Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election that Brought on the Civil War

Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election that Brought on the Civil War

3.5 6
by Douglas R. Egerton
     
 

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In early 1860, pundits across America confidently predicted the election of Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas in the coming presidential race. Douglas, after all, was a national figure, a renowned orator, and led the only party that bridged North and South. But his Democrats fractured over the issue of slavery, creating a splintered four-way race that opened the

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Overview

In early 1860, pundits across America confidently predicted the election of Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas in the coming presidential race. Douglas, after all, was a national figure, a renowned orator, and led the only party that bridged North and South. But his Democrats fractured over the issue of slavery, creating a splintered four-way race that opened the door for the upstart Republicans, exclusively Northern, to steal the Oval Office. Dark horse Abraham Lincoln—not the first choice even of his own party—won the presidency with a record-low share of the popular vote. His victory instantly triggered the secession crisis.

With a historian's keen insight and a veteran political reporter's eye for detail, Douglas R. Egerton re-creates the cascade of unforeseen events that confounded political bosses, set North and South on the road to disunion, and put not Stephen Douglas but his greatest rival in the White House. Year of Meteors delivers a vibrant cast of characters—from the gifted, flawed Douglas to the Southern "fire-eaters," who gleefully sabotaged their own party, to the untested Abraham Lincoln—and a breakneck narrative of this most momentous year in American history.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The center could not hold amid a flood of passionate intensity recorded in this illuminating study of the 1860 election campaign. Historian Egerton (Death or Liberty) chronicles the year’s chaotic political wranglings, from the fractious party conventions that threw up four presidential contenders (two from minor parties) to the search for a congressional compromise to save the Union on the eve of Lincoln’s inauguration. An energized antislavery Republican Party supported Lincoln, unwittingly aided by cagey Southern radicals William Yancey and Robert Rhett, who, Egerton argues, conspired to split their own Democratic party in order to guarantee Lincoln’s victory and thus obtain a pretext for secession. In the doomed middle are Stephen Douglas and other moderates trying to preserve the nation with proslavery compromises that infuriated the North without appeasing the South. This is politics as high drama, and Egerton does it justice with his lucid, meticulous account of backroom deals, parliamentary brawling, and speeches whose rhetorical vitriol (one Republican convention speaker called Southerners “the whole vassalage of hell”) presaged violence. Also fine is Egerton’s analysis of the human motivations that tore the country apart. B&w illus. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

“A lively, expertly rendered narrative of politics as a prelude to war.” —Kirkus (starred)

“Egerton is a master. Year of Meteors reveals the fragility of the American political landscape, a place where politicians, no matter how hard they try, are unable to predict the future.” —Scott Gac, author of Singing for Freedom

“Egerton tells the story of the dissolution of the Union as it should be told, not from the perspective of those looking back on the crisis but from the clouded vision of those who lived through it. He shows us men who often did not realize that the smallest steps taken could have dire consequences, and in the process, he captures the pettiness and the nobility, the wisdom and the recklessness of leaders too often hailed as heroes or dismissed as villains.” —Carol Berkin, author of A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution and Civil War Wives

“Well-informed, judicious, and lively political history. Douglas Egerton has a sharp eye for telling biographical details, and he deploys them to great analytical and narrative effect.” —Bruce Levine, author of Half Slave and Half Free

Year of Meteors is well thought out, deeply researched and intelligently presented. Egerton traces the backround and events that shaped the political world at a moment of severe danger to the nation. In doing so he successfully opens to view a world that is long gone but whose politics remains relevant into our own day.” —Joel H. Silbey, author of Storm over Texas and Respectable Minority

“This is politics as high drama, and Egerton does it justice with his lucid, meticulous account of backroom deals, parliamentary brawling, and speeches whose rhetorical vitriol (one Republican convention speaker called Southerners "the whole vassalage of hell") presaged violence. Also fine is Egerton's analysis of the human motivations that tore the country apart.” —Publishers Weekly

“Provocative and well argued.” —Booklist

“Civil War buffs will appreciate the book's dozens of vividly drawn characters…readers who take politics seriously will get the thrill of an insider's view of a hard-fought campaign…” —Associated Press

“Fascinating account of the bizarre and explosive election of 1860 …” —Wall Street Journal

“Heavily documented, relying on substantial primary and manuscript sources, this book sheds new light on an often researched topic. All those with an interest in the importance of race in the nation's history will want to acquire this highly readable work …” —Library Journal

“Certainly, Lincoln's election in 1860 precipitated secession, which resulted in war, and the sesquicentennial of that event, on November 6, truly marks the beginning of the forthcoming cycle of commemoration. Douglas R. Egerton's Year of Meteors offers a thorough analysis.” —Chronicle of Higher Education Review

“Thanks to Egerton's insight into 19th-century political strategy and skullduggery, the graceful "Year of Meteors" reads like a fresh insider-informed exposé of a modern presidential election instead of an exposé of a race that took place when Maine had more residents than California…” —Christian Science Monitor

Library Journal
01/01/2015
Egerton reveals how chance and contingency, as much as design, set the political course in the critical 1860 election. He challenges Doris Kearns Goodwin's argument (see p. 47) that Lincoln selected his cabinet to balance rivals, arguing instead that geography mattered most. (LJ 9/15/10)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781608192618
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
10/22/2013
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
416
Sales rank:
921,589
Product dimensions:
5.74(w) x 8.22(h) x 1.16(d)
Age Range:
3 Months to 5 Years

Meet the Author

Douglas R. Egerton is a professor of history at Le Moyne College. He is the author of six books, including Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election that Brought on the Civil War, He Shall Go Out Free: The Lives of Denmark Vesey, Gabriel's Rebellion: The Virginia Slave Conspiracies of 1800 and 1802, and Death or Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America. He lives near Syracuse, NY.

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