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In 1848, General Cass was the candidate of the Democratic, and General Taylor of the Whig party, for President of the United States. Before bis nomination Gen. Cass had written the celebrated “Nicholson Letter," in which he had said the best way to destroy slavery, was to spread it all over the territories. A good many in the Democratic party were opposed to this principle of “diffusion,” and Mr. Doolittle was among the number. He was in the State Convention of New York, and though at that time a very young man, he introduced . in the Convention the following resolution:
“Resolved, That while the democracy of New York, represented in this convention, will faithfully adhere to all the compromises of the Constitution, and maintain all the reserved rights of the States, they declaresince the crisis has arrived when that question must be met-their uncompromising hostility to the extension of slavery into any territory now free, which may be hereafter acquired by any action of the government of the United States."
This was the doctrine of the famous Wilmot Proviso; and to understand the full import of the resolution it must be borne in mind that our armies were then in possession of Mexico, and a treaty was pending by which we were about to acquire California and New Mexico—free territories, into which the “diffusion” doctrine of Gen. Cass was intended to introduce slavery.
The resolution was rejected by a majority of one vote. By the president of the convention it was indignantly torn in pieces. On that rejected resolution a convention was called and the Free-soil party was organized. The result was, the nomination of Van Buren as the Free-soil candidate for president. As a consequence Gen. Taylor was elected—the “diffusion” of slavery was defeated, and California admitted as a free State.
In 1851, Mr. Doolittle removed to Wisconsin, and there engaged in the practice of his profession. His decided abilities and noble traits of character were at once recognized, and he entered upon an eventful and successful career.
He soon ranked among the ablest and best lawyers in the State. He was retained by Governor Farwell in important cases involving the interests of the State, and in other important litigations. He successfully competed in the courts with older attorneys
and held his own among the able lawyers for which Wisconsin was noted at that time.
In 1852, he gave his support to Gen. Pierce for president, not considering there was longer any ground of controversy between himself as a Free-soil democrat; and the Democratic party, as the compromise of 1851 excluded slavery from all the Territories acquired from Mexico, and both political parties pledged themselves to abide by it, and not agitate the slavery. question, in or out of Congress.
In 1853, after a residence in the State of but two years, he was elected judge of the First Judicial Circuit, the most populous judicial district in the State. As a jurist he ranked among the ablest and most impartial in the Northwest. He brought to the bench a thorough knowledge of law; varied learning, and a clear perception of right and justice. In March, 1856, he resigned his office and retired from the bench.
In the summer of 1856, occurred the border-ruffian invasion and subjugation of Kansas, and the subsequent dead-lock in the two houses of Congress. The House had inserted a provision in the army appropriation bill, that no part of the money should be used to enforce the laws passed in Kansas by the border-ruffian Legislature; laws by which slavery was de clared to be a divine institution, and any man who questioned it was, liable to be fined and imprisoned. The Senate struck it out. There was a tremendous struggle. At last the law was passed, and means were put into the hands of the President to sustain slavery in the Territory of Kansas, from which it had been excluded by the Missouri Compromise.
The time had now come when Mr. Doolittle must again break with his party. Until the last moment he had hoped the House would prevail. But when that noble band with whom his sympathies were so strongly enlisted, were overcome -when finally the Senate had prevailed, he could not longer remain silent. His first speech was at Raçine. Referring to this speech afterward, he said:
“When I came to speak my soul went out with all the earnestuess and intensity of thought, feeling and expression of which it is capable; all the more earnest and intense because I had hoped till Congress adjourned, that the House would prevail—that the Senate would yield. I spoke at Racine
to an immense crowd. I stripped myself as a farmer does to his work. It was no child's play with me; it was work-earnest work—to save freedom to the Territories and freedom to ourselves."
His next speech was in Milwaukee. Concerning that effort we will again let him speak for himself:
"I took off my coat there; I gave free utterance to all the indignation of my soul. The thought that the federal government would enforce that usurpation, and thereby force slavery into the free territory of Kansas; was. the power that moved me."
He now found himself in the Republican party, which was organized the same year, upon the corner-stone of the non-extension of slavery.
In January, 1857, Judge Doolittle was elected to the Senate. of the United States, and at the expiration of his term was re elected, serving continuously until 1869. During those politically exciting and stormy years, he was a conspicuous figure in the councils of the nation. His senatorial career is too well known to require any extended notice in this place. His period of service covered the election of Lincoln—the breaking out of the war, and its prosecution to the close—the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, and much of the work of reconstruction. He was a hard and effective worker, serving on the committee of foreign affairs, and of military affairs; also as chairman of the committee on Indian affairs. In 1861, he was á member of the committee of thirteen distinguished senators who were appointed to confer with a like committee of the House to devise some plan to settle the threatened disruption, without resort to arms.
In the Senate, his moderation, urbanity, dignity of manner and personal character won him the esteem of his political opponents, who recognized in him an antagonist who always fought fairly, who never lost his temper, and never struck a foul blow. He would not condescend to tricks in debate, and earnestly opposed all irregular strategy in party action. In the impeachment and trial of Andrew Johnson, and in some of the reconstruction measures resulting from the war, he felt obliged to oppose in Congress the party with which he had been acting
During the summer recess of 1865, as a member of a joint
committee of both houses, of which he was chairman, he visited Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico, to inquire into the condition of the Indians west of the Mississippi, and reported their condition and wants, suggesting reforms in their management, and gained much information which aided him in future legislation. The inquiry and investigation were thorough, and the results were published in a volume which contained much valuable information concerning the various Indian tribes.
Senator Doolittle had, in 1860, framed the call for the Republican Convention at Chicago, wbich nominated Lincoln, and in 1866, he drew the call for and presided over the national Union Convention held in Philadelphia.
After his retirement from the Senate in 1869, he engaged in the practice of his profession in Chicago, retaining his residence in Racine. His partner in the practice in Chicago, was the Hon. Jesse O. Norton, who had been a member of the House. After the fire of 1871, the firm was dissolved, and a partnership was formed with his son, James R. Doolittle, Jr. In 1876, Henry McKey came into the partnership, under the firm name of Doolittle and McKey, and this firm has since continued. The office is at 169 Jackson St.
In 1876, Judge Doolittle was one of the distinguished visitors to Louisiana, to investigate the circumstances attending the result of the presidential election in that State.
He was a member of the board of trustees of the University of Chicago so long as the institution had an existence, and has lectured upon equity jurisprudence in the Union College of Law.
On the 4th of February, 1875, Judge Doolittle, at the request of many friends, made a speech in the Assembly Chamber, at Madison, Wisconsin, in vindication of his political course, and in reply to bitter attacks which had been made upon him because of his leaving the Republican party. In that address he gave a graphic sketch of the rise and progress of political parties from the organization of the government. The election of Washington unanimously, without any party—the difference in his cabinet between Hamilton and Jefferson-the formation of the Federal school of politics under Hamilton
and the Republican under Jefferson—the election of Adams in 1796 as a Federalist, and of Jefferson in 1800 as a Republican - the re-election of Jefferson in 1804—the election of Madison as a Republican in 1808 and his re-election in 1812–80 of Monroe in 1816 and in 1820—the disappearance of the Federal party in 1816, after the war with England, and the merger of nearly everything into the Republican party—the various Republican candidates in 1824, resulting in no election by the people, and the election of John Quincy Adams by the House —the election of Jackson by the people in 1828 and again in 1832—the first national party convention, and the organization of the Democratic party in 1832, and of the Whig party in 1834—the election of Van Buren as a Democrat in 1836 and of Harrison as a Whig in 1840—of Polk, Democrat, in 1844, and Taylor, Whig, in 1848—this last result being largely due to the organization of the Free-soil party already mentioned; and finally the election of Pierce, Democrat, in 1852, and of Buchanan, in 1856, thus coming down to the memory of most of those whom he was addressing, and to the events in which he had himself been a prominent actor.
A noble feature of this address was the calm and dispassionate manner in which he met the personal abuse which had been heaped upon him, absolutely refusing to participate in that mode of political warfare.
Judge Doolittle is a man of great intellectual power. The writer of this sketch well remembers sitting within the bar of the Supreme Court at Washington, many years ago, observing somewhat listlessly, the proceedings, when an attorney arose and commenced, in a quiet manner, and with a calm and distinct voice, the argument of an admiralty case. As the statement of facts proceeded, showing the situation of two vessels which had collided, and the different movements of the various parties connected with the vessels, the audience became more and more interested, until finally, all, including every judge upon the bench, were listening, eagerly, intent to catch every word of this glowing picture which was being painted upon the imagination.
This was Judge Doolittle, and from that time, the writer