Stephen A. Douglas Birthplace
The Stephen A. Douglas Birthplace in Brandon, Vermont, preserves the home in which Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas was born in 1813. The Birthplace also houses the Janet Mondlak Visitor Center and the Brandon Museum, which highlights the town’s nineteenth-century history, the lives of some of its prominent residents, and the area’s connections to antislavery politics. It also offers a ten-minute video presentation on “Brandon and the Slavery Issue.”
Backstory and Context
Stephen A. Douglas, a sixth-generation New Englander, was born to Stephen Arnold Douglass and Sarah Fisk Douglass on April 23, 1813. (He changed the spelling of his surname to Douglas in 1846.) Douglas’s father, a physician, died when his infant son was two months old, forcing Sarah Douglass to move with Stephen and his older sister (also named Sarah) to the farm owned by her brother, Edward Fisk, three miles northeast in Arnold Hollow.
Douglas spent his formative years in Vermont, working on his uncle’s farm and studying in local schools, before departing for an apprenticeship with cabinetmaker Nahum Parker in Middlebury, fourteen miles to the north. After quarreling with Parker over his duties as apprentice, Douglas left the trade and resumed his classroom education, first at Brandon Academy and then, after his mother remarried in 1830, at Canandaigua Academy in western New York.
It was from Canandaigua that Douglas made the crucial decision to move west and make his way in the booming lands across the Appalachian Mountains. In 1833, he relocated to Cleveland and then drifted farther west, ultimately settling in Jacksonville, Illinois. He practiced law there but gravitated toward politics and soon emerged as a rising star in Illinois’s Democratic Party. Douglas was elected to the state legislature in 1836 and subsequently served as Illinois secretary of state, a member of the Illinois state supreme court, a US Congressman, and, from 1847 until his death, a US Senator. Best known for the 1858 senate race in which he held seven famous debates with Republican challenger Abraham Lincoln, Douglas also campaigned against Lincoln, and two other candidates, for the presidency in 1860. After Lincoln’s presidential victory and the subsequent secession of eleven slave states, Douglas urged bipartisan support for the Lincoln administration and the Union war effort, before passing away in Chicago in June 1861.
Brandon Museum at the Stephen A. Douglas Birthplace, Accessed December 16th 2019. https://brandon.org/the-brandon-museum/.
Johannsen, Robert W. Stephen A. Douglas. Urbana, IL. University of Illinois Press, 1997.