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Published by Simon & Schuster
April 17, 2012. Price: $30.00
ISBN: 978-1-4391-2460-4


· Compromise of 1850 at the Library of Congress
· The Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act
· Compromise of 1850 Maps
· Compromise of 1850 in US History

2012 Best Books: Washington Post and L.A. Times

America’s Great Debate:
Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise
That Preserved the Union

blog: A Call for the Bold Pragmatism of 1850

press: America’s Great Debate | About Bordewich'S NEW BOOK
on the Compromise of 1850

REVIEWS: Wall Street Journal | New York Times | Washington Post |
L.A. Times | Christian Science Monitor | Dallas Morning News |
Washington Times | Publisher’s Weekly | Kirkus Reviews | York Blog

New: America's Great Debate chosen as featured selection at the
Military Book Club and the History Book Club

“Here is a pleasant surprise. This book about a little-known subject by a not-so-well-known writer is as good as almost any work of popular history about the early United States. Original in concept, stylish in execution, America’s Great Debate provides everything history readers want.”
—Donald E. Graham, publisher, washington post

“This is a richly informed study of the tangled issues involving expansion and slavery that confronted the United States in 1850, and of the two senators who engineered the Congressional compromises that allowed the country to stumble along in one piece for 11 more years.” ny times

“A peerless narrative of one of the most momentous—and ambiguous—episodes in American history: the compromise that both saved the Union and, ultimately, destroyed it.”—Adam Goodheart, Author of 1861: The Civil War Awakening

“Douglas’s great achievement—the compromises of 1850—helped save the union by releasing steam from the sectional crisis. For a lucid exposition of all this, read Fergus M. Bordewich’s America’s Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union.—George Will, Washington Post

“Bordewich weaves a rippling tapestry of major statesmen, presidential wannabees celebrated in their day, as they struggled with the intractable connection between slavery and union. Creating more than a commentary on famous personalities, Bordewich introduces forces and factors that underlay the sweeping questions that raged across America in 1850. This superb thoughtful and substantial narrative skillfully evokes the complexity and tension behind the great debate that, albeit temporarily, saved the Union in 1850. A wonderfully enjoyable and learned read.”
—Orville Vernon Burton, Author The Age of Lincoln. Distinguished Humanities Professor, Clemson University

“Anyone whose eyes have glazed over at the numbing details of the Compromise of 1850 should read this compelling narrative of that famous event. Focusing on the colorful personalities who fought out the issue of slavery on the floor of the Senate in 1850, Fergus Bordewich shows how they forged a settlement that avoided war but laid the groundwork for the Civil War that came a decade later.”
—James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

“There is an almost Shakespearean quality about this superbly written, absolutely riveting saga of the Compromise of 1850.”—Sanford Levinson, History Book Club

“In this fascinating, dramatic account, Fergus Bordewich captures the great and small political figures that cobbled together the Compromise of 1850, an act that intended to stifle national strife over slavery by making every white person a slave catcher. Using superb analysis of the brilliant oratory of the day, Bordewich reveals how political machinations propelled the nation inexorably toward the Civil War. America’s Great Debate places Bordewich among our top interpreters of the Civil War period.”—Graham Russell Gao Hodges, Langdon Professor of History at Colgate University and author of David Ruggles: A Radical Black Abolitionist and the Underground Railroad in New York City

“Long before the crisis of 1860 there was the crisis of 1850. With page-turning narrative skill, Fergus Bordewich re-imagines this threat to the Union not only in terms of Northerners and Southerners, slavery advocates and freedom champions, but as a rite of passage between the old lions of the Senate and Young America—a transformation that would at least postpone secession and civil war. Few writers have ever brought this neglected moment to life more vividly. ”—Harold Holzer, author of Lincoln: President-Elect

“In this exhaustively researched and brilliantly constructed work, Fergus Bordewich offers a spellbinding account of a nation teetering on disintegration, as its lawmakers, gripped by suspicion, anger, and hatred, ultimately mustered a grudging agreement—an act of “collaborative statecraft”—to sacrifice parochial interests for national survival. In Bordewich’s skillful telling, Congress at its inherent worst, in response to the volcanic stresses of that era, for the moment, became Congress at its potential best.”—Richard A. Baker, U.S. Senate Historian Emeritus

“...vivid, insightful.... Political history is often a hard slog, but not in Bordewich's gripping, vigorous account featuring a large cast of unforgettable characters with fierce beliefs.” —Publishers Weekly Starred Review

“Wholly enjoyable study of an earlier era of intense political partisanship. Historian Bordewich recounts the amazing story of the cliffhanging compromise hammered out in both houses of Congress in 1850.... A thrilling history lesson filled with pistol waving in the Senate, ‘backroom confabulations,’ the death of a president and old-fashioned oratorical efflorescence.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Bruiting the debates as expressed in the language of bills, amendments, and the era's ornate oratorical styles, Bordewich, a historian of the Underground Railroad (Bound for Canaan, 2005), so tautly recounts sectional and personal divisions that readers will feel in doubt about whether the outcome will be compromise and Union or secession and war.”—Booklist

“This book should be required reading for any person seeking to understand the factors which led to the tragedy of the American Civil War. Kudos to the author and publisher for adding this important work to the historiography of the antebellum United States.”—York Blog

“More journalist than historian, Bordewich’s prose is lively and readable, never tedious or pedantic... research is meticulous and voluminous, and his observations are convincing. He capably evokes the uncomfortable ambience of Washington.”
—Dallas Morning News

“Bordewich has a delicious appreciation for the absurd, from congressmen drawing weapons on the floor of Congress ("Shoot him! Shoot him!" urges one House member's colleagues after a fight broke out) to the crazy-making Mississippi senator who looks like "a balding and extremely irritating elf" and the Alabama senator who votes the wrong way in the end, perhaps because he was drunk. Through it all, Bordewich weaves a story of political men who share our foibles but are different in major ways too.”—Christian Science Monitor