Today in Legal History: Stephen Douglas Born, Natchez Fire Kills 207

On this day in 1813, famed orator and attorney Stephen A. Douglas was born near Brandon, Vt. Perhaps best-known for his fiery debates against Abraham Lincoln during the U.S. Senate campaign of 1858 in Illinois, Douglas’s high-profile career included stints as an Illinois Supreme Court judge and as a longtime member of Congress (in both the House and Senate). Although Douglas won the 1858 election, the Lincoln-Douglas debates boosted the reputation of the then-lesser-known Lincoln and helped him win his presidential campaign two years later. For more information, see this Library of Congress page.

On this day in 1940, more than 200 people died in a dance-hall fire in Natchez, Miss. Apparently because of the victims’ race (African-American), the fire was largely ignored by national media. However, it remains to this day one of the most horrendous examples of what happens because of “utter disregard for ordinary fire preventative measures,” as the Mississippi State Rating Bureau reported at the time. The National Fire Protection Association, a nonprofit group which establishes fire safety standards, cites the Natchez fire as a prime example of why fire safety standards—and compliance with them—is critical. For details, see the NFPA website.

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