'The Little Giant' Stops by a Wabash

By Eric Olson

June 18, 2010 Updated Mar 14, 2010 at 4:15 PM EDT

WABASH, Indiana (Indiana's NewsCenter)--They called him ‘The Little Giant’, all five feet four inches of him. But despite Stephen Douglas’s fame while he lived he’s remembered today mainly as the loser in the legendary Lincoln-Douglas debates while his opponent, Abraham Lincoln, is perhaps the most famous man in American history. Hence the name of this exhibition on Douglas’s life at the Wabash County Historical Museum, ‘Stephen Douglas, Out from the Shadow of Lincoln’. What this exhibit really teaches is how politicians campaigned in the days before mass media.

“Today a politician would have a website a politician would have Twitter they would have Face book they would have 24 hour cable news,” says museum director Tracy Stewart. ‘They would have carefully crafted images that they put out through the media.”

In Douglas’s day voters got acquainted with candidates through etchings and prints in publications like Harper’s Weekly or Ballou’s Pictorial, accompanied by a political message. Also here, a copy of the Kansas Nebraska Act which Douglas wrote while in the senate. It allowed citizens in new states to decide the slavery issue for themselves instead of the Federal government. But the overriding message of this exhibit concerns the Wabash County Museum itself. What once was a couple of rooms and a dusty hodgepodge of local artifacts has evolved into an important regional institution.

“This is about Wabash County but it's about any Indiana county,” says Stewart. “People walk through here and they find their connection they had a grandfather who worked on the railroad or a great grandfather who was in the Civil War. Everybody finds their connection to this museum.”

So it’s fitting that Wabash County would house an exhibit on the Little Giant, a nickname appropriate to the man, and to the museum that is his host. Eric Olson, out in ‘Your Country’.

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