America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union

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America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union

Author: Fergus M. Bordewich
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Copyright: 2012
Pages: 496
Cover Price: $ 30.00

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The spellbinding story behind the longest debate in U.S. Senate history: the Compromise of 1850, which brought together Senate luminaries on the eve of the Civil War in a desperate effort to save the Union.The Mexican War introduced vast new territories into the United States, including California and the present-day Southwest. California appealed to join the Union, but would it and the other territories be admitted as slave or free? The Senate was precariously balanced with fifteen free states and fifteen slave. Southerners asserted that they would not tolerate any imbalance in their disfavor.Henry Clay, one of the greatest figures in Senate history, tried to forge a compromise that would fulfill the dream of manifest destiny.

At the same time a related crisis erupted over the boundary of New Mexico and Texas with the latter threatening to go to war. Clay’s efforts to resolve both problems failed. Instead a young senator from Illinois, the self-proclaimed new voice of “the West,” Stephen A. Douglas, devised a tortuous compromise that preserved the Union, at least for another decade. As Senate lions such as Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun exited, Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and William H. Seward replaced them. A new era dawned.Riveting and dramatic, America’s Great Debate brilliantly recreates a critical moment when America fractured but did not break.

Background Information

The Compromise of 1850 was a desperate attempt to prevent the issue of slavery from tearing the country apart, the disparate leaders came together in Congress to enact it. Henry Clay of Kentucky was known as the Great Compromiser for his efforts to preserve the Union during the national controversy over slavery. Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois was a leader of the Democrats fighting to preserve the Union by tolerating slavery without supporting it. Daniel Webster of New Hampshire was a force in the United States Senate for the preservation of the Union above all else. John C. Calhoun of South Carolina was a vigorous Congressional exponent of the inteterest of the South in the decades before the Civil War. Jefferson Davis served a distinguished career in the federal government before resigning from the Senate and becoming President of the Confederate States. William Seward served as governor of New York, US Senator representing New York, and US Secretary of State, in which capacity he negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia.