Stephen Arnold Douglas

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Stephen Arnold Douglas
c. 1861
Louis O. Lussier
Oil on canvas
36¾ x 28 in.
Chicago History Museum
X.104, ICHi-62626

If you think this man has something to say, you are right! Stephen A. Douglas, a short but powerful politician known as the “Little Giant,” grew up in Vermont before moving to upstate New York and then Jacksonville, Illinois, in 1833. He became a lawyer and joined the Democratic Party, serving as a judge, state legislator, and Congressman before winning election to the United States Senate in 1847. Douglas’s subsequent career revolved around two main issues that often collided: national expansion and slavery. Douglas, a gifted and fiery speaker, championed developing the western territories while promoting the doctrine of popular sovereignty that allowed settlers to vote slavery up or down with no outside interference. In 1854, Douglas sponsored the Kansas-Nebraska Act that opened all Western territories to slavery, setting off a firestorm of controversy throughout the country. Douglas defeated Abraham Lincoln for the Senate in 1858 after some well publicized debates, but lost to his rival two years later in the presidential election. When the Civil War broke out, Douglas pledged his support to the Union and Lincoln. Douglas died in Chicago on June 3, 1861, shortly after the war began.

The Canadian-American artist, Louis O. Lussier painted several portraits of Douglas, but this is the most accomplished in terms of technique, style, and in capturing the Senator’s personality.

1. Nineteenth-century Americans believed strongly that a person’s face bore the marks of his or her personality, and even told others whether to trust a person. With this in mind, look at how the artist portrays Douglas. What about Douglas’s personality do you think Lussier wished to show in this portrait?

2. In the Civil War era, having your portrait painted was a sign of importance. Paintings were expensive, one of a kind, and took a long time to make. Are there any kinds of pictures being made today like this?

3. Had he lived, what side do you think Douglas would have taken during the Civil War?

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