Cover image for The fate of their country : politicians, slavery extension, and the coming of the Civil War
The fate of their country : politicians, slavery extension, and the coming of the Civil War
Holt, Michael F. (Michael Fitzgibbon)
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Hill and Wang, 2004.
Physical Description:
xiv, 168 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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E415.7 .H73 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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How partisan politics lead to the Civil War. 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.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

University of Virginia historian Holt (The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party) provides an elegant, brief analysis of the partisan political forces that, via the great debate over the extension of slavery into the American West, eventually plunged the United States into civil war. Holt discounts the view that the war arose inevitably from two irreconcilable economies as well as the more na?ve interpretation that it derived from righteous Northern outrage over slavery. Instead he argues that shortsighted and self-absorbed politicians from both the South and the North (their agendas focused, for the most part, on simple re-election) needlessly exploited the slavery-extension debate and escalated the associated rhetoric to a crescendo that finally made disunion inevitable. Holt provides brilliant thumbnail portraits of such key players as Abraham Lincoln, John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, James K. Polk, Daniel Webster and Stephen A. Douglas. He also offers vitally lucid analyses of such key legislative issues as the Wilmot Proviso, the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Stating his case in a nutshell, Holt writes, "At few other times in American history did policy makers' decisions have such a profound-and calamitous-effect on the nation as they did in the 1840s and 1850s." 8 pages of b&w illus. not seen by PW; map. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

While modern historians often focus on the activities of marginalized groups that lacked true political power, the well-respected Holt (history, Univ. of Virginia; The Political Crisis of the 1850s) reaffirms the importance of politics and politicians as he re-examines the often studied coming of the Civil War. This short volume reiterates a thesis Holt offered earlier in The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, which declares that the war resulted from a series of political decisions and actions relating to the extension of slavery rather than moral or social differences over slavery. The earlier volume was applauded by scholars, but its length (1000+ pages) and detail were daunting to more casual readers. This concise book, with four chapters focusing on significant political events of the prewar period and a useful appendix of primary sources, makes Holt's theories available to a wider audience. Reference to the current conflict in Iraq demonstrates the continuing importance of Holt's approach. Likely to be used for years to come, this work is highly recommended for academic and public libraries of all sizes.-Theresa McDevitt, Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania Lib. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.