America's Great Debate by Fergus M. Bordewich
Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union

80%

6 Critic Reviews

...today's political differences pale in significance when compared with...the mid-19th century...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.
-Wall Street Journal

Synopsis

The Mexican War introduced vast new territories into the United States, among them California and the present-day Southwest. When gold was discovered in California in the great Gold Rush of 1849, the population swelled, and settlers petitioned for admission to the Union. But the U.S. Senate was precariously balanced with fifteen free states and fifteen slave states. Up to then states had been admitted in pairs, one free and one slave, to preserve that tenuous balance in the Senate. Would California be free or slave? So began a paralyzing crisis in American government, and the longest debate in Senate history.

Fergus Bordewich tells the epic story of the Compromise of 1850 with skill and vigor, bringing to life two generations of senators who dominated the great debate. Luminaries such as John Calhoun, Daniel Webster, and Henry Clay—who tried unsuccessfully to cobble together a compromise that would allow for California’s admission and simultaneously put an end to the nation’s agony over slavery—were nearing the end of their long careers. Rising stars such as Jefferson Davis, William Seward, and Stephen Douglas—who ultimately succeeded where Clay failed—would shape the country’s politics as slavery gradually fractured the nation.

The Compromise saved the Union from collapse, but it did so at a great cost. The gulf between North and South over slavery widened with the strengthened Fugitive Slave Law that was part of the complex Compromise. In America’s Great Debate Fergus Bordewich takes us back to a time when compromise

was imperative, when men swayed one another in Congress with the power of their ideas and their rhetoric, when partisans on each side reached across the aisle to preserve the Union from tragedy.
 

About Fergus M. Bordewich

See more books from this 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. 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.
 
Published April 17, 2012 by Simon & Schuster. 498 pages
Genres: History, Political & Social Sciences, War. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for America's Great Debate
All: 6 | Positive: 5 | Negative: 1

NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Richard Brookhiser on Jun 29 2012

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 — and a good quoter of others.

Read Full Review of America's Great Debate : Henr... | See more reviews from NY Times

Wall Street Journal

Good
Reviewed by David S Reynolds on Apr 22 2012

...today's political differences pale in significance when compared with...the mid-19th century...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.

Read Full Review of America's Great Debate : Henr... | See more reviews from Wall Street Journal

The Washington Post

Excellent
Reviewed by Donald Graham on Jun 23 2012

Give this book to any friend who loves a great story whose characters seem as vivid, human and understandable as those who walk the halls of Congress today.

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Dallas News

Below average
Reviewed by Clay Reynolds on Jun 01 2012

More journalist than historian, Bordewich’s prose is lively and readable, never tedious or pedantic, but it’s marred by clichés and often drifts into unsubstantiated generalization and creative speculation.

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Bookmarks Magazine

Excellent
Reviewed by Jon on May 28 2012

Fergus Bordewich tells the epic story of the Compromise of 1850 with skill and vigor, bringing to life two generations of senators who dominated the great debate.

Read Full Review of America's Great Debate : Henr...

Emerging Civil War

Excellent
Reviewed by James on May 30 2012

Ultimately, Bordwich offers readers an illuminating and highly readable narrative about the Compromise of 1850 and the politicians that waged a war of words that shaped the country’s future.

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