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The Impending Crisis: America Before the Civil War, 1848-1861 (The New American Nation Series)

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  1,238 Ratings  ·  57 Reviews
“David M. Potter’s magisterial The Impending Crisis is the single best account to date of the coming of the Civil War.” —Civil War History

“The magnum opus of a great American historian.” —Newsweek

Now in a new edition for the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, David Potter’s Pulitzer Prize-winning history of antebellum America offers an indispensible analysis of the causes
Paperback, 672 pages
Published March 15th 2011 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 1976)
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Jul 23, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lately, I’ve allowed my History of Slavery in America reading project to go dormant. This, unfortunately, happens to many of my life’s projects (time machine, perpetual motion machine, raising my children, etc.). In this case, the reading project had simultaneously become an exercise in tilting at windmills and in beating a dead horse. At a certain point, enough becomes enough. If I’m getting tired of my self-righteousness and didacticism, I can only imagine that other people must want to punch ...more
Jeremy Perron
Jul 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
David Potter died before this book was published so all the success and praise, including a Pulitzer Prize, could only be received posthumously. It is however a magnificent work that captures the over a decade period that was leading up to the Civil War. The book is part of the New American History series not the Oxford History series that I had been reading. Unlike the Oxford History volumes, it does not dive as deep into the average people as well as the elites with the same amount of elegant ...more
Sep 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
A clear, rich history of the lead-up to the Civil War. Potter begins with the debate over the Wilmot Proviso and ends with the first shots at Fort Sumter, and clearly presents all of the economic, social and political aspects of the sectional conflict in between (with the most emphasis on the latter) All of Potter’s arguments are solidly backed up.

Interestingly, Potter deals with the era as people saw it as the time, meaning he often covers issues that other historians skip over just because the
Sep 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is just an excellent and highly readable account of the period leading up to the Civil War. It is a political history of the country during that period; it doesn't cover social, cultural or economic developments except as they bear upon the subject matter.

In the last few years, a number of Southerners have asserted that the Civil War was not really fought over the issue of slavery, but rather over states' rights issues, tariffs, etc. This book, written in 1976 and the winner of the Pulitzer
Reading Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877 by Eric Foner has reminded me of all the gaps in my knowledge of this critical period in U.S. history. This looks like a splendid overview of key events in the years just before the war.
Greg Boles
Sep 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A masterpiece of historical scholarship and beautiful writing...
Mike Hankins
Apr 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Even as early as the 1960s, the field of literature on the origins of the Civil War was crowded. Nevertheless, David Potter has produced a volume that stands atop all that has come before it and continues to hold incredible relevance to the present day. Through a detailed political analysis, Potter traces how the United States stood united in nationalistic fervor in 1848 at the end of the Mexican-American War. The treaty resolving the war ironically unleashed latent sectional tension regarding h ...more
Rodrigo Melgar
Jul 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of the very best books I've ever read. Just plain and simple.

I cant even think how it would be even feasible that someone, somewhere, could someday think of dwarfing this most impressive and authoritative of works on the causes that led to the American Civil War - it's all there: from the quarrel about slavery in the aftermath of the War with Mexico & the Wilmot Proviso all the way to the demise of the Whigs, the rise of the Republicans, The Kansas-Nebraska Act, Bleeding Kansas, the mome
Jim Netzband
Aug 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was looking for a good overview of the period between James K. Polk's presidency and the beginning of the Civil War, and this was it. Written in the early 70s by David Potter and published by his estate in 1976, it provides a solid history of the fight over slavery in the new territories, Dred Scott, the transformations of the Democratic and Republican parties, and Southern efforts that began it's move toward secession. In fact, one of the most revealing aspects of the book was the inclusion o ...more
May 15, 2017 rated it liked it
A look at the critical decade or so in antebellum America. One very interesting thing to note about Potter is that he seemed to be partial towards the compromisers of that period.
Benjamin Sauers
Aug 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Exceptional! I very much enjoyed this book. The time period between 1812 and the Civil War is supremely interesting if only for its relatively neglected status.
Adrienne Morris
Apr 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Of two minds. It’s how we live without crumbling into tears of frustration, terror and despair. We play mental games, don’t we? When I say “we” I mean slave owners and slave traders (past and present), black and white, vegetarians and trophy hunters.

Abraham Lincoln was just like the rest of us until he was sainted by assassination. Of two minds, he wrestled with slavery. Ambition isn’t always a bad thing for it gets a person out of their easy chair. It forces a person to declare something, to sp
Frank Stein
Oct 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
A beautiful, classic piece of historical scholarship that focuses on the political battles that led up to the Civil War. Modern historians often eschew things like the congressional fights over committees or the mechanics of constitutional conventions in the territories, but Potter elicits the drama in such political minutiae.

For instance, he recounts the charged battle for the speakership of the House in 1859, where Republicans had 109 votes to 101 for the Democrats, with 27 Whigs or "American
Oct 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
After I finished this book, my imagination took me to a place where maybe David Potter met up with Edwin Stanton in a faraway place and these words could have been uttered with a handshake; Mr. Potter, your words are for the ages and future historians.
David M. Potter was born in December 1910 in the southern state of Georgia. From the moment of his birth it could be construed that he was destined to grasp history in one form or another, he was after all born and bred in the heart of Dixie. Lucki
Aug 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bos-history
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Michael A
Oct 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book is an extremely political take on the events leading up to the first shots of the Civil War starting with President Polk's all too successful imperialist grab for Mexican land in 1846-1847. It's so political in its focus that it mentions slaves as actual people barely at all and, rather, focuses on political events related to slavery in the abstract almost every time it can (everything surrounding the admission of Kansas as a territory, Dred Scott, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and so on). ...more
Jul 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This book is incredible. David Potter's writing is clear, and he lays out the complexities of the sectional crisis in such a way that really puts slavery at the front and center of the conflict.
The thing I found most incredible about this period, and what Potter makes clear, is that the Southern political "victories" of the 1850's - the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott decision, were almost all symbolic, at best, and did more than anything else to precipitate conflict
Bryn Dunham
Aug 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned-books, history
The "Impending Crisis" is a terrific book about the political crisis that led to the Civil War beginning with the conclusion of Mexican-American War and ending at Fort Sumter. This is not so much about America in general during that period like "Empire of Liberty" and "What Hath God Wrought" are, but strictly the political history of that time. As could be imagined it is very dense and hence why I gave it three stars for "readability"; it is not casual reading and probably wouldn't be for somebo ...more
Aug 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is a great book, giving me many new insights into the period before the Civil war. It was written decades ago, and so lacks the treatment that one finds in most books on history these days, namely social, cultural and economic history. As a work focusing on political history however, it does shine, making one think deeply about Lincoln, especially as a foil to Stephen A Douglass. Also, a sympathetic nod is given to the 15th president, James Buchanan which was refreshing and necessary step i ...more
Adrian Carpio
Jul 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"Slavery was dead; secession was dead; and six hundred thousand men were dead. That was the basic balance sheet of the sectional conflict."

Anyone that knows me knows that the Civil War has always been my favorite era of US history to read and teach. I've gone to many battlefield sites along the east coast and even Shiloh, TN. You would think after teaching the topic for 12 years and reading plenty of books on the subject including "The Battle Cry of Freedom" that I know all there is to know abou
Greg Fanoe
Jan 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, pulitzer
This presents mostly a legislative history of the US pre-Civil War, with very little space given to economic situation, cultural issues, etc. Also, it almost exclusively focuses on the slavery issue, which is pretty accurate given the time period, but don't come here if you are looking for arguments on tariffs and the like.

However, it is informative and well organized, plus it contains its fair share of insight. Does a really good job of putting events and arguments in the context of their times
Josh Liller
I would have finished this faster if I wasn't taking notes from it for a presentation and needed a break in the middle.

A very deserving Pulitzer-winning book on the period leading up to the Civil War, this book covers the issue and events really well. If I could, I'd give this 4 1/2 stars: the footnotes are a little distracting and the writing is a little long winded at times, including more than a few page-long paragraphs. But the information and analysis is just so good I don't hesitate to lea
John E
Jul 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Probably the best book I've ever found on the politics leading to the American Civil War. While other books in this series (The New American Nation Series) cover other aspects of the period, this book limits itself to the political world. It follows each of the crisis points of the era in the development of sectionalism in the nation leading to the position of the South that it is a separate "nation" with irreconcilable differences with the North. The fact that the book was outlined and started ...more
Oct 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book started out interesting but then became a bit overwhelming with everything going on politically. I couldn't quite keep everything straight in my head. But once I started to grasp it and got more familiar with the names and the ideologies of the time the book kept getting better and better. The last few chapters in particular, when it became apparent that the South would secede, were marvelous and the situation at Fort Sumter was described with a story-teller's flair. Absolutely worth t ...more
Sep 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A tersely written and comprehensive account of politics in America in the era leading up to the Civil War. I might have wished for a little more of the narrative to describe American culture and society in that period, but there are other works that do that (although Potter did briefly portray the underlying forces), and the descriptions of the issues and personalities involved are first rate. If you're interested in the causes of the Civil War, I'd say that this book is pretty much required rea ...more
Monte Lamb
Oct 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: us-history
This is an excellent book on the period leading up to the Civil War. It is academic with many footnotes, but shows the full story from 1848 until the firing on Ft. Sumter. He weighs alternative options and opinions fairly and gives good support in his arguments. You get the facts as well as the emotions involved in this highly divisive period.
Dec 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
It's about that US from 1848 to 1861. The Civil war. It's pretty good. The book won the pulitzer prize. I believe. No comment. Here's a comment from my mom:

"If it isn't an intellectual book, I won't read it", so, it's an intellectual book.

I would recommend it to a friend, if it was a friend who had any brains.

Apr 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
"Sweeping epic" is an apt description. Really tough read for a general reader, and it was a long read for me. Having said that, this book was what I wanted and what thought it would be, an excellent study of the steadily leviathan incidents, situations, and calamities leading up to the War Between the States. Now for something MUCH "lighter." Or maybe two or three...
Alicia Joy
Aug 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Phew. This book is truly deserving of the word 'epic,' and will answer your question of what caused the civil war. I'll give you a hint - the answer isn't simple. And frankly, I don't think there is a single answer.
Elliot Hanowski
May 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-library
Why and how did the American Civil War become unavoidable? Find out with this gripping Pulitzer Prize winner. It gathers together a lot of complex material but it's so engagingly written I had a hard time putting it down.
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David Morris Potter was an American historian of the South.

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There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name

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