Miller Center

Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

Stephen A. Douglas and His Legacy

Hon. Stephen A. Douglas, Ill

Hon. Stephen A. Douglas, Ill. Portrait by Matthew Brady, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, PD.

Today’s guest blog post is by Matthew Irvine, a 2012-2013 Miller Center Ambassador and first year student at the University of Virginia majoring in Computer Science.

Two hundred years ago today marks the birth of one of America’s most prominent political leaders. Though Stephen A. Douglas was never elected President of the United States, he tried his hardest to ascend to the position. In the process, he served as a member of the United States House of Representatives and the Senate, championing causes like westward expansion and popular sovereignty. Although his legacy is sometimes eclipsed by that of his Illinois political rival Abraham Lincoln, Douglas was one of the most influential and powerful politicians of his day.

Stephen A. Douglas’s legacy began on April 23, 1813 when he was born in Brandon, Vermont, to parents Stephen Arnold Douglass and Sarah Fisk. Before entering into politics, Douglas held a variety of jobs. He worked on the farm where he grew up until he turned 15, at which point he became a cabinetmaker’s apprentice. Quickly moving on, he relocated to New York, where he worked as a farmhand for three years. Yearning for a career in law but not wanting to spend the four years in school that New York required, Douglas ventured westward to the land of opportunity and self-made men and settled in Jacksonville, Illinois, where he quickly became a lawyer.