Guest Essayist: Tony Williams, Program Director for the Washington-Jefferson-Madison Institute

In his “House Divided” speech, Abraham Lincoln contested the “popular sovereignty” doctrine of Stephen Douglas by stating “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”  His opponent for the Illinois senate seat, Douglas, nicknamed the “Little Giant,” answered Lincoln’s charges a few weeks later in a speech in Chicago.  Douglas adamantly defended the principle of popular sovereignty and revealed his understanding of the principles of the Declaration of Independence.

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As the primary author of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the most vocal defender of the Dred Scott decision, Douglas traveled extensively promoting the concept of popular sovereignty, which he equated with republican self-government. The national reputation he garnered in the process would, he hoped, serve him well in a future presidential bid. Read more