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Stephen A. Douglas

In September of 1860, in the midst of an intense campaign for the Presidency against Abraham Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas stopped for a short time in Penn Yan, New York. Douglas was on a train heading to Canandaigua to visit his mother and sister. The train made a regularly scheduled stop on the Elmira, Jefferson, and Canandiagua Railroad (later to become the Northern Central Railroad) at the depot on Jacob Street. The local newspapers had notified local people the week before that Douglas was coming through town and there were several at the station hoping to catch a glimpse of “the Little Giant” from Illinois.

How many were there and what exactly took place differed depending upon which local newspaper one read. If you read Stafford Cleveland’s Yates County Chronicle, the unabashed organ of the Republican Party, the entire episode was underwhelming. There was just a brief mention that the train stopped for a few minutes and Douglas said just a few words because he was tired. Cleveland had prepared his readers for the visit by writing in that week’s edition of the Chronicle..... “Thus does Mr. Douglas boast of the efficacy of his pet doctrine to extend slavery. Let the people ponder it well. It is evident from this that Mr. Douglas is worse than indifferent to the extension of slavery. Not to care whether slavery is voted up or voted down is, in our estimation, a crime against humanity; but to boast of power and willingness to extend so great a curse is the desperation of wickedness. The man who stood by with cold indifference and saw (Senator) Charles Sumner brutally beaten is to pass through here on Friday night or Saturday morning on his way to see his mother. He don’t care whether slavery is voted up or down and he didn’t care whether Sumner was beaten to death or not. These facts are a sufficient index to the character of the man. Of course the grog shops will turn out all their forces to do him honor.”

If one read George Bridgman’s Penn Yan Democrat, there was quite a different view of the event. Bridgman wrote..... “A large concourse of people were at the depot, anxious to see and hear the champion of ‘Popular Sovereignty.’ No time, of course, had been given for lighting or preparation of any kind, but the Douglas fires burned brightly in the hearts of the people and when the cars stopped and it was known that the “Little Giant” was aboard, cheer upon cheer went up and the welkin rang with hurrahs for Douglas and Johnson. It was a glorious, impromptu, and spontaneous outburst of enthusiasm. Judge Douglas had ridden from New York to Elmira the night before. He had spoken for two hours at Elmira in the afternoon and he was worn down, jaded and hoarse, - yet he kindly consented to appear on the platform of the depot and speak a few words to the people. His appearance was the signal for another manifestation of earnest applause. Notwithstanding he was worn down with fatigue and labor, he looked the giant that he is, - his commanding brow, his strongly marked intellectual features, left no doubt as to the power and ability of the man. In the imperfect light all could not fully see the man just as he is. Yet none but the few drunken Republicans present could fail to discover the evidences of a marked and great man. Judge Douglas was very hoarse and it was physically impossible for him to make himself heard far or to speak long. Yet what he had to say was appropriate and to the point and elicited praise from the many respectable Republicans present as well as the enthusiastic approval of the hundreds of the Democrats on the ground. He spoke of his want of voice, of his fatigue, of his gratitude, of his devotion to the Union, of the proper and only way to maintain and perpetuate it viz. by strict adherence to the enforcement everywhere and at all times of the Constitution made by our fathers just as it is and whether we liked all its provisions or not; that in that way, and that way only, could the present crisis of the country be safely passed and the dangers which threatened the peace of the country be averted. It was a handsome and patriotic speech, worthy of the leader of the Democratic Party in the present campaign for popular rights and in defense of the Constitution and the Union, - and at its conclusion again the welkin rang with large huzzas for Douglas and Democracy. The ‘Little Giant’ resumed his seat in the cars and the train moved off amid the cheers of the people.”


Yates County History Center
107 Chapel Street, Penn Yan, NY 14527
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Thursday, January 25, 2018 | Copyright © 2018