The expression was coined by John Randolph, a Members of the United States House of Representatives from Virginia, during the Missouri Compromise debates. Randolph had no respect for northerners who voted with the South, considering them, in historian Leonard Richards' words, "weak men, timid men, half-baked men." Randolph said of them:
In 1820 seventeen doughfaces made the Missouri Compromise possible. In 1836 sixty northern congressmen voted with the South in the passage of a gag rule to prevent anti-slavery petitions from being formally received in the House of Representatives. In 1847 twenty-seven northerners joined with the South in opposing the Wilmot Proviso, and in 1850 thirty-five supported a stronger fugitive slave law. By 1854 the South had changed its position on the Missouri Compromise and fifty-eight northerners supported its repeal in the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
Of course, many Southerners still looked at these doughfaces from the same perspective as Randolph—weak men who, without any firm moral commitment to their cause other than political expediency, could prove at some critical point in the future to be unreliable. Richards has classified 320 congressmen in the period from 1820 to 1860 as doughfaces. The two U.S. Presidents preceding Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, were both commonly referred to as doughfaces. Stephen A. Douglas was severely criticized by Lincoln as the "worse doughface of them all, even though he broke with his party over the Lecompton Constitution for Kansas in 1857. Other such doughfaces were Charles G. Atherton, the author of the gag rule, and Jesse D. Bright, the only northern senator expelled for treason during the Civil War.
The ultimate weakness of the doughfaces, from a Southern perspective, came over the issue of popular sovereignty. At the time of the Kansas-Nebraska Act popular sovereignty was accepted by both the northern and southern Democrats as the proper states' rights position. It protected against federal consolidation and insured the equality of the states to compete in the territories. Douglas and many northern Democrats remained consistent through 1860 in their support for popular sovereignty. Southerners, on the other hand, saw the increasing strength of the anti-slavery movement in the North and by the late 1850s were no longer content simply to rely on preventing the Federal government from interfering in the territories. They now insisted on Federal intervention to protect slavery in the territories and prevent any decision on slavery until a territory prepared a constitution as part of an application for statehood. Northern Democrats and Stephen A. Douglas could not go that far with the South. The doughface, as an agent for sectional compromise, had outlived his usefulness.