"Egerton tells the story of the dissolution of the Union as it should be told, not from the perspective of those looking back on the crisis, but from the clouded vision of those who lived through it." -Carol Berkin, author of A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution and Civil War Wives
In early 1860, pundits across America confidently predicted the election of Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas in the coming presidential race. Douglas, after all, was a national figure, a renowned orator, and led the only party that bridged North and South. But his Democrats fractured over the issue of slavery, creating a splintered four-way race that opened the door for the upstart Republicans, exclusively Northern, to steal the Oval Office. Dark horse Abraham Lincoln-not the first choice even of his own party-won the presidency with a record-low share of the popular vote. His victory instantly triggered the secession crisis.
With a historian's keen insight and a veteran political reporter's eye for detail, Douglas R. Egerton re-creates the cascade of unforeseen events that confounded political bosses, set North and South on the road to disunion, and put not Stephen Douglas but his greatest rival in the White House. Year of Meteors delivers a vibrant cast of characters-from the gifted, flawed Douglas to the Southern "fire-eaters," who gleefully sabotaged their own party, to the untested Abraham Lincoln-and a breakneck narrative of this most momentous year in American history.
The center could not hold amid a flood of passionate intensity recorded in this illuminating study of the 1860 election campaign. Historian Egerton (Death or Liberty) chronicles the year's chaotic political wranglings, from the fractious party conventions that threw up four presidential contenders (two from minor parties) to the search for a congressional compromise to save the Union on the eve of Lincoln's inauguration. An energized antislavery Republican Party supported Lincoln, unwittingly aided by cagey Southern radicals William Yancey and Robert Rhett, who, Egerton argues, conspired to split their own Democratic party in order to guarantee Lincoln's victory and thus obtain a pretext for secession. In the doomed middle are Stephen Douglas and other moderates trying to preserve the nation with proslavery compromises that infuriated the North without appeasing the South. This is politics as high drama, and Egerton does it justice with his lucid, meticulous account of backroom deals, parliamentary brawling, and speeches whose rhetorical vitriol (one Republican convention speaker called Southerners "the whole vassalage of hell") presaged violence. Also fine is Egerton's analysis of the human motivations that tore the country apart. B&w illus.