Martha Douglas Dies

The failure of the 1852 Douglas presidential campaign was quickly followed by a more deeply wrenching personal tragedy.

When Martha Douglas gave birth to a daughter in early 1853, her health was dangerously frail. As Martha grew weaker, complications set in, and on January 19, 1853, she died. A few weeks later, the Douglases' unnamed infant daughter died as well. The shock of losing his wife and daughter immersed Douglas in profound grief.

After several months of despair, Douglas decided to escape the scene of his bereavement and seek solace in an extended trip to Europe. He also felt that he might gain important insights on national issues, particularly as they affected international relations. He left Washington in May 1853 and sailed from New York to Liverpool on the first leg of his travels. In London, he inquired about a possible audience with Queen Victoria but declined when he learned that he would have to wear court dress rather than his regular attire. With Douglas's encouragement, much was made of the fact that a hardy, democratic American had refused to submit to a petty aristocratic tradition

March 1847 he married Martha Martin, the daughter of wealthy Colonel Robert Martin of North Carolina. She brought to Douglas the new responsibility of a large cotton plantation in Lawrence County, Mississippi worked by slaves. To Douglas, an Illinois senator with presidential aspirations, the management of a Southern plantation with slave labor presented a difficult situation. However, Douglas sought to escape slaveholding charges by employing a manager for his Mississippi holdings, while using the economic benefits derived from the property to advance his political career. His sole lengthy visit to Mississippi came in 1848, with only brief emergency trips thereafter. The newlyweds moved their Illinois home to fast-growing Chicago in the summer of 1847. Martha Douglas died on January 19, 1853, leaving the Senator with two small sons (one of whom was Robert M. Douglas). On November 20, 1856, he married 20 year-old Adele Cutts, the daughter of James Madison Cutts and a great-niece of former U.S. First Lady Dolley Madison.