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Popular Sovereignty

March 19, 2014

Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas was not proslavery, but his focus on westward expansion had blinded him to its evils and aligned him with the southern wing of the Democratic party.  He viewed slavery as an inconvenient issue which threatened his dream for a transcontinental railroad that passed through the Great Plains.  The Missouri Compromise had prohibited slavery in that region, but three decades later the Compromise of 1850 opened the door to that possibility.

Now was the time to organize the region into states.  This would encourage westward migration and bring investment capital.  Douglas had only to get the Kansas-Nebraska bill enacted in order to seal the deal for both southern slaveholders and northern speculators.

The result was civil unrest in Kansas and financial loss for Douglas, but this did not cause him to change his mind regarding popular sovereignty, the notion that any new state should determine its own status on slavery.  When Kansas submitted a fraudulently passed proslavery state constitution, Douglas sided with the Republicans against the President from his own party.  He was not concerned about the outcome of any popular sovereignty vote, only the integrity of the electoral process.  Abraham Lincoln did not see it that way, and in a series of debates later that same year, he dismantled Douglas’s defense of popular sovereignty.

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