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America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union Hardcover – April 17, 2012
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“Long before the crisis of 1860 there was the crisis of 1850. With page-turning narrative skill, Fergus Bordewich re-imagines this threat to the Union not only in terms of Northerners and Southerners, slavery advocates and freedom champions, but as a rite of passage between the old lions of the Senate and Young America—a transformation that would at least postpone secession and civil war. Few writers have ever brought this neglected moment to life more vividly.”
—Harold Holzer, author of Lincoln: President-Elect
“Anyone whose eyes have glazed over at the numbing details of the Compromise of 1850 should read this compelling narrative of that famous event. Focusing on the colorful personalities who fought out the issue of slavery on the floor of the Senate in 1850, Fergus Bordewich shows how they forged a settlement that avoided war but laid the groundwork for the Civil War that came a decade later.”
—James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
“In this exhaustively researched and brilliantly constructed work, Fergus Bordewich offers a spellbinding account of a nation teetering on disintegration, as its lawmakers, gripped by suspicion, anger, and hatred, ultimately mustered a grudging agreement—an act of ‘collaborative statecraft’—to sacrifice parochial interests for national survival. In Bordewich’s skillful telling, Congress at its inherent worst, in response to the volcanic stresses of that era, for the moment, became Congress at its potential best.”
—Richard A. Baker, U.S. Senate Historian Emeritus
"[A] vivid, insightful history of the bitter controversy that led to the Compromise of 1850 . . . Political history is often a hard slog, but not in Bordewich's gripping, vigorous acount featuring a large cast of unforgettable characters with fierce beliefs."
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A peerless narrative of one of the most momentous—and ambiguous—episodes in American history: the compromise that both saved the Union and, ultimately, destroyed it.”
—Adam Goodheart, author of 1861: The Civil War Awakening
"Today's political differences pale in significance when compared with those that confronted Congress in the mid-19th century. What was at stake--as Fergus Bordewich reminds us in his stimulating, richly informed America's Great Debate--was nothing less than the survival of the nation."
—David S. Reynolds, The Wall Street Journal
"Original in concept, stylish in execution, America's Great Debate, by Fergus Bordewich, provides everything history readers want. . . .[the] characters seem as vivid, human and understandable as those who walk the halls of Congress today."
—Donald E. Graham, The Washington Post
"A perceptive and tremendously witty book about the compromise that held the US together in the decade before the Civil War."
—Randy Dotinga, Christian Science Monitor
"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, the author of several books on American history, is a good writer—he knows when to savor details, and when to move things along."
—Richard Brookhiser, The New York Times Book Review
About 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. As a journalist he has written widely on political and cultural subjects in Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia. 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.
Top customer reviews
The insights into the workings of Congress alone are worth the price of admission. And, oh, what a cast of characters that jump from the pages full of life: Stephen A.Douglas, Jefferson Davis, Millard Fillmore, Henry Clay, John C Calhoun, Daniel Webster, Sam Houston. I have to quote a line here from the dust jacket that says it all: "A peerless narrative of one of the most momentous --and ambiguous- episodes in American History: the compromise that both saved the Union and, ultimately, destroyed it."
Now, lately, I'm thinking about the Compromise of 1850 a lot thanks to this marvelous historical tome. Highly recommended.
There is an excellent cast of characters, most notably Henry Clay at the end of his career and life, Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, and others of great statesmanship, superb oratory, and intensely opinionated regarding their views on slavery, and its containment or expansion.
As you read through this book, you understand that the South was not interested in compromise, and certainly not in being a part of a Union that they felt was set up against them. I suppose that a bloody civil war was unavoidable and so it came about a little more than a decade later. No matter how stirring the prose, the oratory, the reasoning, and the appealing, it is evident that the nation was bent on self destruction. For those who would argue that the war was not about slavery, this book will certainly expel that idea. It was totally about slavery, and while it may have been disguised in states rights, it was about slavery.
This book is a good companion to We Have the War Upon Us: The Onset of the Civil War, November 1860-April 1861 and provides excellent background material to help the reader understand that by the end of 1860, after the Lincoln election and prior to the inaugural, we were destined to be divided and resolve the political differences on the battlefields that proved to be the deadliest war in our history.
So here's a chance to read about those men of lesser fame who none the less nailed in a spike that held the American Dream together. Great thoughts delivered by great scholars of their time can be found between the pages of this book. Read and enlighten yourself as to the depth and passion of our early pioneers of a dream that shook the world and maintains its influence even until today. I think you will finish this book with an even m ore profound appreciation for our early fathers if not a complete revival of their of their accomplishments during very trying times. A good read and certainly this book deserves to be a part of your library.