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Monday, March 31, 2014 01:03 pm

More on the Little Giant

 Whatever one thinks of him – and I made clear in Price of Demagogues that I think that his ambition consistently outran his judgment – Stephen A. Douglas was a singular character. John Mason Peck writes, “His political commitments were by no means purely selfish. Identifying his fate with that of the Union, Douglas struggled from 1854 to 1861 to control the sectional bitterness that he had done so much to unleash.” I suppose that must be entered in the plus side of the ledger, but ought we to praise a man who excites a mob to break the windows of a house simply because he stays around afterwards to help sweep up the street?

Readers who wish to make up their own minds might consider taking up the biography that is generally considered definitive -- Stephen A. Douglas by Robert W. Johannsen, the distinguished professor history at the real University of Illinois. Johannsen said that he tried to explain Douglas, not defend him; one appreciative critic wrote that Johannsen was “sparing in his judgments and tends to let his narrative carry its own interpretation.”

Originally published by Oxford University Press in 1973, the book was reissued by the University of Illinois Press in 1997. 
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