Skip to comments.Sen. Kerry is a reincarnation of Stephen Douglas
Posted on 05/01/2004 2:45:59 AM PDT by Prince Charles
Sen. Kerry is a reincarnation of Stephen Douglas
May 1, 2004
BY THOMAS ROESER
He was ''personally opposed, but'' -- the nation's most prominent pro-choicer. A nationally known U.S. senator. Straddled the most divisive domestic issue of his day. Sought the presidency by flip-flopping to please all sides. Beset by clergymen he charged were mixing politics with religion. Married a controversial heiress whose vast holdings spurred severe criticism.
John Kerry? Sounds like him, but guess again.
It was Stephen A. Douglas, who served as Illinois senator for 14 years (1847-61). The biography of a flip-flopper by Robert Johannsen (Stephen A. Douglas, University of Illinois Press: 1997) takes on an even greater relevance in light of today's political struggle over war, abortion and other issues, where Kerry twists first one way, then another. Vermont-born Douglas mistakenly thought he could craft a middle-course solution to the slavery issue that could please powerful interests in the South as well as the North -- both of which he needed to get elected president. At first, Douglas played his street-smarts brilliantly: moving to Illinois, settling in Downstate Quincy, parlaying his scant legal training by winning election as Morgan County state's attorney. Then on to Illinois secretary of state, state House of Representatives, state Supreme Court justice and U.S. House before arriving at the U.S. Senate at age 34. Contrasted to the Douglas hare, Abraham Lincoln was a pathetically slow tortoise.
Along the way, Douglas married Martha Martin, whose father owned cotton plantations in North Carolina and Mississippi. The old man owned slaves and wanted to give the couple a plantation as a wedding present. No-no-no, said the senator, conscious of the political liability. Keep the ownership and will it to us at death. Then, with his fortune secure, Douglas burnished his Senate credentials and plotted for the presidency.
His prime task was to defuse the slavery issue of its political barbs. Sensing that his political future was with the abolition-prone North rather than pro-slavery Southern Illinois, he moved from Quincy to Chicago. When personally confronted with the issue, he said, ''I am not pro-slavery. I think it is a curse beyond computation to both white and black.'' But he opposed a constitutional amendment to either ban slavery or ratify it. Instead, he supported the public's right to choose. His idea: Let voters in territories decide whether new states would be pro- or anti-slavery. As chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Territories, he spelled out his compromise for Kansas and Nebraska. It seemed genius-inspired for a waffler like Douglas. But his shifting stances pleased nobody.
Douglas soon found that he was distrusted by both sides. Northern abolitionists scorched Douglas for benefitting from slavery through his marriage, and for opposing a constitutional amendment banning it. Southerners clamored for repeal of laws that curtailed slavery's spread. Nor did the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision, which declared that blacks were not human, consigned to slavery, help Douglas: The decision was so pro-slavery it opposed pro-choice popular sovereignty. With the South and North, Douglas was always the man in the middle.
And always there were the clergymen. They unfurled a document 250 feet long signed by New England ministers protesting Douglas' pro-choice Kansas-Nebraska act. The signers, shouted Douglas, have ''desecrated the pulpit -- to the miserable and corrupting influence of party politics.'' He debated his Republican opponent Lincoln at Freeport, Ottawa, Galesburg, Quincy, Alton, Jonesboro and Charleston. Lanky Lincoln, who didn't seem as smooth as Douglas, gained strength with the changing electorate as the candidate who opposed slavery; Douglas, ''personally opposed -- but'' supporting voter choice. Douglas won re-election, but the emerging Lincoln was seen as the Northern man of the future.
Douglas' last hurrah was his presidential run in 1860. Lincoln received a minority of popular votes cast but won. At age 48, Douglas died in Chicago, burned out with flip-flops and contradictions -- the man who wanted to bargain with an issue that couldn't be compromised.
Not long ago John Kerry showed up in Ottawa to challenge President Bush to a series of debates like Lincoln-Douglas. A verbose fence-straddler, ''personally opposed to abortion -- but''; who voted ''for war -- but'', and who voted first for $87 billion for U.S. troops, then against it, Kerry resembles no one more than the hapless Stephen A. Douglas.
And how often do you hear that when the Dems complain about Gore winning the popular vote.
Lincoln lost the popular vote too!
Lincoln said, "How can you reconcile these? Which do you support?" And Douglas said, a la Kerry, "both." Slavery should be legal, but if people don't want it, let them elect officials who won't enforce slavery. Lincoln then showed that this institutionalized a total disregard for all laws.
The South abandoned Douglas after he showed people how to "skate" around the law, and the North abandoned him because he supported slavery.
Yes, but with a Man-servant!
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Note: this topic is dated 5/01/2004.
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