Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election that Brought on the Civil War by Douglas R. Egerton Download (read online) free eBook (PDF ePub Kindle)

Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election that Brought on the Civil War

In early 1860, pundits across America confidently predicted the election of Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas in the coming presidential race. Douglas, after all, led the only party that bridged North and South. But the Democrats would split over the issue ofslavery, leading Southerners in the party to run their own presidential slate. This opened the door for the upsta




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    Michael Austin

    Nov 15, 2012

    rated it
    really liked it

    Shelves:
    read-in-2012

    The Election of 1860 is one of the moments of our history that Americans need to understand before saying silly things like “the election between Obama and Romney reached new heights in nastiness and incivility.” Every time I see a “secession petition” on Facebook, or read about somebody saying that the election/re-election of Barack Obama is the worst thing that has ever happened to the country, I sigh and think “somebody needs to read a history book.” And, very likely, this is the history book

    In 1860, secession was not a social media meme. It was a deadly real threat that had been openly discussed in the Southern States since the 1820s, when measures such as the Missouri Compromise had postponed the ultimate reckoning over the issue of slavery for a generation. With the collapse of the compropmise-friendly Whig Party in 1852, and the rise of the explicitly anti-slavery Republican Party in 1856, there did not appear to be any way to prevent the block secession of at least the Lower South. Southern radicals (“fire-eaters”) understood that and worked intentionally to split the Democratic Party into two factions in 1860, thus ensuring a Republican victory and a Southern secession.

    The Year of Meteors, which takes its title from a poem by Walt Whitman, opens with Stephen Douglas’s futile attempts to save the union after his fourth-place electoral finish in the five-way contest that was the election of 1860. It then goes back in time to describe the conventions that produced the largest number of major-party candidates ever to run in an American election. Egerton describes the five parties, and their candidates, very well, and very succinctly:

    LIBERTY (Garrit Smith): The abolitionist party, led by Smith, a wealthy philanthropist who had partially financed John Brown’s raid. The Liberty Party did not have a reasonable chance of winning, but could play the spoiler by taking votes away from Lincoln in New York and New England, thus throwing those states’ electoral votes to Douglas.

    REPUBLICAN (Abraham Lincoln): The Party of Lincoln opposed slavery on moral grounds and opposed the expansion of slavery into any state or territory where it did not already exist (the “free-soil” position). They did not believe that the federal government had the Constitutional authority to end slavery in the 15 states that already permitted slavery. Unwilling to compromise on the extension of slavery, but willing to compromise on “personal liberty laws” in Northern states that prevented the recapture of escaped slaves.

    NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC (Stephen Douglas): After the North-South split in the Democratic Party, Douglas was left with little chance of winning. In the end, he captured electoral votes only in Missouri and in part of New Jersey. Douglas, who had spent years in the Senate crafting compromises between slavery and anti-slavery positions, ran on the principle of “popular sovereignty,” which allowed the residents of each new territory to chose for themselves whether they would allow slavery.

    SOUTHERN DEMOCRATIC (John C. Breckenridge): The Southern Democratic Party, whose candidate was the sitting vice president, insisted on a “no-compromise” position on the expansion of slavery. They insisted that all territories of the United States be open to settlement by slaveholders, that the Constitution explicitly recognize the legality of slavery, that the Atlantic slave trade be reopened, and that all Northern “personal liberty” laws be nullified. Southern fire-eaters understood that these terms would never be accepted by the North and that the only course of action when the election ended would be secession. Breckenridge received all of the votes of the lower South.

    CONSTITUTIONAL UNION (John Bell): Constitutional Unionists were, in the most part, the remnants of the old Whig party with its strong belief in compromise. Constitutional Unionists insisted that slavery was only an abstract disagreement and that no position on slavery justified the dissolution of the Union. They conspicuously avoided even talking about slavery during their campaign. Bell captured the electoral votes of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia.

    It is impossible to read this (or any other serious history of the time) and have any intellectual respect for the modern revisionist claim that the South’s secession and the CIvil War were about anything other than slavery. None of the principles (other than the Constitutional Unionists) believed this. Slavery was the defining issue of this election, and where one stood on it determined who one voted for.

    But Egerton also does a good job of showing that there were a lot of people in the South who did not support the open secessionist candidate. And there were a lot of people in the North who did not support the abolition or free-soil candidates. The country was not as polarized as its leaders were or as our memories make it out to be, which is why the ultimate abolition of slavery required the delicate, multi-front political maneuvering portrayed so brilliantly in Spielberg’s “Lincoln” and in Doris Kearns Godwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, to which Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election that Brought on the Civil War is a worthy companion.
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    Jerome

    Jul 08, 2014

    rated it
    it was amazing

    A pretty good book on the 1860 election and the run-up to the war. Edgerton gives good treatment on all the happenings surrounding this period, such as Stephen Douglas’s trip South, the Peace Convention, and the formation of the rebel government, and brings all of these events to life.

    Edgerton’s treatment of the time period is colorful and insightful, and very well-researched and coherent. The prose is solid and makes the book very easy to read. He provides a great portrait of Stephen Douglas, w

    Edgerton’s treatment of the time period is colorful and insightful, and very well-researched and coherent. The prose is solid and makes the book very easy to read. He provides a great portrait of Stephen Douglas, who was, of course, indifferent or mildly supportive of slavery but a devoted unionist, doing everything he could to bend the northern Democrats to a pro-Union position. We also get a good portrait of the ambitious William Seward, who nevertheless put aside his ambition to run as secretary of state.

    We get a good portrait of the secessionist “fire-eaters” like William Yancey, who contributed mightily to disunion and the unionists whose patriotism was rather more conditional than Douglas’s: Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens, and all the other southerners who explicitly defended their right to own slaves and were willing to risk it all on their disunionist gambit. It was these fire-eaters that ultimately rejected compromise; anti-slavery northerners like Lincoln and Seward tried relentlessly to bring about some sort of compromise, only to be frustrated by these radicals.

    One of the most interesting parts of the book is the machination of these fire-eaters, who disrupted their own Democratic Party nomination process: they actually wanted Lincoln to win so that the South would be forced into a situation where they had no choice but to secede. They deliberately sabotaged the convention in pursuit of this goal.

    The book seems to blame the coming of war entirely on the these southern secessionists: probably an accurate statement since they were, in fact, stubbornly bull-headed secessionists.

    In all, a great book, despite some minor errors: Edgerton writes that Dean Richmond headed the Illinois delegation at the Democratic convention, when he was, in fact, the DNC chairman. He claims that Carl Schurz was not at Cooper Union when Lincoln gave his speech there, when in fact, he was. Francis Blair was not nicknamed Frank, nor did Lincoln welcome his wife’s advice on political appointments. But, these issues are rather unimportant and do not disrupt an otherwise enjoyable book.
    …more

    Sharon Barrow Wilfong

    Jul 27, 2017

    rated it
    it was amazing

    Douglas Egerton is a professor of History and he does an impeccable job describing the presidential campaign that elected Lincoln in 1860.

    In 1857, Dr. Emerson moved to Missouri with his slave Dred Scott, where he hired him out on lease. Missouri was a free state and by hiring Scott out there Emerson effectively brought the institution of slavery into a state that had outlawed slavery.

    Scott sued for his freedom and while many people assisted him, he ultimately lost. The question was whether an Af

    In 1857, Dr. Emerson moved to Missouri with his slave Dred Scott, where he hired him out on lease. Missouri was a free state and by hiring Scott out there Emerson effectively brought the institution of slavery into a state that had outlawed slavery.

    Scott sued for his freedom and while many people assisted him, he ultimately lost. The question was whether an African slave had the same rights as white citizens and if so what did that portend?

    This created a domino effect in both the North and the South. What about the states that had come or were coming into the United States? Would they be free or slave holding?

    Northern people of any political persuasion, while not necessarily agreeing to granting slaves equal status as white people, nevertheless, did not want future states or western states becoming slave states.

    Conversely, southern politicians were concerned that they be allowed to expand their slave trade west.
    In Egerton’s brilliant account, we learn of both Northern and Southern players that caused a furious presidential race that has probably not been equaled, although our most recent election certainly gave it a run for its money.

    The trash talking between delegates had an acuity and eloquence that I marvel at. It was a different time period where politicians had sophisticated vocabularies and powers of expression that surpass any modern novelist.

    Their passion surpasses today’s as well. Our politicians can get ugly, but these guys were bringing knives and guns into the Senate and House.

    We learn of the end of the Whig party and the birth of the Republican party, the Southern Democrats and who were the real orchestrators of the Southern states’ secession.

    Egerton gives us a step by step account of each area of the 1860 election, thorough and interesting descriptions of the different people running and if he gets bogged down in numbers and polls, that’s a minor quibble for a good and wild ride through one of the most turbulent times in America.

    If you like history and specifically Civil War history this is an invaluable source.
    …more

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