The Late Senator Douglas
Detroit Daily Tribune, June 8, 1861
Yesterday, all that was mortal of the late Senator DOUGLAS was committed to the grave at Chicago amid the most imposing funereal pageantry. Less than thirty years ago he landed in that great State—then without a metropolis, a railroad or a canal—and by accident earned money enough as an auctioneer's clerk to open a village school. He died a Senator, and left vacant a place in the front rank of prominent political life. In no other country is such a career possible. Is it strange that Mr. DOUGLAS, a man of the people, not ashamed of his lineage and his struggles, should have given his declining hours to solicitude for the preservation of institutions under which he had grown so rapidly and successfully?
We have often thought that with a more liberal culture and general sympathy with those benevolent and other movements of society which serve to take a man out of himself, and smother his selfishness, Mr. DOUGLAS would have been another sort of man. He very much lacked moral convictions. He had no veneration. He had fought his own way, and was always belted and ready for conflict; and he had almost come to think that will and energy were sufficient for all things. He was a man of wonderful fertility of expedients and great dialectic skill. On hearing him speak one could see that he was inconsistent, and often not candid; but one could not feel he was so. He carried his hearers along with him, and his audacity and plausibility were equally instruments of conquest. He had an open and frank way with him, and was approachable by everybody, and was a man of a kindly heart and generous disposition. It is known he was a generous and prodigal giver and, was never too poor or too engaged or too weary to serve a friend. Nor did he have the despicable habit of sacrificing old friends to acquire new ones. Mr. DOUGLAS had quick perceptions united with large understanding. His grasp reached clear round the topics he chose to discuss. Imperfect as had been his early advantages, he never was the clown before the public. He would be up in his subject. To use a college phrase, he could "cram" immensely, and toward his latter years his very large experience in public life was of great value to him. Being a man of expedients, Mr. DOUGLAS had no high controlling purpose of public life aside from his own promotion. He had guaged the average man and knew his dimensions and weaknesses with singular exactness, and it must be confessed that he managed him well. But he did not, we say it reluctantly, imbue him with high aims and noble purposes. He was for success all his life, and other things were subordinate to that, and his followers were manipulated with that regard; not an exclusive personal success, but the general success of interests and views with which he was identified. To express our meaning in a small composs, he was more of a politician than a statesman. It can not be denied, however, that Mr. DOUGLAS had statesmanlike qualities. He was able, fertile in resorts, bold and tireless, born to lead, and capable of originating great measure[s]; he only failed in not being true to them. His scheme of popular sovereignty, with certain limitations, honestly carried out, would have secured universal assent.
But all this is past, and from the critical estimate of MR. DOUGLAS as a public man we can exclude every emotion of political resentment, although we very rarely agreed with him on political subjects. He was a great man, and we are proud of our nation's great men and always mourn their loss. He was a real democrat—a believer in republican institutions, a true friend of the masses, and we honor him for it. If he sometimes went down to the prejudices of the people, instead of rightly striving to lift them above their prejudices, which in some cases were cruel and dangerous, it was more the fault of his education and the school of politics he had risen in, than of his heart or his intentions. We forget all this. He finally stood upon the firm ground of sincere patriotism, where we could fully sympathize with him—stood where his influence, rightly exerted, was all-pervading,—stood where he could wield a power that perhaps not another man in the Republic could command. His usefulness, it seemed, had just begun, and bloodless indeed must be that man who does not deplore such a loss. Had his life been spared, we can not doubt it would have been devoted to his country; and that wonderful will, that rare gift of leadership, that untiring energy which had won him so many civic conquests, would have secured the ripe gratitude of the nation, and a patriot's unfading crown. But he is gone from us. The warm winds of the prairie will fan his grave, and the plash of lake waters will sound near by, and he will go down into history to be judged by men as to his just fame, but his soul will be judged by the Great Ruler who for wise purposes has taken him hence.