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The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War First Edition Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195055443
ISBN-10: 0195055446
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Most Americans remember the Whigs as morally uptight New Englanders who provided us with some of our more mediocre presidents. In his exhaustively researched book The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, Michael F. Holt partially rehabilitates the reputation of this once-thriving political party. Founded in 1833, following Andrew Jackson's decimation of the Second Bank of the United States, the Whigs were united in the belief that the federal government was obligated to sponsor the nation's internal development and to promote manufacturing and large-scale agricultural endeavors. In Holt's account, however, proponents of Whiggery were divided on numerous other issues.

The nature of these disagreements amongst party leaders (most notably Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and future presidents such as John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Millard Fillmore) take up the majority of space in Holt's 1,200-page account. Instead of relating how general sentiment on major issues (such as territorial expansion and the Compromise of 1850) determined the Whigs' fate, Holt shows how local and statewide political caucuses, party "kingmakers," federal patronage, and special interests created competing factions within the party even before sectionalism fractured cooperation between Northern and Southern wings in 1854. Amidst the diffused levels of power that defined the Federalism of the post-Jacksonian era, Holt concludes that the more popular leaders (such as Taylor and Fillmore) tried to balance competition amongst party factions instead of imposing an ideological "hard line" on sectional issues, a move that alienated many of the party's key ideological supporters. Written in an engaging narrative style with a minimal engagement of abstract theory, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party meticulously reconstructs the byzantine world of 19th-century American politics. --John M. Anderson

From Library Journal

In 1834, opponents of Andrew Jackson organized the Whig Party. In all, four Whigs sat in the White HouseAHarrison, Tyler, Taylor, and FillmoreAwhile leaders such as Henry Clay and Daniel Webster failed to capture that prize, contending with Democrats over tariffs, banks, internal improvements, territorial expansion, and, ultimately, slavery until the party's demise in the 1850s. The University of Virginia's Holt, author of Political Parties and American Political Development (LJ 6/1/92), details how great national issues intersected with lesser matters like control of patronage and the ambitions of persons and factions as well as with local and state-level concerns to shape the history of the Whigs. Although only dedicated readers will complete the trek through these 1000 dense pages, this book caps the career of a prominent political historian and will long be a staple for academic library collections in history and political science.ARobert F. Nardini, North Chichester, NH
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1296 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First Edition edition (June 17, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195055446
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195055443
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 2.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #465,709 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
It can clearly be said that Michael Holt's book "The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party" is the last word on the subject. This exhaustive, deeply analytical, and immensely detailed work is the ultimate history of the American Whig party. Yet, it is much more than that: as William Gienapp has written, it is "one of the most important books on nineteenth-century politics ever written." Yes, it is somewhat dry at times and often repetitious. Yes, there are many charts and statistics, and as one Amazon reviewer suggested, these are best ignored. This book is certainly not a quick read and you had better be in love with political history before tackling it. But, the rewards for the patient reader are immense. You will come away from this experience with an understanding of American politics you can gain nowhere else.
The deeply learned Holt ties political history to the changing social, religious, economic, and cultural life of nineteenth-century America and exposes the ethnic conflicts in American life and how they influenced the fortunes of the Whig and Democratic parties. His persistent theme is that the origins and successes of the Whig party depended upon the state of its rivalry with the Democratic party, and once the issues that separated the two parties lost their urgency, the Whig party lost much of its support and its reason for being. A secondary theme is that "politics is local" and that we cannot understand the history of the Whig or the Democratic party without understanding the local and state issues that shaped their rivalry. Real politicians dealing with real local and regional issues and fighting for political patronage set the tone everywhere. Most decisions were not passed down from Washington.
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Format: Hardcover
There is much, much more to "The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party" than the sections that cover Millard Fillmore. I only cite him as an example of how this excellent work fills holes that had long existed in historical writings on this era. While there are biographies of Fillmore, no work likely to be of more general interest has dealt adequately with his administration. Even works like "The Ordeal of the Union" have rather little to say about this important, enigmatic figure in antebellum politics. Holt's work completely redresses this lack, as it does for many other figures in the Whig party. In addition, its analysis of the interaction of politics at the national and state levels (and occasionally the local and purely personal levels) should serve as an example for all future work on American political history. The more technical material - mostly focusing on election results - should not be too much of a problem. After the first time or two of wading through these sections of limited interest to the non-specialist, you develop a knack for knowing where to skim and where to pay close attention. I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in the political events preceding the Civil War.
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Format: Hardcover
For almost one thousand pages, Michael Holt not only examines the Whig party on a national, state, and local level, but he also presents the entire drama of pre-Civil War America. In fact, it is quite apparent after reading this book that the "causes" of the Civil War, if one even desires so simplistic a pursuit, are far from what conventional history leads us to believe. Yes, sectional differences played a huge role, but the decisions made by individual candidates, poltical conventions, and state leaders also had an effect on future events. As the author points out, the 1840s and 1850s were a far more contentious political era because the parties themselves, rather than states, printed ballots and therefore allowed for a proliferation of diverse parties. Holt also gives us the voices and personalties of the time: Clay, Webster, Harrison, Tyler, Fillmore, Taylor, and Polk. We are given access to intimate letters, diaries, speeches, and backroom conversations. In a nutshell, Holt takes us on a fantastic, yet ultimately sad journey of what is arguably the most decisive moment for our nation; a time in which the irrepressible conflict, still years away, began to have its unshakable hold on the country; when a still young republic, aching under the weight of Executive tyranny, expansionistic fervor, and abolitionism, began its descent into fratricidal madness. However, be warned: due to its length and detail, this book is recommended for avid history buffs only.
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Format: Hardcover
In the Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, Professor Holt convicingly demonstrates through detailed inspection and analysis of national, state and local elections that the Whigs were always a deeply divided political party whose continued existance as a potent political force was always reliant upon their fervent opposition to the Democratic Party and its policies. For this reason, since Whig success or failure at the polls was always dependent upon Demoratic actions as opposed to those of the Whigs themselves, the Whigs were always at the mercy of their political opponents. Therefore, when tangable differences between the two parties began to deteriorate in the early 1850's, the long exisiting and deep divisions among the Whig rank and file allowed for crippling defections to both the enigmatic American and fledgling Republican parties. Thus, the Second Party System came to an abrupt, and for the country, a calamitous end.
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