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That branch of the Douglas family from which the subject. of this work is a descendant emigrated from Scotland, and settled at New London, in the province of Connecticut, during the earlier period of our colonial settlements. One of the two brothers who first came to America subsequently removed from New London, and settled in Maryland, on the banks of the Potomac, not very distant from the site of the present city of Washington. His descendants, now very numerous, are to be found in Virginia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, and other Southern States. The other brother remained at New London, and his descendants are scattered over New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and the Northwestern States. Doctor Stephen A. Douglas, the father of the statesman of the present day, was born at Stephentown, in Rensselaer County, New York, and when quite a youth removed with his parents to Brandon, Rutland County, Vermont, where, after his regular course at Middlebury College, he studied medicine, and became distinguished in his profession. He married Miss Sarah Fisk, the daughter of an extensive farmer in Brandon, by whom he had two children-the first a daughter, and the second a son. On the first of July, 1813, without any previous illness or physical warning, he died suddenly of a disease of the heart. At the very moment of his attack and of his death, he was playing with the daughter at his knees, and holding his son Stephen in his arms.
In 1813 the country was at war with Great Britain-had undertaken a war with the most powerful nation in the world; at that time the United States, with an unprotected coast, with an overbearing, and insulting, and powerful enemy menacing both seaboard and frontier; with hostile navies swarming upon the lakes, and commanding every sea where the enterprise of American commerce had unfurled a sail, and veteran armies, fresh from Continental fields of renown, landing on our shores at that time, when the infant republic, trusting in the justice of her cause, had risked every thing to preserve the sacred principle that an American citizen, no matter where he might be, who stood upon an American deck, was to be secured, at all hazards, in all the great rights guaranteed to him by the Constitution of his country-while this war was waging, and while the contest between absolute power and popular right was maintained with fire and sword from De
troit to Key West, in the midst of this struggle, on the 23d day of April, 1813, was born STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS, who, fortyone years thereafter, became the great champion of that same sacred principle,-not, indeed, in behalf of the gallant men who tread the decks of the American fleets, but in behalf of those other and no less gallant heroes-the pioneers of American progress, the founders of American states, the builders of American sovereignties-the People of the American Territories.
The grandmothers, maternal and paternal, of Mr. Douglas were of the name of Arnold, and were both descended from William Arnold, who was one of the associates of Roger Williams in founding the colony of Rhode Island, and whose son was appointed governor of that colony by Charles the Second, when he granted the famous charter under which the state continued to be governed until even after the establishment of the American Union, and until the adoption a few years ago of the present Constitution of Rhode Island. The descendants of Governor Arnold are at this day very numerous in Rhode Island, and, indeed, throughout the whole country.
Immediately after the death of Dr. Douglas, his widow, with her two children, removed from their native village to a farm about three miles in the country, where she resided with her bachelor brother, Mr. Fisk, on their patrimonial estate. From his earliest childhood, Stephen was raised to a regular course of life-attending the district school during the winter seasons, and working steadily on the farm the residue of each year. When fifteen years of age, finding that a number of his schoolmates of his own years were about to enter the academy to prepare for college, he applied to his uncle, whom he had always been taught to respect as a father, for permission and means to enable him to take the same course. This request was made in pursuance of an understanding which he supposed had existed in the family from his earliest recollection that he was to be educated and sent to college; so strongl was this plan for the future impressed upon his mind, that t had never occurred to him that his uncle's marriage a year previous, and the very recent birth of an heir to his estate, had in the least changed their respective relations; nor had he seen in these events that cloud which was to darken the hitherto bright visions which had stimulated his youthful am
bition. An affectionate remonstrance against the folly of abandoning the farm for the uncertainties of a professional life, accompanied by a gentle intimation that he had a family of his own to support, and therefore did not feel able to bear the expense of educating other persons' children, was the response made to the boy's request. Instantly the eyes of young Douglas were opened to his real condition in life. He saw at once that he could not command the means requisite for acquiring a collegiate education without exhausting the only resources upon which his mother and sister must rely; he also saw that if he remained on the farm with his uncle until he became of age, he would then be thrown upon the world without a profession or a trade by which he could sustain them and himself. Realizing the full force of these considerations, and perceiving for the first time that he must rely upon himself for the future, he determined to leave the farm and at once learn a mechanical trade, that being the most promising and certain reliance for the future. Bidding farewell to his mother and sister, he set off on foot to engage personally in the great combat of life; on that same day he walked fourteen miles, and before night was regularly indentured as an apprentice to a cabinet-maker in Middlebury. He worked at his trade with energy and enthusiasm for about two years, the latter part of the time at a shop in Brandon, and gained great proficiency in the art, displaying remarkable mechanical skill; but, in consequence of feeble health, and a frame unable to bear the continued labor of the shop, he was reluctantly compelled to abandon a business in which all his hopes and pride had been centred, and to which he had become sincerely attached. He has often been heard to say, since he has been distinguished in the councils of the nation, that the happiest days of his life had been spent in the workshop, and, had his health and strength been equal to the task, no consideration on earth could have induced him to have abandoned it, either for professional or olitical pursuits.
He entered the academy of his native town, and commenced a course of classical studies, to which he devoted himself for about twelve months with all that energy and enthusiasm which are a part of his nature.
In the mean time his sister had married Julius N. Granger, Esq., of Ontario County, New York, and shortly afterward his
mother was married to Gehazi Granger, Esq., father of Julius, and at the close of his first year at Brandon Academy, young Douglas, at the earnest solicitation of his mother and step-father, removed with them to their home near Canandaigua, New York. He at once became a student in the academy at that place an institution which for more than half a century has been celebrated for its thorough academical course of studies, and for the large number of eminent professional men and statesmen whose names once appeared on her catalogue. He remained at Canandaigua nearly three years, applying himself with untiring energy and zeal to the pursuit of his classical course at the academy, and, during a portion of the same time, followed a course of law studies in the office and under the instruction of the Messrs. Hubbell. Some idea may be formed of his proficiency in the classical course, and of the energy with which he pursued his studies, from the fact that, while the laws of New York at that time required a course of seven years to entitle a student to be admitted to practice law, four years of which might be occupied in classical studies, Mr. Douglas, on a thorough examination upon his whole course of study, was allowed a credit of three years for his classical attainments at the time he commenced the study of the law, leaving four years only as the period which he would be required to continue as a law student to entitle him to be admitted to the bar of that state. He kept up his collegiate course, however, during the whole time he was studying law, so that when he removed to the West in June, 1833, he had mastered nearly the entire collegiate course in most of the various branches required of a graduate in our best universities.
While at Canandaigua, that taste for political controversy, which had shown itself in him when a boy, had a wider field. The re-election of General Jackson took place in 1832; and the animated, vigorous, and, at times, most heated discussions of the day, developed and matured that taste, until he made the study of the political history of the country a subject of as deep importance as he did the scholastic exercises of the academy. We have not been able to ascertain whether, during the exciting canvass of 1832, he made any address to any political meeting in Canandaigua or elsewhere; but we are informed that in the debating clubs, and in all gatherings, large
or small, the cause of the old hero found in him a most enthusiastic champion. It was in the discussions which took place before the societies composed of his fellow-students at Canandaigua that he made his first public speech; and it was there, after having conquered the natural diffidence of all youthful orators, that he first obtained that confidence and self-reliance, as well as that ready and constant flow of strong and forcible language, which mark the speeches of his more mature age.
A gentleman, now residing in Illinois, who was a fellow-student of Douglas at Canandaigua, states that he was universally beloved by all his companions-loved for his impulsive generosity, his frankness, and the genial kindness of his disposition. He was recognized and admitted to be the politician of the circle; and, though the students were of all political parties, to Douglas was conceded the distinction of being the best posted student in the place. Indeed, a taste for politics was evidenced at an early day. It is stated that one of his earliest essays in behalf of the Democratic party was the organization of a band of "Jackson boys" in Vermont, who proclaimed a war upon the "Coffin handbills," and who managed to destroy those placards as soon as they appeared on the walls and fences of the town. He has lived to read the declaration to the people of Illinois, in 1858, of a "life-long democrat," who was actively engaged in the circulation of those infamous libels upon General Jackson, that Stephen A. Douglas was not a safe or reliable member of the Democratic party!
In June, 1833, Mr. Douglas, then a few months over twenty years of age, left Canandaigua to earn for himself a livelihood and independence. His destination was that uncertain region then designated by the general and somewhat comprehensive term "the West." He left home and friends without any purpose of locating at any particular point. His intention was to go to a new country, and by identifying himself with its interests, and devoting his talents to the development of those interests, he hoped to be successful. Such a home, he concluded, could not be found in the old-settled states, where the walks of the profession were crowded with men already eminent, but a man of energy and industry might hope for one in the new settlements on the Ohio and Mississippi. Provided with a small sum of money, he left Canandaigua, and his first restingplace was at Cleveland, Ohio. It was not his intention origi