Stephen Douglas on War, and the Alternatives


As a politician who well-understood the Founder’s Constitution and its basis as a series of compromises, Stephen Douglas thought the solution in 1860 was finding compromise through Amendments to the Constitution—though he must have missed the class on political self-determination and the consent of the governed. His views in early 1861 do illuminate for us the choices open to the North as they watched the Southern States depart, but the radical adherents of the Republican party could only see blood, power and the subjugation of fellow Americans. Once Lincoln assailed Fort Sumter, Douglas would only stand by helplessly as the revolutionaries destroyed the Founder’s "experiment in self-government."

The Southern statesmen did not trust Northern commercial interests with control of their governance, so he should have known that Number One below was not an option. Number Two was the only option that followed the spirit and intent of the Founder’s Constitution, would have saved a million lives, $8 billion dollars and the Constitution. As Three was rightly viewed by Douglas as disunion—–the Northern invasion of the South clearly destroyed the Union and the republic of the Founder’s.

Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402

Douglas on War, and Alternatives:

"In a speech in the Senate, March 15, 1861, Mr. (Stephen) Douglas had reduced the situation to the following three alternative points:

1. The Restoration and Preservation of the Union by such Amendments to the Constitution as will insure domestic tranquility, safety and equality of all the States, and thus restore peace, unity and fraternity to the whole country.

2. A Peaceful Dissolution of the Union by recognizing the Independence of such States as refuse to remain in the Union without such Constitutional Amendments, and the establishment of a liberal system of commercial and social intercourse with them by treaties of commerce and amity.

3. War, with a view to the subjugation and military occupation of those States which have Seceded or may Secede from the Union."

As a thorough Union man, he could never have agreed to "A Peaceful Dissolution of the Union." On the other hand he was equally averse to War, because he held that "War is Disunion. War is final, eternal separation." Hence all his energies and talents were given to carrying out his first-stated line of policy."

(The Great Conspiracy, John A. Logan, A.R. Hart & Company, 1886)