America in 1857

America in 1857 : A Nation on the Brink

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It was a year packed with unsettling events. The Panic of 1857 closed every bank in New York City, ruined thousands of businesses, and caused widespread unemployment among industrial workers. The Mormons in Utah Territory threatened rebellion when federal troops approached with a non-Mormon governor to replace Brigham Young. The Supreme Court outraged northern Republicans and abolitionists with the Dred Scott decision ("a breathtaking example of judicial activism"). And when a proslavery minority in Kansas Territory tried to foist a proslavery constitution on a large antislavery majority, President Buchanan reneged on a crucial commitment and supported the minority, a disastrous miscalculation which ultimately split the Democratic party in two. In America in 1857, eminent American historian Kenneth Stampp offers a sweeping narrative of this eventful year, covering all the major crises while providing readers with a vivid portrait of America at mid-century. Stampp gives us a fascinating account of the attempt by William Walker and his band of filibusters to conquer Nicaragua and make it a slave state, of crime and corruption, and of street riots by urban gangs such as New York's Dead Rabbits and Bowery Boys and Baltimore's Plug Uglies and Blood Tubs. But the focus continually returns to Kansas. He examines the outrageous political frauds perpetrated by proslavery Kansans, Buchanan's calamitous response and Stephen Douglas's break with the President (a rare event in American politics, a major party leader repudiating the president he helped elect), and the whirl of congressional votes and dramatic debates that led to a settlement humiliating to Buchanan--and devastating to the Democrats. 1857 marked a turning point, at which sectional conflict spun out of control and the country moved rapidly toward the final violent resolution in the Civil War. Stampp's intensely focused look at this pivotal year illuminates the forces at work and the mood of the nation as it plummeted toward more

Product details

  • Hardback | 399 pages
  • 165.1 x 243.84 x 38.1mm | 793.78g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 10 line drawings
  • 0195039025
  • 9780195039023

Review Text

Berkeley history professor emeritus Stampp (The Imperiled Union, 1980, etc.) is best known for The Peculiar Institution (1956), a pioneering analysis of slavery. Now, turning to narrative history, he examines the year when "the North and South reached the political point of no return - when it became well nigh impossible to head off a violent resolution of the differences between them." While Stampp does attempt to cover other social history during this calamitous year - most notably urban street riots, flagrant corruption, the panic that closed thousands of businesses, William Walker's filibustering campaign in Nicaragua, and the clash between the Mormons and the federal government over control of Utah - he nevertheless rightly gives center stage to the overarching conflict over slavery. In an intriguing chapter on the infamous Dred Scott decision, Stampp goes behind the scenes to detail President Buchanan's successful attempt to influence the case's outcome, to explain why the legally dubious decision was such a "breathtaking example of judicial activism," and to show how the case inflamed antislavery forces. Even more crucial, he feels, was the strife over Kansas statehood, which saw pro-slavery radicals elect territorial legislators through outrageous electoral fraud. The attempt by delegates at the Lecompton Convention to push through a pro-slavery constitution led to disastrous wrangling between the "doughface" Buchanan and Sen. Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, who correctly saw the rigged outcome as a violation of his "popular sovereignty" doctrine. The quarrel between the two Democrats caused a North-South split in their party, the bulwark of "King Cotton," and assured victory in the 1860 Presidential election for the Republican Party, previously an uneasy coalition of ex-Whigs, nativists, Free-Soilers, and abolitionists. A skillful narrative about a pivotal year in an "irrepressible conflict" featuring the author's usual judicious analysis. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About Kenneth M. Stampp

About the Author Kenneth M. Stampp is Morrison Professor of History Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. A past president of the Organization of American Historians, a recipient of an American Historical Association Award for Scholarly Distinction, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he is the author of several seminal works in American history, including The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South and The Imperiled more

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