America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union

America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union

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by Fergus M. Bordewich
     
 

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Fergus M. Bordewich presents the riveting, dramatic story behind one of U.S. history's longest debates: the Compromise of 1850.
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Overview

Fergus M. Bordewich presents the riveting, dramatic story behind one of U.S. history's longest debates: the Compromise of 1850.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Here is a pleasant surprise. This book about a little-known subject by a not-so-well-known writer is as good as almost any work of popular history about the early United States. Original in concept, stylish in execution, America's Great Debate, by Fergus Bordewich, provides everything history readers want. And what is that? Two things above all: a compelling story and a cast of characters who come convincingly to life.
—Donald E. Graham
The New York Times Book Review
Fergus M. Bordewich has written a lively, attractive book about a fearsome and almost intractable crisis: the tangle of issues involving expansion and slavery that confronted the political class of the United States in 1850…Bordewich…is a good writer—he knows when to savor details, and when to move things along—and a good quoter of others.
—Richard Brookhiser
Publishers Weekly
In this vivid, insightful history of the bitter controversy that led to the Compromise of 1850, journalist Bordewich (Washington: The Making of the American Capital) reminds us that Southerners dominated all branches of the federal government until 1850. Every president had owned slaves except the two Adamses, and Southern states still made up half of the Senate. The territorial bonanza after the 1845–1847 Mexican war threatened their control because California and New Mexico’s governments excluded slavery. Outraged Southern leaders refused to accept this, paralyzing Congress for months. A compromise designed by an aged Henry Clay failed, but was quickly revived and passed thanks largely to Stephen Douglas. It admitted California as a free state, put off the status of the remaining territory, and strengthened the fugitive slave law. Despite narrow passage and wildly abusive debate, it was a dazzling achievement that temporarily staved off civil war. Political history is often a hard slog, but not in Bordewich’s gripping, vigorous account featuring a large cast of unforgettable characters with fierce beliefs. 16 pages of b&w photos, 2 maps. Agent: Elyse Cheney, Elyse Cheney Literary Associates. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
"Political history is often a hard slog, but not in Bordewich's gripping, vigorous account featuring a large cast of unforgettable characters with fierce beliefs." —Publishers Weekly Starred Review
Kirkus Reviews
Wholly enjoyable study of an earlier era of intense political partisanship. Historian Bordewich (Washington: The Making of an American Capital, 2008, etc.) recounts the amazing story of the cliffhanging compromise hammered out in both houses of Congress in 1850 that pitted the rival pro- and antislavery factions against each other and saved the country, temporarily, from dissolution. The war with Mexico four years before had added 1.2 million square miles to the western United States, while slavery, thanks to the cotton gin, had exploded exponentially. Would the new territories comprise slave states or free states? How to maintain the balance in the Senate and House of Representatives between them? Bordewich portrays a colorful cast of characters--Democrats, Whigs, Free Soilers and abolitionists--whose passionate rhetoric attained lyrical heights and brought the debate about America's very identity to the forefront. Chief architect Henry Clay, in ill health and at the end of an eminent career, brandished a fragment of George Washington's coffin and warned his colleagues of the dire consequences of disunion. Urging forbearance on both sides, Clay laid out the components of a plan accounting for the admission of California and New Mexico without restrictions (meaning they would decide themselves about slavery), resolving the disputed borders with Texas, abolishing the slave trade in Washington, D.C., and soothing Southerners' concerns over fugitive slaves. Warring factions--on the South, led by senators John Calhoun and Jefferson Davis, and on the North, led by Daniel Webster and William Seward--threatened to defeat the omnibus bill, until the rhetorical arm-wringing by the "steam engine in britches" Stephen A. Douglas squeezed a compromise and the necessary passage. Acquiescence to the Fugitive Slave Law, however, would henceforth haunt the lawmakers. A thrilling history lesson filled with pistol waving in the Senate, "backroom confabulations," the death of a president and old-fashioned oratorical efflorescence.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781439124611
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
04/16/2013
Pages:
480
Sales rank:
723,804
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.30(d)

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From the Publisher
"Political history is often a hard slog, but not in Bordewich's gripping, vigorous account featuring a large cast of unforgettable characters with fierce beliefs." —-Publishers Weekly Starred Review

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