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

1859 was an ominous year for America as civil war between the sections threatened despite the attempts to avert it.  Back in 1854, Stephen Douglas had tried to quell sectionalism with the Kansas-Nebraska Act that would grant the seeming American principle of popular sovereignty regarding slavery in the territories, but Kansas became “bleeding Kansas” as a shooting war between pro and anti-slavery forces erupted after they flooded the state to institute their vision of popular sovereignty.  In 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney injected the Court into the political question and tried to help prevent civil war with the Dred Scott opinion, Read more

In September 1857, pro-slavery forces in Kansas drafted the Lecompton Constitution. Their anti-slavery opponents declared the document invalid, as they had not participated in its creation. Adhering to the principle of popular sovereignty, Douglas rejected the Lecompton Constitution and called for Kansans to draft a new document. Northern Democrats, dismayed by the armed conflict in Kansas, supported his position; Southern Democrats looked on it as an act of betrayal. Douglas took every opportunity to explain his position in hopes of re-unifying his party. This speech was published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. Read more