I don't think any politician in American history tried so hard to thread so many needles as Stephen Douglas. He really was THE dominant political player in the 1850s and his efforts to navigate various crises while remaining true to "popular sovereignty" are remarkable.
I'm reading through his Harper's Monthly article from September 1859 where he expounds upon his popular sovereignty theory and its supposed roots under British colonial rule. Colonies were "internal polities" established by the Crown like Territories were in the 1850s.
Like the Colonies, the Territories & their legislatures had limited or no sovereignty on external relations but still maintained authority over internal matters. In practice that meant slave property was protected per Dred Scott but legislatures could adopt (or not) a slave code.
There was a logic to this, especially when you consider that Douglas rejected the fraudulent pro-slavery Lecompton government in Kansas. Missourians crossing over to Kansas to vote and returning back home made a mockery of popular sovereignty. Kansas wasn't "internal" to them.
But it didn't work. Republicans and Southern Democrats each agreed that Congress had full authority to legislate for the territories, even though they had opposite views of what Congress should do. (Southerners wanted a Congressional slave code). Some said let the Courts decide.
This was THE issue that split the Democratic Party at its Charleston convention in April 1860 and made the election of Lincoln a foregone conclusion. Why would such an arcane question about a territory (Kansas) about to become a free state anyway provoke such division?
And what does that crisis say about *The Constitution* as arbiter of such disputes, esp. since so many rejected SCOTUS's Dred Scott decision. All sides thought they acted in accordance with the Constitution. Territories were gray areas, ripe for debate or deadlock.
The answer is that the 1860 election & subsequent secession and Civil War were about the deeper questions that underlay the Kansas territorial slave code issue. They were about how to *constitute* the Union itself - its structural form, its legitimacy, and its democratic polity.
Constitutions lay out the foundations for government. Written (US) or not (UK), they change slowly and anchor the political system as it sways to and fro according to passing democratic ferment. Sometimes formal Constitutions are silent or contradictory on vexing questions.
Those are the moments when a society really decides what *constitutes* the polity. That could mean SCOTUS interpretations and Constitutional Amendments. It can also mean mass democratic action or military conflict. Who participates in those moments matters enormously.
This is why John Brown's raid and the various insurrectionary panics were so important in 1860. At a moment of Constitutional uncertainty, here were a set of revolutionary and "incendiary" voices threatening to overturn *everything*.
And by *everything*, I mean more than Federal-State relations. I mean the "intimate" relations of the household - slavery was deemed a "domestic institution." Slave plantations were the ultimate "internal polities" commanded by patriarchal masters and resisted by enslaved people.
The vaguest threat that Northerners would "incite" enslaved men, women and children of the South to rebel and assert their own freedom meant, for the slaveholding class, that the *constitution* as they viewed it was under attack. Thus they viewed secession as defensive in nature.
When white Southerners seceded, they viewed the constitutional order binding the central, state, local/county and household sovereignties together as under attack. And when women made the case for suffrage, they viewed that as another threat (mostly Northern) to this arrangement.
The result was a Civil War that engaged the entirety of the American population - women and men, white and black, children and adults, immigrants and native born, free and enslaved, etc. even though the vast majority of them were legally banned from voting in the 1860 election.
The Civil War would thus be the first act of "reconstructing" the *constitution* even before the 13th Amendment was ratified in December 1865. The revolutionary re-positioning of people in 1860s society would redefine America's *constitution* in ways that still reverberate today.
As for Douglas, he died in June 1861 before the first Battle of Bull Run. The world and the war moved on as if he were an afterthought, just a debate foil for the rise of a different Illinoisan - Abraham Lincoln.

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More from @AstorAaron

19 Nov
One of the few advantages of having an Electoral College (winner take all or not) is that there is no central control over elections. But the prospect of state legislatures overturning the will of their states' voters (heretofore unthinkable) somewhat negates that.
There needs to be serious reform in the way we elect the President. The process needs to be as far removed from the influence of elected officials as possible. If we have an EC, Electors should be assigned proportionally so we don't reduce elections to a set of "swing states."
One thing is for certain, though. Donald Trump really did pose an existential threat to the Republic. His behavior the last week has been every bit as awful as it could possibly have been. His re-election would have made his deep corruption permanent.
Read 4 tweets
18 Nov
So, um, not only did we get 170 new cases today in Blount County, TN (on top of 164 on Monday and 90 yesterday), we also have an 18.4% positive rate over the last 7 days. That's not good. Image
This chart has data only through yesterday but the state site has the 170 number for today. That matches our highest day ever when we had a covid outbreak in the local jail.
Here's the data for today. Image
Read 4 tweets
18 Nov
Monica Palmer needs to be sanctioned and removed from the Wayne County Board of Canvassers. Mike Hartmann too. Those two should never be allowed anywhere near an election again.
None of this is going to affect Michigan's certification of Joe Biden's victory. Surely they know that. If they don't, they're too stupid to occupy any position of public import. But they clearly conspired to deny Detroit citizens their voting rights.
This shameful attempt to disfranchise the people of Detroit, combined with Trump's firing of Krebs today, underscores how much Donald Trump has poisoned America's political system.
Read 6 tweets
17 Nov
I think about this stuff regularly - how much can "really" change structurally in our Constitutional framework? Answer: Not much. BUT, that doesn't mean we're powerless to enact any progressive reforms either. On messaging, this quote is right:

nytimes.com/2020/11/17/opi… Image
The challenge is that social media morphs the local with the national. Any "outrageous" quote goes viral within hours at most. And that means culture war will make winning in red states much harder. But it's not impossible. The social media landscape can be managed too.
Think, for example, of the anti-"socialist" propaganda and bizarre Q-like conspiracy theories that circulated in Hispanic communities in South Florida. They were effective because they went un-refuted. But to refute them, there needs to be a concerted effort on the ground there.
Read 6 tweets
15 Nov
There will be no Trumpism without Trump. The issues he brought up won't go away, and the coalition that voted for him (and against him) won't disappear overnight. But the personality cult energy of Trumpism is not designed for martyrdom or loss. It's "winning" or humiliation.
Nobody else combines the "successful businessman outsider" myth with Trump's shamelessness. He maximized rural non-college white turnout and even converted some non-whites to his side. And still lost. Lou Barletta and Matt Bevin are what Trumpism without Trump looks like.
The only person who can keep Trumpism going is Trump. And that means running again in 2024 as a 78-year old obese covid survivor who will be *swamped* with financial and legal troubles the next few years.
Read 5 tweets
14 Nov
The old saw about "the plandemic ends the day after the election" was really about media coverage - that the media will stop "fear-mongering" once Trump is defeated. Doesn't look like the media is downplaying the virus though. This is the NY Times landing page.
And for good reason. The virus really is out of control again, worse now than at any other point (though we do have a better idea about how to treat covid patients than in March). The election is over. Vaccine is on the horizon. But we need mitigation efforts NOW.
And those mitigation efforts need to prioritize the most vulnerable while allowing the rest of society to function. Schools should NOT close. But indoor bars/restaurants, large social gatherings need to be seriously curtailed.
Read 4 tweets

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