In 1851, the Oregon Territorial Legislature gave Douglas County its name, saying as it did so that it was naming it after U.S. Sen. Stephen A. Douglas, a senator from Illinois who championed Oregon’s adoption.

But Douglas’ story is problematic.

He argued in favor of southern states being allowed to keep slavery legal at a time when the abolitionist movement was growing in strength. He later went on to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 1860 — the same year that Republican Abraham Lincoln ultimately won the presidency.

His biography is one of a man who quite literally placed himself on the wrong side of history, and that’s why several county residents are calling for Douglas County to separate from its namesake.

To be clear, they’re not proposing the county change its name. Rather, they’re suggesting it be named for a different Douglas.

Tenmile resident John Hunter mentioned two possible replacements at a recent Douglas County Board of Commissioners meeting.

One is David Douglas, the Scottish botanist who toured the Roseburg area along the Umpqua River in 1826, cataloguing the flora and fauna here and lending his name to the Douglas fir tree. An informal survey by The News-Review suggested many Douglas County residents already mistakenly believe this is the Douglas after whom the county is named.

The other option is former slave and noted abolitionist Frederick Douglass. This choice would require a change in spelling to add the extra “s” on the end of the county’s name.

Stephen A. Douglas challenged Lincoln in the 1858 Illinois race for the U.S. Senate. The election was perhaps best known for the Lincoln-Douglas debates, during which the topic of slavery was at the forefront. Douglas won that election, but the debates also made Lincoln famous.

Daniel Robertson, retired attorney and former director of the Douglas County Museum of Natural and Cultural History, said Douglas faced stiff opposition to his bid for the presidential nomination at the 1860 Democratic convention. Despite his support for pro-slavery states, he was opposed by the Southern Democrats.

The Oregon Democratic delegates proposed former Oregon Territorial Governor Joseph Lane. But Lane complicated matters when he sent a telegram to the Oregon delegation urging them to walk from the convention if the South did. The telegram was leaked to Douglas supporters, who publicized it, Robertson said.

The Democratic Party fell apart, splitting into two major parties representing North and South and a third smaller party. The Southern Democrats nominated then-Vice President John Breckinridge for president, with Lane nominated as vice president.

“One can theorize, and not be too far off probably that if there had been a united Democratic Party in 1860 that the minority party of the Republicans probably would not have won the White House,” Robertson said.

Robertson said Douglas’ name was taken for an Oregon county because he was pro-expansionist. He supported Oregon as well as annexing Texas and acquiring former Mexican states in the southwest.

Robertson said he’s not sure what the procedure would be for changing the county’s namesake. Since the county was named by the Legislature and is not a home rule county, he said it might be necessary to obtain legislative approval for a name change.

But if the name remains the same, a namesake change might be simpler.

“I kind of suspect that if the Douglas County Board of Commissioners said we would rather honor David Douglas than Stephen A. Douglas that the Legislature isn’t going to say well that’ll take an act of the Legislature,” he said.

Hunter said at this point, he and others supporting the idea simply want to get the conversation started.

“People are really interested in it. It’s very timely,” he said.

And, he said, it wouldn’t be too hard for the county to make the switch.

“There’s no statue to take down I don’t think, and there’s going to not be much financial cost,” he said.

If Douglas County were to consider changing its namesake, it wouldn’t be alone. KLCC reported Lane County commissioners discussed at a recent meeting either renaming the county or finding another besides Joseph Lane — also criticized for his pro-slavery views — to name it after.

King County, Washington ditched its previous namesake William King, a former vice president, plantation owner and slave holder. That King was replaced by civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The change was approved by the King County Council in 1986, but didn’t become official until the Legislature passed a bill and the governor signed it into law in 2005.

Reporter Carisa Cegavske can be reached at ccegavske@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4213.

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Senior Reporter

Carisa Cegavske is the senior reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at ccegavske@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4213. Follow her on Twitter @carisa_cegavske

(22) comments

Country Craftsman

Changing names and tearing down monuments is nothing short of asinine. Quite whining about the past and work on yourself quit tring to change everyone else. America is strongest when it works together quit letting violent jackasses decide for you.

LCWilson3006

This discussion of name change reminds me of the book burning during WW-II. Do we allow this level of thinking change our history. Something is wrong folks.

Connerth

No one is proposing changing history. Nor would the name Douglas County be changed. The change would be "who" has the honor of having Douglas County named after them. That's it. Stephen Douglas will still have been a racist, pro slavery Senator and David Douglas will still have been a botanist.

Robert Heilman

A resolution saying that the county's name now honors David Douglas wouldn't change the historical fact that it was named in honor of Stephen Douglas. Personally, I would prefer that the name be changed to "Umpqua County" if a change of name be needed. There are, after all, twelve Douglas Counties in America but only one place called "Umpqua."

mynamehere

Now I can agree with this change of name without hesitation. Land of Umpqua!

CitizenJoe

Robert, I like that. There are not many counties that are defined by a watershed that is unique to them.

Mike

Excellent idea.

CitizenJoe

If "history" is what happened, nobody can rewrite history. If "history" is what is *believed* about what happened, then it has to be rewritten as new information becomes available--and our interpretations will always be contested. I believe that Confederate generals and politicians were traitors to the United States of America, that most of them demonstrably violated their oaths; does anybody here disagree with that? I also believe that American taxpayers ought not make (or preserve) monuments to traitors who killed their countrymen. With regard to the name of our county, it would be a tiny step to quit honoring an enemy of human freedom. I'm in favor of Douglas, of Douglas-fir.

whizbang

It would appear someone has too much time on their hands. Unfortunate they can't find something productive to do.

Momos

Human trafficking and illicit migration (slavery) is a $28 billion enterprise now. Slavery has not gone away. Changing names on buildings or maps will not help today's victims. Correcting historical wrongs seems like a never ending endeavor.

norman

Leave it alone stop trying to rewrite the past I'm sure your energy could be used elsewhere

Connerth

Where did you think someone could better use their energy ?

smedleyb

It seems like a great idea to me.

Clevelander

This searching out and destroying of history has become an obsession and sickness in this country. I never thought that it would come to this county, but it seems nowhere in immune to those that would seek to replace American history, and replace it with whom they believe is deserving of recognition. Since "several" (more than two, but not many) county residents feel the need to change the name, then by all means, it should be changed! No, it should not, and I'm willing to bet that there would be more than several people that would agree.

Douglas' "problematic" approval of slavery is debatable. His choice as the counties namesake was not because of his perceived pro slavery position, but his belief in Oregon's inclusion into the United States of America.

Connerth

No one is destroying or replacing history. The name: Douglas Co. is not being changed.

LCWilson3006

Not yet. Just wait as this minority movement forces the issue in court.

Connerth

You are assuming that this " minority movement" can afford lawyers'

Rise722

Don't even start this. Just because you try to tear down statues, or re-name some building, etc. You cannot, cannot, cannot change history. It remains what it was. Deal with it.

Connerth

No one is changing history ! Rather we are moving forward from the dark history of slavery into a bright future of equality and justice for All ! This is the right thing to do, Now. It will put Douglas Co. in a positive light !

Umpquabob

Well... move forward right u[ I-5 to Portland. Douglas County has paid its dues and doesn't need a name change.

Connerth

The name Douglas County is not being changed. You could also move to Idaho !

LCWilson3006

Dark history?? My family represented the Union during the Civil War. One wounded for life and his duty is now being challenged by a statement about changing a dark history. Might I remind folks that many of us grew up during the School Bussing during the 60's. Life has not changed in the last 160-years or the last 50-years. I've learned to trust. And. When not to trust - today my trust is in question. Those promoting a change in history require me to review that trust.

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