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

Overview

The Mexican War introduced vast new territories into the United States, among them California and the present-day Southwest. When gold was discovered in California in the great Gold Rush of 1849, the population swelled, and settlers petitioned for admission to the Union. But the U.S. Senate was precariously balanced with fifteen free states and fifteen slave states. Up to then states had been admitted in pairs, one free and one slave, to preserve that tenuous balance in the Senate. Would California be free or ...
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America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union

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Overview

The Mexican War introduced vast new territories into the United States, among them California and the present-day Southwest. When gold was discovered in California in the great Gold Rush of 1849, the population swelled, and settlers petitioned for admission to the Union. But the U.S. Senate was precariously balanced with fifteen free states and fifteen slave states. Up to then states had been admitted in pairs, one free and one slave, to preserve that tenuous balance in the Senate. Would California be free or slave? So began a paralyzing crisis in American government, and the longest debate in Senate history.

Fergus Bordewich tells the epic story of the Compromise of 1850 with skill and vigor, bringing to life two generations of senators who dominated the great debate. Luminaries such as John Calhoun, Daniel Webster, and Henry Clay—who tried unsuccessfully to cobble together a compromise that would allow for California’s admission and simultaneously put an end to the nation’s agony over slavery—were nearing the end of their long careers. Rising stars such as Jefferson Davis, William Seward, and Stephen Douglas—who ultimately succeeded where Clay failed—would shape the country’s politics as slavery gradually fractured the nation.

The Compromise saved the Union from collapse, but it did so at a great cost. The gulf between North and South over slavery widened with the strengthened Fugitive Slave Law that was part of the complex Compromise. In America’s Great Debate Fergus Bordewich takes us back to a time when compromise

was imperative, when men swayed one another in Congress with the power of their ideas and their rhetoric, when partisans on each side reached across the aisle to preserve the Union from tragedy.

Winner of the 2012 L.A. Times Book Prize for History

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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: 9781439141687
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 4/17/2012
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 227,037
  • File size: 13 MB
  • Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

Meet the Author

Fergus M. Bordewich is the author of several books, among them Washington: The Making of the American Capital and Bound for Canaan, a national history of the Underground Railroad. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian, American Heritage, The Atlantic, and many other publications. He lives in Washington, D.C.
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Table of Contents

Preface 1

Prologue 5

Chapter 1 "A Frenzy Seized My Soul" 17

Chapter 2 One Bold Stroke 29

Chapter 3 "Order! Order! Order!" 36

Chapter 4 "That Demon Question" 48

Chapter 5 "Ultima Thule" 57

Chapter 6 Old Harry 72

Chapter 7 "We Have Another Epidemic" 85

Chapter 8 The City of Magnificent Intentions 98

Chapter 9 Deadlock 114

Chapter 10 The Godlike Daniel 123

Chapter 11 "A Great Soul on Fire" 134

Chapter 12 "Wounded Eagle" 146

Chapter 13 "Secession! Peaceable Secession!" 159

Chapter 14 "A Higher Law" 173

Chapter 15 "God Deliver Me from Such Friends" 182

Chapter 16 "He Is Not Dead, Sir" 191

Chapter 17 "Let the Assassin Fire!" 207

Chapter 18 Filibusters 223

Chapter 19 "A Legislative Saturnalia" 239

Chapter 20 A Pact with the Devil 250

Chapter 21 "War, Open War" 267

Chapter 22 "All Is Paralysis" 279

Chapter 23 The Omnibus Overturned 289

Chapter 24 "A Steam Engine in Britches" 303

Chapter 25 "Break Your Masters' Locks" 317

Chapter 26 "It Is Time We Should Act" 331

Chapter 27 Triumphs 347

Chapter 28 "A Scandalous Outrage" 358

Epilogue: The Reckoning 370

Acknowledgments 399

Notes 403

Selected Bibliography 445

Index 465

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 6, 2012

    I've read other works (books and articles) by Fergus Bordewich.

    I've read other works (books and articles) by Fergus Bordewich. All are interesting, informative, easy to read, and easy to understand. America's Great Debate … is no exception.

    A great book !!! Very well researched and documented with 61 pages of notes, 16 pages of black and white photographs, and two very helpful maps.

    I learned so much. Not only about the Compromise of 1850 but also about an era that I somewhat took for granted. Bordewich does a magnificent job describing individuals and events. He frequently enhances his anecdotal material with informative (and amusing) parenthetical explanations. The working of the House and Senate during the antebellum period is well described --- particularly in Chapter 23, The Omnibus Overturned. Some sections could stand alone for future publications. I look forward to interesting and informative magazine articles by Bordewich.

    Bordewich makes a convincing case that absent the Compromise, the 15 Slave States could have (and were so inclined) to pull off secession; thereby creating a precedent for two or three or more “copy cat” breakaway nations. The 1850 Compromise effectively bought time (through April 1861) for the developing American republic.

    America's Great Debate … is most informative and enjoyable not only to amateur historians like me, but also to professional historians, public servants, teachers, and many others.

    I spent a good portion of my 32+ year Federal career as a training officer teaching, developing, and administering courses in public policy --- mostly in the area of finance and accounting. My university training was accounting. Fortunately, I also acquired solid background in history and public policy, which benefited me tremendously in the classroom and in course development. Had America's Great Debate … been available I would have strongly recommended them as excellent background to my instructors.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 14, 2012

    This is a great story about a very critical time in our shared h

    This is a great story about a very critical time in our shared history. Bordewich does a good job portraying the involved individuals and setting the scene. This is a very readable book on what some might consider a dry subject. It reminds us that when we are tempted to say that our current political situation is dysfunctional and in crisis, maybe we should re-visit history before being quite so vituperative. If we are currently in crisis we would can at least take some solace in recognizing that this is not the first (nor the last) time. Highly recommend this book.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2012

    Accessible history.

    A thorough treatment of the subject matter, yet easy to read and appreciate. This book brings the players of the 1850 compromise to life. It is worth the time invested.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2013

    Tuck

    I am one, while reading a book, who writes notes and uses a highlighter. More than one marker will be needed before this book is finished. Antebellum at its best. Worth every penny.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted January 26, 2013

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    Posted October 5, 2012

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