BRANDON - It's funny how we can vacation in a distant place and, as tourists, learn far more about the local lore than the history of our own backyard. Case in point: the Stephen A. Douglas Birthplace at the intersection of Routes 7 and 73 in downtown Brandon. The museum opened officially last October and is now in its first full year of operation. Built in 1813, the quaint Douglas cottage is now a local time capsule with fascinating exhibits and period-piece furnishings from Vermont's antebellum era.
This little gem of a museum is actually the core of the home of "Little Giant" Stephen A. Douglas, three-time Democrat U.S. presidential candidate. He gained worldwide fame as the vitriolic opponent of Republican Abraham Lincoln during the fiery pre-Civil War election of 1860.
How this shrewd Vermonter got branded as a pro-slavery candidate is a long story; he had supported the Dred Scott Supreme Court ruling of 1857, which was the South's clever attempt to sneak slavery into Northern states like Vermont. In addition, Douglas made so-called racist comments during the 1860 campaign and-along with his decision to champion Dred Scott-a dark cloud followed him the rest of his life.
Brandon's favorite son was early nicknamed the "Little Giant" because he was a short, barrel of a man, but a giant on the American political stage.
Douglas eventually left Vermont during the 1830s. He raveled through New York and then headed west to the shores of the Great Lakes. He became a traveling teacher and finally came to rest in Illinois. It was there that Douglas made his great mark on politics. He served in various state offices and was later elected as a U.S. Congressman twice. Of course, the Brandon native is best known for his three-term service as U.S. senator from Illinois.