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Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election That Brought on the Civil War [Kindle Edition]

Douglas R. Egerton
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)

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Book Description

“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.” —Carol Berkin, author of A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution and Civil War Wives
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.


Editorial Reviews

From 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Perhaps, as Willliam Seward asserted in 1858, differences between the North and South were leading to an irrepressible conflict. But the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861 was not inevitable. Egerton credibly asserts that the reason strains evolved into full-scale hostilities was the result of actions by a relatively few men. Egerton views the election of Lincoln, which seemed inconceivable at the beginning of 1860, as the trigger for secession. He suggests that to some extent the election was the result of what amounted to a conspiracy on the part of Southern radicals. Northerners, including Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, played their parts. Douglas is seen as a particularly tragic character. The little giant was brilliant, a devoted Union man, but indifferent to the evils of slavery; his efforts to dance around the issue pleased neither Northerners nor Southerners. But it was hard-line Southerners who determined to split the Democratic Party while painting Lincoln as an abolitionist, furthering their goal of secession and establishment of a slaveholding republic. Provocative and well argued. --Jay Freeman

Product Details

  • File Size: 1941 KB
  • Print Length: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press; 1 edition (October 4, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0040GJ5H4
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #255,150 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dammit, Elections Matter December 17, 2010
Format:Hardcover
Recently while watching a CSPAN program, I was reminded that the sesquicentennial of the US civil war/war between the states is fast approaching. And, of course, the presidential election that arguably brought on that war took place 150 years ago this fall. Thus it is appropriate that a book on the 1860 election should appear.

YEAR OF METEORS is historian DOuglas R. Egerton's study of what I have long believed is the single most important presidential election in US history. That is because the election's results caused states to secede from the union, and when the newly elected president of the US refused to allow their secession, the war came.

This book is almost entirely political history. Egerton begins with an examination of the political scene (issues, ideologies, events, candidates) on the eve of the election. He then devotes four chapters to each of the political parties which contested this election: Democrats (Stephen Douglas) and Southern break-away Democrats (John Breckinridge); Constitutional Union (John Bell) and Liberty (Gerritt Smith); and Republican (Abraham Lincoln). Next comes a chapter describing events, issues, and candidates during the fall campaign and then one on the secession of the lower-South states. There follows a chapter on the establishment of the CSA government and the formation of Lincoln's administration. We are also reminded of the several attempts at a Compromise of 1860 and that a Peace Convention met in the District of Columbia in February 1861 following the first phase of secession. An Epilogue describing events leading immediately to the outbreak of the war concludes the work.

When I came across this book something inside me said "it's about time a historian published a modern history of this election".
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Rub October 4, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A quite good account of the immediate political run-up to the Civil War. Professor Douglas R. Egerton's book should be read by anyone with an interest in how the various political parties and factions handled, or mishandled, the presidential election campaign of 1860 and, afterward, the months leading to Abraham Lincoln's inaugural in March of 1861.

Many general history books on the period glide over such events as Senator Stephen Douglas' campaign foray into the South, the Peace Convention, or the details of the formation of Jefferson Davis' cabinet. "Year of Meteors" is a full account, essential to understanding of why planters and firebrands acted to take the South out of the union and what compromises had been attempted to prevent this disunion.

Professor Egerton is right in placing slavery (not economics or constitutional theory) front and center as the reason so many soldiers died in the 1860s.

I personally do not value Senator Douglas as much as does the author, but I do value this book and highly recommend it.
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53 of 67 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
I actually started this book by first reading the Appendix and the Acknowledgements, and it left me with a sense of foreboding. The author, a college professor based in New York, is (surprise!) very liberal.

In the Acknowledgements, he oddly concludes by saying George McGovern's 1972 Presidential campaign "now stand(s) vindicated" (page 341). McGovern himself, however, once observed "For years, I wanted to run for President in the worst possible way - and I'm sure I did!" In the Appendix, Egerton labels the George W. Bush administration as "failed" (337). That seems a premature judgment for an historian - would he say the same of Harry Truman, whose party also lost the next election by a wide margin? Finally, Egerton makes sure to point out that the modern-day Republican Party is now the dominate party of the American South (338). He no doubt wanted to make this point because the American South is the clear villain in Egerton's book.

Yet, I am pleasantly surprised to report that this is actually a good book, if you read it with the understanding that it is written from an old-fashioned, immediate abolitionist perspective. I have read a number of Presidential campaign books, and I would rank this among the better ones (my personal favorites are "The 103rd Ballot" - 1924 - and "Dark Horse" - 1880). It is, indeed, a comprehensive survey of the momentous election of 1860. There is little or no cultural history covered here. It's all politics - smoke-filled rooms, speeches, floor fights in legislative and convention halls, and electoral map strategizing. And, that's what I like in my Presidential campaign books.

Egerton also wisely does not devote much attention to the winner - Abraham Lincoln.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Most Consequential Election Ever July 23, 2013
Format:Hardcover
This is the political story of the crucial year when the divisions between the slave and free states became the chasm which engulfed over half a million Americans. It is detailed and does a great job of describing the death throes of the union, but it doesn't really explain them because the explanation lies in the preceding generation (see The Impending Crisis by Potter). Well written and an easy read, the principal fault of the book lies largely in the last chapters where the author takes off his historian's hat and instead unleashes his strident political ideology, drawing inappropriate and wrong modern analogies. Fortunately, that failure to respect the historian's objectivity is so transparent that it is easy to discard it and to see what is good here. Too bad the editor didn't do that for us.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good book. Thank you
Published 2 months ago by Linda Tilman
5.0 out of 5 stars sectionalism & short-sightedness of these men sound a little like the...
I learned a lot from this book. We hear little of the events immediatly before the CW but this tells it well. Read more
Published 3 months ago by RAG
4.0 out of 5 stars Civil War Started Here
A good study of the 1860 election and its consequences. Most Civil War histories pass over it with a few paragraphs. Worth reading by Civil War History fans.
Published 7 months ago by Joseph Mcdermott
5.0 out of 5 stars A Crucial Election
A wonderful book that traces the background of the 1860 presidential election, principally, between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Michael Taylor
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting account of an atypical political year.
I have had an interest in the American Civil War for quite some time, though I'd hardly call myself an expert. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Christian Zimmerman
5.0 out of 5 stars Momentous Election Goes For LIncoln.
This book is a summary of the 1860 election that determined the cource of America. Lincoln achieved national fame as a srrong opponent of the top democrat in America in 1858. Read more
Published 10 months ago by David
5.0 out of 5 stars A cautionary tale for our times
This was the first book I bought for my new Kindle and it turned out to be one of the best books on politics and Lincoln and the election of 1860 I have read. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars History buffs will find this story very interesting and informative...
Very informative. I didn't know very much about Douglas and his run for the white house as well as his problems with the South.
Published 18 months ago by j.lesak
4.0 out of 5 stars Never More than You Want to Know
You may think you have read about all that is necessary to understand the political machinations culminating in our Civil War. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Diana Hayes
4.0 out of 5 stars Eye Opener
This was a fascinating read; I recommend this to anyone that cares about the political process. I am going to recommend this book to all of my family and friends. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Nathan Hill
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