The introduction demonstrates how Stephen Douglas and Jefferson Davis’s intertwined careers can illuminate the sectionalism that split the antebellum Democratic Party. Both men moved west into the Mississippi River Valley, envisioned that valley as the nucleus of a burgeoning American empire, and regarded Democratic unity as vital to preserving a growing Union. But, pressured by their respective constituencies in Illinois and Mississippi, Douglas and Davis promoted incompatible programs for reconciling African American slavery with white freedom. Douglas championed whites-only majoritarianism and left African Americans’ status up to white voters in each state and territory. Alarmed, Davis sought to use federal power to protect slaveholders’ property rights against potentially hostile majorities. Rooted in a larger tension between property and democracy, this conflict shattered their party in 1860. Though ostensibly united by racism and anti-abolitionism, antebellum Democrats aligned into sectional wings and battled over the nature of American democracy itself.
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