“And you may go to hell!”

Stephen Douglas

Stephen Douglas

Stephen Douglas, fresh off repealing the Missouri Compromise in the Kansas-Nebraska Act and selling the Great Plains and the future of the nation over to slavery, returned home to Chicago. There he found the city set against him. The failure of a homstead bill, thanks to southern Senators, just hammered home to the entire Northwest that the Kansas-Nebraska act, despite opening the plains to everybody on paper, actually opened them to slavery. On top of that, Douglas stayed loyal to his Democratic principles and refused to make any concessions to the nativist hysteria sweeping the nation. He faced a party turned against itself and sought no new allies. The Little Giant had done what he had done. Seeing his home turned against him, he arranged a rally at North Market Hall on September 1, 1854.

Douglas avoided the usual venues, selecting a much smaller one. He skipped Chicago’s open parks and larger halls. The North Market Hall stood in the Irish section of Chicago and, underlining how much he loathed the Know-Nothings, he hired on Irish security to guard it. This all made it look very much like Douglas would stage a meeting for show, get a few resolutions passed in his favor, and take them as evidence that Chicago still loved him. Chicago at large smelled a rat and ugly rumors spread, not helped at all by Douglas man ranging out into surrounding counties to gin up a crowd. Those who grumbled about how Douglas must have a fair hearing…or else received back word that the Chicago Know-Nothings chose the latter. Prominent men did their duty in trying to discourage violence, then went on to say that Chicago should show its genuine feelings.

When the day came, rumors had Douglas with company of armed Irishmen. Sales of handguns emptied the stores. If they could not get into Douglas’ small hall, the Chicago Tribune advised the discontented to hold a larger meeting outside it. Douglas obliged, having a platform built outside the hall. Special trains hauled Douglas men in from elsewhere in Illinois to hear their hero speak…and add to the number of people not sizing him up for a rope, rail, or tar and feathers.

Douglas mounted the platform and told his audience, friendly and hostile alike, that they did not understand the Kansas-Nebraska act. Therefore, he would educate them. That went over well. The Little Giant continued, pointing out that they could not understand a bill they had not read and only his loyal paper had published it in Chicago. The crowd did not sit quiet, but rather interrupted him constantly with boos, hisses, groans, and laughter. Douglas went anyway, telling his usual story. Illinois actually, despite the evidence of their lying eyes, actually supported it. They loved popular sovereignty and out of deference to them and his own conscience, Douglas went over from geographic partition to it. After all, none of them supported admitting slave states south of the line…right? No, so they rejected it too and everyone could come together in a happy political family. Why did they curse him for doing as they wished?

For forty-five minutes, Douglas told his usual story. (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) Then he drifted off script and started insulting the city of Chicago and its citizens for their impertinence. He traded barbs with the audience. He denounced the mob and its sympathetic papers. The Little Giant swore he would silence them or stay until morning. The crowd broke into a song that pledged no departure until sunrise. Douglas flew off the handle, damning Know-Nothings and refusing to take even reasonable questions. Finally he gave it up and, to the mob’s cheers, declared he would leave them.

Too little, too late. They had their chance to cheer Stephen Douglas before all that. The Little Giant donned his hat, waved his fist at the mob, and yelled a parting shot:

It is now Sunday morning; I’ll go to church and you may go to hell!

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