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

4.08  ·  Rating Details ·  262 Ratings  ·  52 Reviews
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 ...more
ebook, 496 pages
Published April 17th 2012 by Simon & Schuster
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Jul 14, 2012 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
AMERICA’S GREAT DEBATE: Henry Clay, Stephan A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union. (2012). Fergus M. Bordewich. ****.
This is a period in American history that we normally get rushed through in school, but turns out to be much more important than we realized. The period in the late 1840s saw several significant events: 1) The Mexican War, and 2) The discovery of gold in California. The Mexican War brought California, New Mexico and other future states to the Union and raised “p
Pam Johnson
I learned a lot more about the workings of the antebellum Congress, but this was a LOOOONNNNGGGG book. I also could have used a glossary with frequently-used terms. I kept forgetting what the Wilmot Proviso was.
M. Mangan
Jan 03, 2012 M. Mangan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book covers a crucial span in American history, but one which is barely covered in a paragraph in textbooks today. This debate postponed--and probably precipitated--the Civil War a decade later.

The readable and credible story unfolds as did the Senate debate: in a long, complex, and uncertain manner. Sometimes my contemporary impatience for the outcome would get the better of me. But as I read it I felt it was important to appreciate the protracted experience. And afterwards you realize th
Sep 27, 2012 Thomas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Has a book ever jumped off a library shelf and into your arms, as if to scream: "Read me now, you fool!" It happened to me Monday, and I am so glad it did. AMERICA'S GREAT DEBATE by Fergus M. Bordewich (a name only his mother could like) is absolutely flat-out terrific. Published a few months ago, it brings history to life just as David McCullough's books do. Who would'a thunk a book about the Compromise of 1850 could be interesting, let alone fascinating? Well, in Bordewich's hands, it is. He p ...more
Apr 14, 2013 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
While at the Northshire Bookstore for Booktopia 2013 Manchester I asked the resident history book expert for recommendations on a book about the history of Congress (having read several presidential biographies and just seen Lincoln) and this was the closest he could recommend.

The book definitely delivered - it not only gave me a great picture of a year of Congressional history (at year that rivals the last few for partisan conflict and lack of a accomplishment) as well as new a appreciation for
This book is a detailed but lively narrative of one of the least understood events in antebellum history. Most of us know some of the outcomes of the Compromise-California admitted as a free state, stronger Fugitive Slave Law-but not the torturous processes nor the complex players involved. The book makes it easier to understand why antebellum Americans grew tired of debating slavery and its expansion westward and why, a decade after the Compromise, further debate resulted in war.
Sep 01, 2012 Naomi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was LOADED with detail. I have read well over 100 books on this period of time in our history. I am now starting with books leading up to the Civil War and I count this as one of the tops. Just a note though...this book is a slower read. Because of the detail and trying to keep information straight, I was only able to read about 20 pages per day.
Jul 20, 2012 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I highly recommend this book. I've read tons of books on the civil war, but none on the key period leading up to it. The 1850 debate is fascinating and Bordewich does a tremendous job making the story come alive. It's terrific.
Michael Barker
A great book about one of my favorite topics. It was great to spend the last week with my old friends Daniel Webster, John Calhoun, Sam Houston, and the incredible Henry Clay.
Knife-edge history:
Compromise of '50 saved
Us just long enough.
A lively political history of the Compromise of 1850 and the roles of race and slavery in shaping its outcome.
victor harris
Jul 01, 2012 victor harris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't care for the topic, but the writing is excellent so made it enjoyable anyway.
Jul 09, 2012 Pearl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In 1850, the U.S. Congress met for 301 days. A record then and probably still a record. Rapid transportation was not so rapid then as it is now, so the congressmen couldn't jet back to their districts every weekend. They were pretty much stuck there when they were in session. Tempers flared, all were totally exhausted and sick to death of one another and of the issue that kept them there. On one occasion one of the senators threatened another with a pistol, one or two were forced to be away from ...more
Dec 11, 2016 Mari rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very interesting book to read in the context of today's world where two sides,both intransigent, wrest as much blood from the other side as they can to keep the Union alive. But the result is double down of an immoral law and a surge of civil disobedience in the North for those who found the Fugitive Slave Act unconscionable. What about our world today. What positions will persevere and 100 years later will those positions also be judged immoral. I found the discussion of the great co ...more
Andy Miller
Jul 26, 2013 Andy Miller rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent history of the Senate debates in 1850 about slavery and America's territorial expansion. While the author, Fergus Bordewich, focuses on the debates, he gives enough history of the preceding events such as the California gold rush which pushed the issue of California statehood, the Mexican American War which added great territory to the United States, and the lives and backgrounds of the Senators who led the debates

Bordewich also cites heavily to the debates and original sources with
Oct 18, 2014 Steven rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I first learned about the Compromise of 1850 in American History. Bringing law and order to territories won in the Mexican War would upset the balance of power between North and South crafted in the Missouri Compromise of 1820, seriously threatening to dissolve the Union. Fergus Bordewich fills in a lot of details, both of the political machinations that led to its passage and the characters who were at the center of this pivotal time of US history. We meet the Old Lions (Clay, Webster, Calhoun, ...more
Nov 11, 2012 Vince rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The 8-month long congressional debate, culminating in the ultimately flawed and long-term-wise untenable legislation which became known as The Compromise of 1850, is the topic of this fine piece of historical writing. The cast of characters (and some are "characters") is long, and multiple issues of contention are skillfully interwoven in this painstaking and elegant text by Bordewich. I was fortunate enough to hear him give a presentation at the History Center in St.Paul this past October which ...more
Aug 29, 2013 Andy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
One of the hard things about reading history is separating viewpoints of today against viewpoints of times past. This is a conundrum because we many times reflect the past against current events to create certain meanings. It is what gives history relevance to our lives. And so when I read a book like America's Great Debate it is hard not to turn it into an us versus them story with the fire-eating Southern contingent of pro-slavery secessionists on one side and the radical abolitionist anti-sla ...more
Josh Liller
I picked this book up for a college History term paper, but I would have wanted to read it anyway if I had been aware of it. I've read a short book on the subject and it has been touched on by several other books I've read relating to this time period in American history (most notably The Impending Crisis: America Before the Civil War, 1848-1861) so I was familiar with the subject. However, Bordewich goes into great depth and covers many details which I was not aware of prior to this. Usually th ...more
Robert Hill
The story of the Compromise of 1850 is not an easy story to tell. I appreciated this book most for it's stories of the great orators of American history. Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John Calhoun, Stephen Douglas the stories of these men were intertwined in this part of American history. I learned much about the presidencies of Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore. These two president's helped to shape the boundaries of western states and facilitated the admission of California, Utah, and protecte ...more
Nov 24, 2013 Ben rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book stands very near what truly good narrative history should look like. Though I am a well-studied devotee of mid-19th century America, I found a few new insights from Bordewich's well-researched account. More noteworthy are the colorful portraits of the national political leaders, a veritable gallery of statesmen and rogues (and everything in between) at the center of the storm that culminated in the Compromise of 1850. Among those who come vividly to life are the revered but ill-fated a ...more
Aug 19, 2013 Bob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Following up on my most recent posts, I just finished Fergus Bordewich's "America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union". Although this book's subject is what has come down to us as the "Compromise of 1850", it could just as well have been "Strategies to Stop Obama". Jefferson Davis, John C. Calhoun and other slave holding Southerners as well as those sympathetic to them give us the language that we hear from the Tea Party and other Republica ...more
Daniel Ziegelbauer
Unfortunately I give this book a higher rating than I would the leaders and people of influence, particularly slave holders of this period in U.S. History. Allot of work and effort went into the compromise of 1850 which resulted in divisions over slavery in territory gained in the Mexican-American War. It consisted of laws admitting California as a free state, Utah and New Mexico territories with the question of slavery to be decided by its people, it settled a land dispute between Texas and New ...more
Senator Henry Clay introduced a series of resolutions on January 29, 1850.
He was seeking a compromise that would avert a crisis between North and South.

As part of the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act was amended and the slave trade in Washington, D.C., was abolished.

The Compromise of 1850 was a package of five separate bills passed by the United States Congress in September 1850. It defused a four-year political confrontation between slave and free states regarding the status of terri
Donna Herrick
Dec 30, 2013 Donna Herrick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ok, so the Compromise of 1850 did postpone our war over slavery, and it postponed that war until a softhearted president with a spine of steel was in office to guide the war to a just conclusion. I am still astonished about the pro-slavery arguments. It amounts to self-delusion and self-serving an a scale not seen until Nazi Germany. I suppose it is easier to see the venality of those arguments in hindsight.

Also amazing to see is how the pro-slavery South still controls national policy today, a
Jay Perkins
Previous to the secession crisis of 1860-61, the Union nearly ruptured after the conclusion of the Mexican War. The nation had gained a large chunk of territory because of that war and controversy erupted over borders, governmental authority, and primarily whether or not slavery should be allowed in the new acquisitions. Well researched and readable, this book thoroughly examines the debates in Congress and the resulting "Compromise of 1850". Great care is taken to examine the context, personali ...more
Jan 09, 2013 Martha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent on a period of Amer. history that falls through the cracks. A mass of information on personalities, Congressional maneuvering, political shenanigans, wars we've forgotten about all clearly explained. I had no idea the admission of California, Texas, and New Mexico were such bloody and protracted precursors to the Civil War. I had no conception of the debt we 21st century Americans owe to Seward, Stephen A. Douglas, Sam Houston, and, who would have thought it, Millard Fillmore, the forg ...more
Feb 06, 2017 Aloysius rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An examination of the major players and circumstances around the political event that set off the most contentious decade in the antebellum years of the United States.
“AGD” highlights a very critical period of US History. While the Southern states were promoting secession, the Great Compromise of 1850 preserved the union for another decade. Unlike the Civil War in 1860-1864, the south likely would have been successful in 1850 seceding from the Union. The issues were the admission of California as a free state, slavetrading in DC, fugitive trade law, and territorial status for Texas, New Mexico and Utah. Political giants dominated the debate…Henry Clay, Daniel ...more
Jul 25, 2012 Elderberrywine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
Wherein we find that Congress has been even more disfunctional than currently is the case (hard to believe as though that might be), but definitely much better theatre. It certainly played to a literally packed house on a daily basis.

Alas, the Grand Compromise - a package deal to admit California, adjust the Texas/New Mexico border to the dislike of Texas, allow slavery but not the trade thereof in D.C., and to allow slave owners to pursue their slaves in the northern states - only put off the C
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FERGUS M. BORDEWICH is the author of five non-fiction books: Washington: The Making of the American Capital (Amistad/HarperCollins, 2008); Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America (Amistad/HarperCollins, 2005); My Mother’s Ghost, a memoir (Doubleday, 2001); Killing the White Man’s Indian: Reinventing Native Americans at the End of the Twentieth Century (Double ...more
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