Western Field Meadowlark


Omaha & Neighbors

    Council Bluffs
    Sioux City
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    Grand Island
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If asked when did the people of the United States have more of an interest to win a race, many would answer in the 1960s during the race to reach the moon.  That same level of desire to win occurred once more in history, and Stephen A. Douglas was making every attempt to influence the outcome.

Douglas County is named after Mr. Douglas.  He is probably as responsible as any other as to why we are here, in the sense that we or our ancestors chose to live in a city of this size.  Otherwise, we might be living way down south or in Nebraska City, a city that could have very easily outdistanced Omaha.  There are several cities along the Missouri that are smaller than Omaha, and Omaha could easily have ended up no different than any other.  Omaha has grown to its current size largely due to the railroad that initially joined the east and west going through it.  Mr. Douglas is largely responsible for why the railroad went this way.

Known as the "Little Giant," Mr. Douglas was becoming popular in the Democratic Party due to his success in debates that got him reelected to the senate.  The debates were high news items at the time, the main issue was slavery.  It has been said that his opponent was his business and law partner, a man named Abraham Lincoln, but that is clearly not the case. His opponent was indeed Abraham Lincoln, but they were not business and law partners (Abraham Lincoln actually mistrusted Mr. Douglas, and tried to block an attempt to convert Douglas from being a Democrat to a Republican).  Regardless, Mr. Douglas had become popular throughout the country, an it was clear to some that the Little Giant might someday lead the country.

Mr. Douglas of course never became the president.  His true mark in history is the  introduction of legislation that led to the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  Mr. Douglas was doing his best to advance the good for the state of Illinois that he represented.  His main effort was to get the railroad that would connect the country from east to west to go through Illinois.

At the time Mr. Douglas was in office, the United States had advanced only half way across the continent with states admitted to the union.  It was clear that the rest of the country would in due time also become states.  The last hurdles were completed.  We had won the Mexican War so the west coast was ours, and the natives were ceding their lands for what appeared to be lucrative deals in Kansas and Oklahoma.

To get across the continent was an enormous undertaking, taking several months, and if you started too late, you had to make camp for the winter, otherwise, you could get fatally trapped.  Outfitting costs alone were as high as $300-500, comparable to a plane ticket today, except this was when a day's wages was way less than a dollar.  One year's annual salary is a lot to give up for a chance at a better life out west.

Clearly the answer to all this was to have a railroad that crossed the continent from coast to coast.  Not several railroads, just one, and the states that the railroad ran through would surely prosper like no other.

Slavery had been an issue already put to bed by the Missouri Compromise of 1820.  The Missouri Compromise admitted Missouri as a slave state, Maine as a free state, and slavery prohibited in the Louisiana Purchase north of 36o30', except for Missouri.

The industrial north was economically stable, the south was economically depressed.  Mr. Douglas knew the southern leaders were pushing for the railroad to run through the southern states.  A railroad through a pro-slavery south could spin the country on its heels with slavery increasing, and the economic success of the north halted.  Senator Douglas also knew his home state, Illinois would be a better place if the railroad ran through the Midwest.

Senator Douglas was also aware that the lands west of the Missouri were prime for settlement so he drafted a bill that would create a new territory west of the Missouri, and give the south a new slave state.  The north would get the railroad in exchange.  The bill failed to pass.

After a session break, Mr. Douglas came back with another offer.  He suspected that given the chance, the populous would choose slavery, given it was far enough south.  If a new territory were created of land far enough south, those settlers would choose slavery, the south would be appeased, and the north in exchange could have the railroad.  Since Missouri was already a slave state and most settlers of the area west of Missouri would come from Missouri, it was important to create a new territory not only west of Iowa, but also a new territory west of Missouri.

The new bill would allow the citizens of a territory to determine by a vote labeled as "popular sovereignty" whether they would allow slavery or not.  It worked.  The new legislation created the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which also annulled the Missouri Compromise, and made Nebraska and Kansas recognized U.S. territories.  Both could decide to be slave or free states.

This new thing called "popular sovereignty" was like opening a can of slimy worms in the middle of a plate of Russian caviar.  The issue caused the Democratic party to split right down the middle, half supporting, half against.  The other party at the time, the Whig party, also split, but to the point that it brought about the demise of the party entirely.  A new party, the Republican party was formed of anti-slavery proponents.  The first Republican Presidential candidate was Gen. John Charles Frémont, who lost the election.

Between 1854 and 1859, Kansas became a hotbed known as "Bleeding Kansas" for free and slave factions, finally resulting in the president sending in federal troops.  In 1861, Kansas was admitted as a free state.

After becoming a territory in 1854, Nebraska was admitted to the union as a slave free state on March 1st, 1867.

Senator Douglas wasn't attempting to promote slavery, he was attempting to make sure the railroad passed through in the slave free states and that the country's economy didn't get thrown out of balance.

Reopening the issue of slavery was costly to Mr. Douglas's career.  During the 1860 elections, Douglas was nominated by the Democratic Party for president, however, due to the split in the party, he didn't have the votes.  Abraham Lincoln gained national attention due to his goals of ending slavery, and had been nominated by the Republican party.  Mr. Douglas lost for the first time to his lawfirm partner.  Doing the right thing, Senator Douglas gave total support to his good friend.  Had Mr. Douglas won the election, he would not have been able to see the term through as he passed away the next year still in the prime of his life (age: 47 or 48).

President  Lincoln visited the Council Bluffs area in 1863 and decided that this is where the eastern terminus of the Union-Pacific Railroad would be.  A railroad from the west would join here connecting the east and west.  The railroad was built through the Midwest, and right through Omaha.  Mr. Douglas got part of his wish, and as a consolation prize, a county named after him.


Indirectly, Mr. Douglas also influenced our state capitol city's name.  In fact, one attempt to relocate the territorial capitol from Omaha was to a mystical town to be named Douglas City, near where Lincoln is.  Had Abe Lincoln not gained in popularity to the point that he became the Republican party's presidential nomination or the Democratic party not split, Mr. Douglas might have been the president.  We may have had Douglas County, and state capitol Douglas.  Who can say, winning the election might have prolonged his life.  Mr. Douglas might have not liked theatre or John Wilkes Booth might have liked him.  Of course, the south might have won too.

Mr. Lincoln had already purchased land in Council Bluffs.  He might have moved there, practiced law, and still be alive today.

Purely speculation though.

True Conclusion

Mr. Lincoln supported ending slavery, the north and south split, in April 1861, the Civil War started, slavery was abolished, and of course, the rest is history that you already knew about.