Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates

By Harry V. Jaffa | Go to book overview

Chapter III
Slavery

THE charge most damaging to Douglas's reputation through the years, given the widest currency among historians by James Ford Rhodes, was that he thought moral considerations had no place in politics. In recent years this has been repeated and elaborated by Allan Nevins.1 Yet it is hardly an exaggeration to say that Douglas has suffered more from his defenders than from his detractors. George Fort Milton, his most violent contemporary partisan, calls him a "realist in an emotional age" who "sought to buttress his policies of economic intelligence" with "dialectics" because "he lived in an age when speech in any other vocabulary would not have been comprehended." This suggests that Douglas was a kind of commissar dealing with a backward proletariat. Yet there is no evidence that Douglas himself would have comprehended his own policies in any other idiom than the one he used, or that such a distinction as that between "economic intelligence" and "dialectics" existed in his mind. In his devotion to what he understood to be the mission of free republican institutions Douglas was as emotional as any man who lived in his age.

Douglas entered politics as a follower of Andrew Jackson. The image of Old Hickory was the star to which he hitched his wagon and to which he ever remained loyal. Like his hero, he loved and hated well. He loved the Union and was a fierce and belligerent nationalist. He joined hands with Jackson's old enemy, Henry Clay, to drive through the compromise measures of 1850 (even as Clay had assisted Jackson in the nullification crisis of 1832), because he believed the compromise would preserve and

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