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SXU hosts symposium on Stephen A. Douglas

Stephen A. Douglas  |  Phocourtesy St. Xavier University

Stephen A. Douglas | Photo courtesy of St. Xavier University

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Updated: May 23, 2014 6:22AM



Do Republicans have an Illinois Democrat to thank for the start of their party?

A symposium at St. Xavier University will look at the political life of former Illinois Democratic Congressman Stephen A. Douglas to ponder the question “Would slavery have ended had Douglas not rallied Northern Democrats to the cause?”

The one-day symposium, titled “Visualizing the American Past: Remembering Stephen A. Douglas in the Age of Ken Burns,” is scheduled for Saturday, from 8;15 a.m. to 7:15 p.m. It is open to the public and will be held at the university’s Chicago campus, 3700 W. 103rd St., in Warde Academic Center’s McGuire Hall.

Teachers, historical re-enactors, scholars, historians and a filmmaker will share differing perspectives of Douglas — whom former Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley nicknamed “The Little Giant” — through film and scholarship to commemorate his birth on April 23, 1813.

Four sessions are planned for the day of the symposium, including a 50-minute documentary by St. Xavier associate history professor Graham Peck.

Peck argues that Douglas’ efforts to push for U.S. expansion during the mid-1800s and his controversial position on slavery within new territories likely spurred the formation of the Republican party.

One of Douglas’ most notable legacies, aside from debates against Abraham Lincoln in 1858, is the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

The 1854 act, among other things, provided what Douglas believed was a compromise between slavery opponents and proponents within newly developed territories in the then-expanding American West.

It allowed territories to decide for themselves through popular sovereignty whether slavery would be allowed. It split Douglas’ own party and, eventually, spurred the start of the anti-slavery Republican party, Peck said.

The professor argues that Douglas had hoped the compromise would ease tensions.

“He was not ignorant of that,” Peck said. “He knew it was extraordinarily risky.”

Peck believes it was a huge miscalculation on Douglas’ part and a costly mistake for the politician.

Registration for the symposium is $40. It can be streamed live for $20.

To register, visit www.sxu.edu/academics/colleges_schools/cas/dept/history_political_science/stephen-douglas/. Registration ends Thursday, according to the website.



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