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

America's Great Debate by Fergus M. Bordewich
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Jun 07, 14

Read from May 16 to June 01, 2014

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 aging Henry Clay, the self-made rising star Stephen Douglas, the accidental president Millard Fillmore, little known but still interesting figures like Henry Foote and Thomas Hart Benton, and many more.

The book deepened my appreciation for the Compromise of 1850 as a remarkable piece of statecraft that staunched the bleeding of a national wound torn open by rapid territorial expansion and the blight of slavery. The Compromise was a cleverly packaged moral disgrace that, Bordewich explains, ought to be appreciated for the critical decade of economic growth and maturity it bought to make possible a Union cleansed of its "original sin" of slavery. Read in the context of a number of other insightful works on the period, especially those by William Freehling and David Potter, Bordewich's book further solidifies in my mind the belief that American slavery was not going to disappear naturally and that the U.S. Civil War was tragically unavoidable.
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Reading Progress

11/24/2013 marked as: to-read
05/16/2014 marked as: currently-reading
06/01/2014 marked as: read

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