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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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Wages of Whiteness

Wages of Whiteness

(p.143) 5 Wages of Whiteness
Arguing until Doomsday

Michael E. Woods

University of North Carolina Press

The Dred Scott decision (1857) sought to enshrine white supremacy in constitutional law and vanquish the antislavery activists who opposed Stephen Douglas and Jefferson Davis’s Democratic Party. Nevertheless, the Davis-Douglas rivalry intensified in the late 1850s. Racism and anti-abolitionism were flimsy foundations for party unity because they could not resolve the tension between Douglas’s majoritarianism and Davis’s dedication to slaveholders’ property rights. This conflict exploded into intraparty war in 1858 as Democrats debated the admission of Kansas as a state under the proslavery Lecompton Constitution. Embraced by Davis and like-minded Democrats for safeguarding property rights, the Lecompton Constitution was assailed by Douglas and his allies as a perversion of popular sovereignty. After clashing over Lecompton in the Senate, Davis and Douglas had to defend themselves back home. Davis veered toward more extreme positions on reopening the Atlantic slave trade and passing federal legislation to protect slavery in western territories. Meanwhile, Douglas ran for re-election against Abraham Lincoln, a formidable foe who forced him to prove that popular sovereignty could produce free states. By 1859, Democrats’ efforts to win state and local elections exacerbated their party’s internal sectional conflict.

Keywords:   Dred Scott, Racism, Democratic Party, Majoritarianism, Popular sovereignty, Property rights, Slavery, Lecompton Constitution, Kansas, Atlantic slave trade

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