Holt Sees The Civil War As Representing A Breakdown In America S Democratic Political Process, Specifically The Second Party System Of Whigs And Democrats He Demonstrates This System S Success, Beginning In The S And S, In Confining Sectional Disputes Safely Within The Political Arena With The Breakdown Of Vital Two Party Competition In The S, Sectional Issues Increasingly Took On Ideological Dimension, Causing, Americans North And South To See In Them Dangerous Threats To Cherished Republican Institutions No Longer Manageable Within The Arena Of Politics, Sectional Differences Had To Be Resolved With In The Arena Of BattleThe Political Crisis Of The S Offers A Clearly Written Account Of Politics State And Federal , Sectionalism, Race, And Slavery From The S Through To The Civil War, Brilliantly Combining The Behavioral And Ideological Approaches To Political History Michael Holt s grasp of local, state, and national politics from 1830 to 1860 is astounding, but Holt s prose is too technical by half He is largely unsuccessful in organizing this book s vast amount of information in a readable manner The tiny font doesn t help, either Holt breaks with Eric Foner, who was becoming a historical star in the 1970s Foner thinks slavery was the fundamental cause of the political crisis of the 1850s and the Civil War Holt, calling himself a revisionist, says that slavery was not the fundamental cause Arguments about slavery were really arguments about sectional conflict and ethnocultural differences, such as anti Catholic prejudice In other words, Holt says that the inability of politicians in the Second Party System to manage sectional conflict and give voters palatable choices was the main reason the Civil War happened Notwithstanding my distaste for dry political science literature, I think Holt errs by ignoring social and cultural currents in this period and focusing wholly on politics More importantly, I am disturbed by the degree to which Holt downplays the ideological debates about slavery Holt s repeated desire to say But the sectional disputes weren t really about slavery seems like a dodge The book therefore veers uncomfortably close to the implication that Northern Whigs Republicans and Southern Democrats were equally to blame for the national crisis, given their political mistakes When you tie the parts of Holt s argument back to slavery, you see that a slavery affected EVERYTHING, from sectionalism to debates over trade policy, in the mid nineteenth century, and b from a moral and human rights perspective, it is ridiculous to imply that all political actors were equally guilty and equally innocent When Holt says that Foner is old fashioned to list slavery as the Civil War s cause, it is in fact Holt who, in 2018, sounds old fashioned. An important work that has shaped the way antebellum historians explain the political chaos of the 1850s and the coming of the Civil War Holt argues that the Whig v Democrat 2nd Party system effectively constrained sectional political divisions by organizing voters into two parties that competed nationally, and argued about issues other than slavery that mattered to Americans By the end of the 1840s, the traditional issues that had divided Whigs and Democrats had been resolved or no longer mattered as much to voters, and as voters no longer saw meaningful differences between the two parties, they felt free to abandon them for third party alternatives Eventually many joined the new Republican party, the first sectional party with a chance to win the electoral college It was not so much the explosive issue of slavery which tore apart the Whig and Democratic parties, but the fact that the parties had become so similar on just about every other issue that mattered to voters.The Political Crisis of the 1850s is an important book, but written in an academic style For a readable presentation of Holt s perspective, I would recommend his recent book, the Fate of Our Country. Ultimately, I found Holt s text a bit one note and his prose dry but effective By emphasizing the importance of the Second Party System in checking sectional anxieties, Holt offers an important contribution to literature on the political processes that lead to secession and the Civil War The text is detailed and the arguments are well supported.However, the narrow focus on party strips the period of the emotional and moral dimension so critical to explaining why the nation eventually went to war By sidestepping the moral dimension of chattel slavery, Holt under accounts for the pressure that abolitionists put on politicians and the public.Finally, although Holt uses many primary sources, they rarely appear in the body of the text This is clearly Holt s voice It is probably a question of taste, but I prefer a little direct quotation of historical actors Here there is entirely too much paraphrasing one loses a sense of the language employed in these political debates This is an important text despite its narrow focus I suggest reading it in combination with a book that explains the moral activist dimension of the era s political thought. This is an excellent review of the political causes that led up to the American Civil War Holt s viewpoint that a breakdown in the faith of the electorate white men in the ability of the political parties of the pre Republican Party era to represent them was a key factor that made the war possible is very well argued His statement, The sectional conflict over slavery had been crucial in causing the Civil War, but the basic issue had less to do with the institution of black slavery than has been thought, is foundational to his thesis page 258 Unfortunately, the view of the people white men in the 1850 s that the Whig and the Democratic parties were incompetent and impotent is held by many today regarding the Democrats and the Republicans It makes you wonder what s next when people feel they are not being represented politically Back then, there was a bloody civil war. Oy gevalt Yiddish expression meaning both oh my God and enough already This book is poorly written even for an ACADEMIC book And that s really saying something, because academics generally write poorly.The prose is uninspired and workmanlike It doesn t scintillate or excite Paragraph structure is confusing and arbitrary, often with no effective topic sentence acting as an introduction for what follows The author beats his points to death, restating them several times and each time is less focused and rambling The text contains a great deal of arcane detail Though its completeness is laudable, there is so much detail that the author s points are often lost in the abundance of data Perhaps some of the detail could have been put into footnotes Transitions between paragraph and different sections are awkward and poorly constructed.The book reads as if the author took his first draft, proofread it for typos and punctuation, and submitted it without the essential for ANY writer steps of analysis of what s been written asking how well organized it is and how well it makes the author s point and then REWRITING to improve the argument.This is sad, because the topic is important and interesting Holt is clearly a master of his topic The argument the author is attempting to make is an important contribution to antebellum studies The depth of his research is amazing The underlying arguments are sound and convincing But my god, it s hard to stay focused on the argument I am reading this for a course in American History otherwise I would not finish it.Rating for readability Zero stars.Rating for the underlying argument 5 stars.Average 2.5 stars. Very convincingly argued and insightful to read.What would have made this a better work it the prose wasn t so dry This book isn t short on substance but it is quite a chore to read.I feel now I have a nuanced and deeper understanding of what was going on at the time and why things ended as they did. Assigned to me during an undergrad with the forewarning that this was an example of the type of dry, dusty tomes that a graduate student in history would be expected to read It is indeed dry and dusty, but an interesting analysis nonetheless. This dense look at the politics of the 1850 s lead up to the Civil War provided precisely the context I was hoping it would.In the framework of this text, consider People get their news from an echo chamber environment propaganda rather than news Things like a a building being torched in Missouri was loudly touted as proof of the violence that the slave holding public would do to those against slaver and was referred to as a bloody massacre There were 0 casualties There were no major injuries So the Republicans loudly and publicly drew in voters by exaggerating lies about fatalities Being a political outsider literally, the Know Nothings back then is seen by a sometimes radical majority as the only reasonable course of action Rather than compete nationally, the Republicans chose to only put forth their candidate in one section of the country, choosing to let the other party ies fight it out weaken each other, thereby winning election with exclusively with a sectional coalition The fear of Slave Power how the Republicans took power was not, in fact, based on wholly altruist abolition While there were indeed people who morally could not stand slavery, Slave Power was actually the fear in the North that, should slavery expand as the aftermath of reaction to the Kansas Nebraska compromise proved , northerners would lose all economic and political power to the southern system with its lower labor costs.There is much , in fact but the conditions that led to the Civil War fire are being stoked by Republicans again This text is a very interesting read when considering the lens of Trump voters and Bernie Supporters. While this work is a bit academic in nature, it is a good examination of the political environment of the decade preceding the American Civil War.
Michael F Holt is Langbourne M Williams Professor of American History Emeritus, University of Virginia.
- 352 pages
- The Political Crisis of the 1850s
- Michael F. Holt
- 24 November 2019 Michael F. Holt