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The Douglas Monument
(Chicago, Illinois)

[image ALT: A photograph of a tall stone column, well over 30 meters high, on a flaring stone masonry base, set in a small park. It is a view of the Stephen A. Douglas Monument in Chicago, Illinois.]

Douglas's Memorial seen from the S.

Stephen Arnold Douglas (1813‑1861) was one of the most distinguished statesmen of his day: Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, United States Representative, then Senator. He devoted his entire career to achieving peaceful preservation of the Federal Union from disintegration along sectional lines; but when he and other moderates on both sides had failed in their efforts and the War Between the States became reality, he supported the Union over the right of the States to secede. The heartbreak may have cost him his life: he died unexpectedly and young, less than two months afterwards.

The Stephen A. Douglas Memorial, to give it its official name, is an Illinois State Monument, not a National Monument. History is written by the victors, and Sen. Douglas was on the wrong side of history; his moderation and insistence on freedom and self-determination would have insured it, whoever had won: only had there been no War between the States would he have been among the victors.

When Douglas died, on June 3, 1861, he was buried in a temporary brick tomb near his Chicago cottage on the South Side of Chicago; the cottage (1865 photograph) was the only part of "Oakenwald", his planned estate, that ever got built. His friends soon organized a Douglas Monument Association to build him a suitable tomb nearby, on a plot of that same land bought from his widow Adele; work on the monument, designed by Leonard W. Volk, began in 1866, and two years later his remains were entombed in the base of it. Despite significant private donations, lack of funds delayed construction of the complete design; in 1877, the State of Illinois appropriated money to finish it: the column was raised the following year and crowned by Volk's statue of Douglas (photo), with "finishing touches" in 1881. Full details of the fund-raising, legislative appropriations, contracting are given in "Illinois' Oldest Memorial: The Stephen A. Douglas Monument", an article by Joseph L. Eisendrath, Jr. in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, 51:127‑148.

The monument is said to be 29.2 meters tall, with the column accounting for 14 meters of that; one look at the photo above suggests something is wrong with that, unless we and the camera have fallen victims to an interesting optical illusion. The column is of granite; the bronze statue of the Little Giant that crowns it — such is the name frequently given him for his oratorical presence despite his height (1m62) — is 2.75 m high.

The allegorical statues around the column, while unexceptionable as carving, are iconographically an awkward group. The rationale for them is that they were "the four pillars of Douglas's life" and each is certainly appropriate in varying degrees to the life of the Illinois orator — but it looks very much as if, the design of the monument requiring four bastions at the corners to accompany the column and provide its base with a feeling of solidity and substance, nothing better than this group of disparate and anemic personifications could be found. Counterclockwise from the NW corner:

[image ALT: missingALT. It is a view of the allegorical statue of History on the Stephen A. Douglas Memorial in Chicago, Illinois.] 
[image ALT: missingALT. It is a view of the allegorical statue of Justice on the Stephen A. Douglas Memorial in Chicago, Illinois.] 
[image ALT: missingALT. It is a view of the allegorical statue of Eloquence on the Stephen A. Douglas Memorial in Chicago, Illinois.] 
[image ALT: missingALT. It is a view of the allegorical statue of Illinois on the Stephen A. Douglas Memorial in Chicago, Illinois.]
(Each statue expands with a click.)

More successful by far, and more interesting in what they show and how they show it, are the four bas-relief panels around the column; they do tell a connected story, where allegory is tempered by a dose of historical reality: I've given them their own page.

[image ALT: missingALT. It is a view of the Stephen A. Douglas Memorial in Chicago, Illinois.]

And with the relief of the American Eden above, and the allegories of Illinois and History to our left and right respectively, the base of the column houses Douglas's resting place:

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Page updated: 1 Apr 18