What brought about the Civil War? Leading historian Michael F. Holt convincingly offers a disturbingly contemporary answer: partisan politics. In this brilliant and succinct book, Holt distills a lifetime of scholarship to demonstrate that secession and war did not arise from two irreconcilable economies any more than from moral objections to slavery. Short-sighted politicians were to blame. Rarely looking beyond the next election, the two dominant political parties used the emotionally charged and largely chimerical issue of slavery's extension westward to pursue reelection and settle political scores, all the while inexorably dragging the nation towards disunion.
Despite the majority opinion (held in both the North and South) that slavery could never flourish in the areas that sparked the most contention from 1845 to 1861-the Mexican Cession, Oregon, and Kansas-politicians in Washington, especially members of Congress, realized the partisan value of the issue and acted on short-term political calculations with minimal regard for sectional comity. War was the result.
Including select speeches by Lincoln and others, The Fate of Their Country openly challenges us to rethink a seminal moment in America's history.
Charming and handsome, Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire was drafted to break the deadlock of the 1852 Democratic convention. Though he seized the White House in a landslide against the imploding Whig Party, he proved a dismal failure in office.
Michael F. Holt, a leading historian of nineteenth-century partisan politics, argues that in the wake of the Whig collapse, Pierce was consumed by an obsessive drive to unify his splintering party rather than the roiling country. He soon began to overreach. Word leaked that Pierce wanted Spain to sell the slave-owning island of Cuba to the United States, rousing sectional divisions. Then he supported repeal of the Missouri Compromise, which limited the expansion of slavery in the west. Violence broke out, and "Bleeding Kansas" spurred the formation of the Republican Party. By the end of his term, Pierce's beloved party had ruptured, and he lost the nomination to James Buchanan.
In this incisive account, Holt shows how a flawed leader, so dedicated to his party and ill-suited for the presidency, hastened the approach of the Civil War.