Had anyone prophesied at the close of the year 1856, that within a twelvemonth Douglas would be denounced as a traitor to Democracy, he would have been thought mad. That Douglas of all men should break with his party under any circumstances was almost unthinkable. His whole public career had been inseparably connected with his party. To be sure, he had never gone so far as to say “my party right or wrong”; but that was because he had never felt obliged to make a moral choice. He was always convinced that his party was right. Within the circumference of party, he had always found ample freedom of movement. He had never lacked the courage of his convictions, but hitherto his convictions had never collided with the dominant opinion of Democracy. He undoubtedly believed profoundly in the mission of his party, as an organization standing above all for popular government and the preservation of the Union. No ordinary circumstances would justify him in weakening the influence or impairing the organization of the Democratic party. Paradoxical as it may seem, his partisanship was dictated by a profound patriotism. He believed the maintenance of the Union to be dependent upon the integrity of his party. So thinking and feeling he entered upon the most memorable controversy of his career.
When President Buchanan asked Robert J. Walker of Mississippi to become governor of Kansas, the choice met with the hearty approval of Douglas. Not all the President’s appointments had been acceptable to the Senator from Illinois. But here was one that he could indorse unreservedly. He used all his influence to persuade Walker to accept the uncoveted mission. With great reluctance Walker consented, but only upon the most explicit understanding with the administration as to the policy to be followed in Kansas. It was well understood on both sides that a true construction of the Kansas-Nebraska Act required the submission to popular vote of any constitution which the prospective convention might adopt. This was emphatically the view of Douglas, whom Governor Walker took pains to consult on his way through Chicago.
The call for an election of delegates to a constitutional convention had already been issued, when Walker reached Kansas. The free-State people were incensed because the appointment of delegates had been made on the basis of a defective census and registration; and even the assurance of the governor, in his inaugural, that the constitution would be submitted to a popular vote, failed to overcome their distrust. They therefore took no part in the election of delegates. This course was unfortunate, for it gave the control of the convention wholly into the hands of the pro-slavery party, with consequences that were far-reaching for Kansas and the nation. But by October the free-State party had abandoned its policy of abstention from territorial politics, so far as to participate in the election of a new territorial legislature. The