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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

by Fergus M. Bordewich


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The “stimulating, richly informed” (The Wall Street Journal) story behind the Compromise of 1850, which preserved the Union on the eve of the Civil War—“original in concept, stylish in execution…provides everything history readers want.…The characters seem as vivid, human, and understandable as those who walk the halls of Congress today” (The Washington Post).

The Mexican War introduced vast new territories into the United States, including California and the present-day Southwest. When California settlers petitioned for admission to the Union, Congress was presented with a seemingly intractable dilemma: with the Senate precariously balanced at fifteen free states and fifteen slave states, would California be free or slave? So began an unprecedented 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 were nearing the end of their long careers, while rising stars such as Jefferson Davis, William Seward, and Stephen Douglas 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. America’s Great Debate takes us back to a time when political compromise was not only possible, but imperative for the survival of the nation.

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Product Details

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

About the Author

Fergus M. Bordewich is the author of several books, among them America’s Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in history. His articles have appeared in many magazines and newspapers. He lives in San Francisco. Visit him at

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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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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