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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

Kansas and Nebraska were then the outposts of such expansion


justify;">This man, more than

any other, fills American history during the decade that intervened between the death of Clay and the election of Lincoln. That decade is also full of the ever-increasing prominence of the Slavery Question. It is natural, therefore, to read Douglas's career in terms of that question, and historians, doing so, have been bewildered by its apparent inconsistency. Unable to trace any connecting principle in his changes of front, they have put them down to interested motives, and then equally unable to show that he himself had anything to gain from them, have been forced to attribute them to mere caprice. The fact is that Douglas cannot be understood along those lines at all. To understand him one must remember that he was indifferent on the Slavery Question, "did not care," as he said, "whether Slavery was voted up or voted down," but cared immensely for something else. That something else was the Westward expansion of the American nation till it should bridge the gulf between the two oceans. The thought of all those millions of acres of virgin land, the property of the American Commonwealth, crying out for the sower and the reaper, rode his imagination as the wrongs of the Negro slave rode the imagination of Garrison. There is a reality about the comparison which few will recognize, for this demagogue, whom men devoted to the Slavery issue thought cynical, had about him also something of the fanatic. He could forget all else in his one enthusiasm. It is the key to his career from
the day when he entered Congress clamouring for Oregon or war with England to the day when he died appealing for soldiers to save the Union in the name of its common inheritance. And it is surely not surprising that, for the fulfilment of his vision, he was willing to conciliate the slave-owners, when one remembers that in earlier days he had been willing to conciliate the Mormons.

Douglas stands out in history, as we now see it, as the man who by the Kansas and Nebraska Bill upset the tottering Compromise of 1850. Why did he so upset it? Not certainly because he wished to reopen the Slavery Question; nothing is less likely, for it was a question in which he avowedly felt no interest and the raising of which was bound to unsettle his plans. Not from personal ambition; for those who accuse him of having acted as he did for private advantage have to admit that in fact he lost by it. Why then did he so act? I think we shall get to the root of the matter if we assume that his motive in introducing his celebrated Bill was just the avowed motive of that Bill and no other. It was to set up territorial governments in Kansas and Nebraska. Douglas's mind was full of schemes for facilitating the march of American civilization westward, for piercing the prairies with roads and railways, for opening up communications with Oregon and the Pacific Slope. Kansas and Nebraska were then the outposts of such expansion. Naturally he was eager to develop them, to encourage squatters to settle within their borders, and for that purpose to give them an assured position and a form of stable government. If he could have effected this without touching the Slavery Question I think that he would gladly have done so. And, as a matter of fact, the Nebraska Bill as originally drafted by him was innocent of the clause which afterwards caused so much controversy. That clause was forced on him by circumstances.


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