The Compromise of 1850: Effective Political Action or Forecast of Disaster?

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Thanks to everyone that has participated in the Compromise of 1850 Poll going on here. If you haven’t voted, please do!

To expand the discussion, let me share my perspective on the question I raised, whether The Compromise of 1850 was an effective political action or a forecast of disaster.

compromise1850

The United States Senate, A.D. 1850. Drawn by P. F. Rothermel; engraved by R. Whitechurch. c1855. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Number: LC-USZCN4-149

Michael F. Holt makes an excellent case in his classic, The Political Crisis of the 1850’s , that the Compromise of 1850 was more a forecast of disaster than effective political action. His argument is founded on the premise that the Compromise was effectively a deathblow to the Second American Party System and the notion that the health of America’s political parties in the mid-19th century was crucial to containment of sectional strife. As long as “men had placed their loyalty to their own party and defeat of the opposing party within their own section ahead of sectional loyalty, neither the North nor the South could be united into a phalanx against the other.” (1)

This conclusion is, of course, more easily arrived at when looking back at the period through the lens of generations with the full knowledge that the country would be ripped apart within fifteen years in a tumultuous Civil War. The perspectives of the politicians who negotiated the Compromise of 1850 would have, at the time, been much different. Indeed, they might have seen it as artful politics. The agreements made in the Compromise appeared to solve, at least temporarily, the country’s major ills which -  on the surface – revolved around slavery and the country’s expansion.

But the effect was the displacement of the country’s trust in “party” as voice and defender of political views. The void caused men to affiliate more with their section, North and South. The scene was set for the country’s festering issues to rise again to a boil, this time without the benefit of cross-sectional parties that had so successfully contained discord in the past.

Thus my conclusion is that the Compromise of 1850 was BOTH an effective political action AND a forecast of disaster. It was effective for a time in that it allowed the country to continue forward with at least a fragile agreement on monumental issues. But its destruction of the Second American Party System led the country toward potential destruction.

And so…. what do you think? Comments welcome.

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See images of the original document – The Compromise of 1850 here.

(1) Michael F. Holt, The Political Crisis of the 1850’s, (New York:  W. W. Norton and Company, 1983), 139.

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2008 National Book Award Winner: The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

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Congratulations to Annette Gordon-Reed for winning the 2008 National Book Award for non-fiction.

Annette Gordon-Reed Annette Gordon-Reed's The Hemingses of Monticello
The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family
W.W. Norton & Company

CITATION

“In the mesmerizing narrative of Annette Gordon-Reed’s American family saga, one feels the steady accretion of convincing argument: Her book is at once a painstaking history of slavery, an unflinching gaze at the ways it has defined us, and a humane exploration of lives—grand and humble—that “our peculiar institution” conjoined. This is more than the story of Thomas Jefferson and his house slave Sally Hemings; it is a deeply moral and keenly intelligent probe of the harsh yet all-too-human world they inhabited and the bloodline they share.”

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Next Class: Antebellum America: Prelude to Civil War

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After a short break, I’ll be diving into my next class which starts November 3rd. As is my custom, I’ve added this to “The Courses” page.

“Antebellum America: Prelude to Civil War” (starts November 3rd)

This course is an analysis of the conditions existing in the United States in the first half of the 19th century. The course focuses on the political, cultural/social, economic, security, leadership, and other issues that played roles in starting and shaping the Civil War. We will analyze the issues in the context of war and peace to determine whether or not such conflicts as civil wars can be avoided prior to their inception.

Required Texts:

TBD once the syllabus is available. For now, the list is as follows which is very light in comparison with my last class:

Half Slave and Half Free : The Roots of Civil War by Bruce Levine

Publisher: Hill and Wang

Road to Disunion : Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854, Volume 1 by William W. Freehling

Since I read 14 books in Studies in U.S. Military History (a challenge but I loved IT!), this may be a light reading term.
Because William Freehling’s book, Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, 1816-1836, received such high acclaim, I’ve purchased it as well.
Finally, it would not surprise me at all if Daniel Walker Howe’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, What Hath God Wrought, was added to the reading list as well.
All of these texts can be found on the “Antebellum America” shelf of my virtual library here.
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