New York Times, March 26, 1858.

[12] Abraham Lincoln to Lyman Trumbull, December 28, 1857, Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (8 vols., New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 2: 430.

[13] See brief profiles for Rives and Tallmadge in American National Biography ( and the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress (  Neither one has been the subject of a major modern biography, but they are discussed at some length in monographs such as James Roger Sharp, The Jacksonians versus the Banks: Politics in the States After the Panic of 1837 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1970); Jean E. Friedman, The Revolt of the Conservative Democrats: An Essay On American Political Culture and Political Development, 1837-1844 (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1979); and Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

[14] Donald B. Cole, Martin Van Buren and the American Political System (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 306-11.

[15] Tallmadge published excerpts from his communication with the late Webster in his introduction and appendix to Charles Linton, The Healing of the Nations (New York: Society for the Diffusion of Spiritual Knowledge, 1855), a popular spiritualist tract.  Rives published the first volume of his well-received multi-part biography of Madison in 1859; see History of the Life and Times of James Madison (3 vols., Boston: Little, Brown,1859-1868).  In terms of the general disdain, at least for Tallmadge, James Shields, for example, apparently mocked former New York senator for his spiritualism on the Senate floor in 1854:  “Letter from Ex-Senator Tallmadge,” (Washington, DC) Daily National Intelligencer, April 19, 1854.

[16] Some examples of antebellum newspaper articles that reference the political treason of Rives and Tallmadge from the 1830s and 1840s, include: Washington Daily Union, December 16, 1854, p. 2:2; “Treason and Its Results,” (Montpelier) Vermont Patriot & State Gazette, March 2, 1855; “The Lessons of History,” Newark (OH) Advocate, July 13, 1860.

[17] Philip S. Klein, President James Buchanan: A Biography (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1962), 301. James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 166.

[18] “Politics of the Day,” (Washington, DC) Daily National Intelligencer, September 4, 1856.

[19] H[enry] J. R[aymond], “The Kansas Question; Prospect in the House; Feeling in Kansas; The Future,” New York Times, March 26, 1858.

[20] Klein, 347-8.

[21] Speech at Concord, NH, July 31, 1860 transcribed in “Movements of Senator Douglas,” New York Times, August 3, 1860, 2: 1-3.

[22] Speech at Concord, NH, July 31, 1860 transcribed in “Movements of Senator Douglas,” New York Times, August 3, 1860, 2: 1-3.  See also “The President’s Warfare Upon Mr. Douglas,” Buffalo Daily Courier, August 11, 1860, 2:1.

[23] “The President and Judge Douglas,” New York Herald, September 7, 1860, 1: 2.  See also New York Tribune, September 11, 1860.  Congressman Smith was also known as “Extra Billy” Smith, and later gained some notoriety during the Civil War as a Confederate general.

[24] James Buchanan to Gerard Hallock, August 11, 1860, Dickinson College Archives & Special Collections, House Divided Project at Dickinson College,

[25] Buchanan to Smith, August 11, 1860.

[26] Martin H. Quitt, Stephen A. Douglas and Antebellum Democracy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 162.

[27] Johannsen, 795.

[28] “Mr. Douglas and the Lecompton Constitution,” New York Herald, October 20, 1860, p. 4.

[29] “The Kansas Question as Between President Buchanan and Gov. Walker,” Daily Cleveland (OH) Herald, December 3, 1857.

[30] This would later become infamous as the false choice between the “Constitution With Slavery” or the “Constitution Without Slavery,” because even the vote for “Without” would still leave the property rights of existing slaveholders in the territory unmolested.

[31] “STARTLING DISCLOSURES: Douglas Responsible for the Lecompton Constitution; His Pledge to Support It; Violation of His Pledge and Treachery to His Friends; Read! Read! Read!,” Chicago Tribune, October 12, 1860, p. 2: 5-7.

[32] One of the best accounts of these developments comes from Kenneth M. Stampp, America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 144-181, 266-294.  It is notable, however, that Stampp essentially ignores the 1860 charges from Democratic Association of Leavenworth.  He attributes Calhoun’s successful lobbying effort at the Lecompton Convention to a misunderstanding about Douglas’s intentions, rooted in a strained interpretation of a Chicago Times editorial and not because of any secret letter; see p. 273.

[33] “Mr. Douglas and the Lecompton Constitution,” New York Herald, October 20, 1860, p. 4.

[34] “ASTOUNDING DISCLOSURES,” Chicago Daily Tribune, November 12, 1857, p. 2: 2.  “Adjournment of the Convention,” Chicago Daily Tribune, November 16, 1857, p. 1: 2.

[35] SAD to William Weer, November 23, 1857, quoted in Johannsen, 581.

[36] Stampp, 282-3.

[37] New York Herald, October 23, 1860, quoted in “Mr. Douglas in Milwaukee,” Milwaukee Daily Sentinel, October 26, 1860, p.1:1.

[38] Milwaukee Daily Sentinel, October 26, 1860.

[39] Western Argus quoted in “Judge Douglas and the Lecompton Constitution,” (Washington) National Intelligencer, October 31, 1860.

[40] “Speech of the Hon. S.A. Douglas,” Springfield Illinois State Register, October 19, 1860, p. 2: 2-4.

[41] Henry Wilson, The Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America (2 vols., Boston: J.R. Osgood, 1872), 2: 700.  John W. Forney, Eulogy upon the Hon. Stephen A. Douglas, July 3, 1861 (Philadelphia: Ringwalt, 1861), 11.

[42] Abraham Lincoln to John M. Clayton, July 28, 1849, Collected Works, 2: 60.

[43] Nathaniel P. Tallmadge to Abraham Lincoln, April 22, 1861, Abraham Lincoln Papers at Library of Congress.

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