IN A RIVETING and dramatic account, America’s Great Debate sheds light on one of the most crucial moments in American history, when Congress debated for nearly a year in order to preserve the Union, and also significantly contributes to current arguments about the challenges of political compromise in our own polarized age.
America’s Great Debate tells the fascinating story behind one of the most contentious debates and remarkable negotiations in American history: the Compromise of 1850, which brought together two generations of Senate luminaries—Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun; and Stephen A. Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and William Seward—on the eve of Civil War in a desperate effort to preserve the Union.
The Compromise of 1850 was a major milestone in American history—perhaps the most significant compromise since the Constitution was written. It devised a formula to maintain the slave-free division of the United States Senate and thus preserved the Union for another decade.
The Mexican War introduced vast new territories into the United States, including California and the present-day Southwest. California appealed to join the Union, but would it and the other territories be admitted as slave or free? The Senate was precariously balanced with fifteen free states and fifteen slave. Southerners asserted that they would not tolerate any imbalance in their disfavor.
Henry Clay, one of the greatest figures in Senate history, tried to forge a compromise that would fulfill the dream of manifest destiny. At the same time a related crisis erupted over the boundary of New Mexico and Texas with the latter threatening to go to war. Clay's efforts to resolve both problems failed. Instead a young senator from Illinois, the self-proclaimed new voice of "the West," Stephen A. Douglas, devised a tortuous compromise that preserved the Union, at least for another decade. As Senate lions such as Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun exited, Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and William H. Seward replaced them. A new era dawned.
Enthralling and dramatic, America’s Great Debate brilliantly recreates a critical moment when America fractured but did not break.
From the Press Release by Simon & Shuster