The Democratic party, or rather so much of that party as did not openly repudiate the policy and principle of the Kansas-Nebraska act, made early preparations for a vigorous campaign. The great loss in prestige and numbers he had already sustained admonished Douglas that his political fortunes hung in a doubtful balance. But he was a bold and aggressive leader, to whom controversy and party warfare were rather an inspiration than a discouragement. Under his guidance, the Democratic State Convention nominated for Governor of Illinois William A. Richardson, late a member of the House of Representatives, in which body as chairman of the Committee on Territories he had been the leader to whom the success of the Nebraska bill was specially intrusted, and where his parliamentary management had contributed materially to the final passage of that measure.
Thus the attitude of opposing factions and the unorganized unfolding of public opinion, rather than any mere promptings or combinations of leaders, developed the course of the anti-Nebraska men of Illinois. Out of this condition sprung directly one important element of future success. Richardson’s candidacy, long foreshadowed, was seen to require an opposing nominee of unusual popularity. He was found in the person of Colonel William H. Bissell, late a Democratic representative in Congress, where he had denounced disunion in 1850, and opposed the Nebraska bill in 1854. He had led a regiment to the Mexican war, and fought gallantly at the battle of Buena Vista. His military laurels easily carried him into Congress; but the exposures of the Mexican campaign also burdened him with a disease which paralyzed his lower limbs, and compelled retirement from active politics after his second term. He was now, however, recovering; and having already exhibited civic talents of a high order, the popular voice made light of his physical infirmity, and his friends declared their readiness to match the brains of Bissell against the legs of his opponents.
[Sidenote] January 23, 1850, Appendix, “Globe,” 1849-50, p. 78.
One piece of his history rendered him specially acceptable to young and spirited Western voters. His service in Congress began amid exciting debates over the compromise measures of 1850, when the Southern fire-eaters were already rampant. Seddon, of Virginia, in his eagerness to depreciate the North and glorify the South, affirmed in a speech that at the battle of Buena Vista, “at that most critical juncture when all seemed lost save honor,” amid the discomfiture and rout of “the brave but unfortunate troops of the North through a mistaken order,” “the noble regiment of Mississippians” had snatched victory from the jaws of death. Replying some days later to Seddon’s innuendo, Bissell, competent by his presence on the battle-field to bear witness, retorted that when the 2d Indiana gave way, it was McKee’s 2d Kentucky, Hardin’s 1st Illinois, and Bissell’s 2d Illinois which had retrieved