Wig-Wags

Journal of a graduate student in military history and the American Civil War

Posts Tagged ‘Michael F. Holt

The Sacking of Lawrence, May 21, 1856 – 1

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Ruins of the Free State Hotel, Lawrence, Kansas. From a Daguerreotype. (The Kansas State Historical Society)

One of the most surprising things I learned from reading Michael F. Holt’s exceptional book, The Political Crisis of the 1850’s, was that the “Sacking of Lawrence” was not the murderous affair I had always thought it was. It led to further research on my part and the realization that I was guilty of combining the stories surrounding the raid on Lawrence with other violent events occurring in the region, an area in which I am a resident. As is often the case with history, I had developed a mythical sense of the day, one that went well beyond the simple destruction of property. This new post series summarizes the findings of my search for the truth about the events of May 21, 1856. Its writing helped to crystallize my understanding of why the Kansas and Missouri borderland became such a focal point for politics in the 1850s. It also revealed that there has been much liberty with the facts and that even today, historians do not agree on all of the specifics.

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.

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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.

New Additions: Writing the Civil War and New Shelves at WigWags Books

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My copy of Writing the Civil War: The Quest to Understand arrived this week. Thanks to Daniel Sauerwein, a fellow WordPress blogger over at Civil War History for the recommendation. Published by the good folks at University of South Carolina Press, it is edited by James M. McPherson and William J. Cooper, Jr. Contributors include:

  • Michael Les Benedict
  • Drew Gilpin Faust
  • Gary W. Gallagher
  • Joseph Thomas Glatthaar
  • Michael F. Holt
  • Peter Kolchin
  • Reid Mitchell
  • Mark E. Neely, Jr.
  • Philip Shaw Paludan
  • George C. Rable
  • James L. Roark
  • Emory M. Thomas

Note: I’ve put up new bookshelves over at WigWags Books and have begun adding links to my – no kidding – MANY books on writing. It will take me some time to get them all added. That said, there is a new shelf titled specifically, “Writing – Civil War” on which I’ve placed the book above. Please let me know if you’re aware of others in this category.

Finally, I’ve added a new icon/picture to the write navbar of WigWags on which you can click to be directed to books on my bookshelves. This is an actual image of just a few of the books on my home bookshelves. You’ll find the new icon right under the title,

Find books on my bookshelves at WigWags Books

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WigWags Books

On Free Soilers – 1

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willis-forcing

David M. Potter describes “Free Soilers” as “antislavery dissenters within both old parties.”(1)

Michael F. Holt provides an excellent profile of the Northerners who made up the “Free Soil” Party in his description of the delegates, both elected and self-appointed, who attended the first convention of the party in Buffalo.

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James K. Polk

“Uniformly zealous, they were a heterogeneous lot: Midwestern Democratic proponents of rivers and harbors improvements, which neither party had officially endorsed and Polk had vetoed; labor reformers interested in free homesteads in the West; and even vengeful Clay loyalists from New York City. But most were primarily determined to stop slavery’s spread, and they included three main groups: antislavery Whigs from New England and the Midwest; antislavery Democrats, including New York’s Barnburners; and Liberty men.”(2)

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Henry Clay

Holt goes on to reinforce that “by itself, antislavery sentiment does not explain who became Free Soilers and who did not.” (3)  It varied by state and had much to do with how eager statesmen were to stay with trusted leaders from older existing parties.

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(1) David M. Potter, “The Impending Crisis 1848 – 1861,” (New York: Harper Perennial, 1976), 227.

(2) Michael F. Holt, “The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War,” (New York: The Oxford University Press, 1999), 339-340.

(3) Ibid.