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Arguing until DoomsdayStephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and the Struggle for American Democracy$
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Michael E. Woods

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781469656397

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469656397.001.0001

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Down to the Crossroads

Down to the Crossroads

(p.111) 4 Down to the Crossroads
Arguing until Doomsday

Michael E. Woods

University of North Carolina Press

Southern Democrats wielded tremendous power over national policy in the mid-1850s, and Stephen Douglas’s efforts to harness his them to his program of northwestern development resulted in disaster. This chapter first reinterprets Jefferson Davis’s service as secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce (1853-1857), focusing on his use of camels for military transportation in the southwest. Far from a whimsical frontier tale, the camel episode became entwined with a shadowy network of slave traders and proslavery expansionists whose late antebellum schemes reveal the chilling consequences of slaveholders’ federal clout. This context elucidates Douglas’s infamous Kansas-Nebraska Act. Striving to align powerful southern Democrats behind his efforts to promote the Greater Northwest, Douglas pushed the Act through Congress—and unleashed a political cyclone that devastated the Democratic Party’s northern wing. By 1856, violence in Bleeding Kansas made a mockery of popular sovereignty and thwarted Douglas’s presidential ambitions, while Davis anticipated returning to his role as a proslavery sentinel in the Senate.

Keywords:   Kansas-Nebraska Act, Bleeding Kansas, Popular sovereignty, Slave trade, Franklin Pierce, Democratic Party, Antebellum

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