From Publishers Weekly
The National Book Award–winning biographer of Andrew Jackson focuses on Henry Clay, who as an aging, ill Kentucky senator spearheaded the Compromise of 1850, a complex balancing of Northern and Southern interests that averted Southern secession. The compromise guaranteed that California would be a free state and New Mexico and Utah free territories; gave Texas $10 million in return for its relinquishing its claim to parts of New Mexico; the enactment of a more effective fugitive slave law; and the abolition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia. The compromise gave the North 10 years to industrialize and find a leader in Abraham Lincoln who could restore the Union. Clay, who also delivered the 1820 Missouri Compromise, emerges as a complex figure, a slave owner who regarded slavery as an evil that betrayed American values. He was an electrifying orator and remarkable statesman who lacked discipline (he indulged in carousing, gambling, and drinking). Not all readers will linger over the legal details of the compromise, but Remini ably dissects a dangerous moment in the nation's history and the remarkable but flawed man who ushered the nation through it. (May)
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The author of such definitive histories as Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union (1991) here turns in a case study of the Compromise of 1850. It was not the first deflection of civil war by Clay, who engineered the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the resolution to the nullification crisis of 1832. But it may have been the Kentucky senator’s most consequential compromise if, as Remini argues, it postponed for a decade a war the North could not have won in 1850. Describing Clay’s view of compromise as victory for both parties and detailing the deadlock over slavery’s status in the territories, which needed to be broken to quash secession, Remini recounts the strategy Clay devised to placate the South’s grievances. Inaugurated with Clay’s speech, soaring oratory by Daniel Webster, and a bitter rebuttal from the dying John Calhoun, the debate over Clay’s compromise boiled until the death of President Taylor and the tactical talents of Stephen Douglas cooled down sectional acrimony and produced Clay’s compromise. Condensed with well-dramatized brevity, Remini’s account will captivate the American-history audience. --Gilbert Taylor