David M Potter S Magisterial The Impending Crisis Is The Single Best Account To Date Of The Coming Of The Civil War Civil War History The Magnum Opus Of A Great American Historian NewsweekNow In A New Edition For The Th Anniversary Of The Civil War, David Potter S Pulitzer Prize Winning History Of Antebellum America Offers An Indispensible Analysis Of The Causes Of The War Between The States The Journal Of Southern History Calls Potter S Incisive Account, Modern Scholarship S Most Comprehensive Account Of The Coming Of The Civil War, And The New York Times Book Review Hails It As Profound And Original History In The Grand Tradition This is an amazing book It took me a long time to read because each page contains a wealth of information, and it s not something you can just breeze through if you re truly interested in the subject I ve been reading about the Civil War for almost 60 years now but have always been neglectful of material dealing with the 1850s This volume cured that There are several rather dry chapters on the political compromises dealing with the creation of new territories and addition of new states to the Union, the politicians attempting to avoid dealing with the issue of slavery I found the later chapters on the Lincoln Douglas debates and the John Brown fiasco at Harper s Ferry to be especially fascinating, making up for slogging through the political debates At the end, I truly felt as if I had come to a much better understanding of how it all erupted into a civil war Perhaps the greatest lesson we could all learn is to never judge the past based on the present Just as that old proverb says Never judge a person until you have walked a mile in his shoes Unfortunately, we cannot travel back in time to share their experiences, so perhaps it s best that we keep our judgmental mouths shut and try to learn from history instead of repeating it. A clear, rich history of the lead up to the Civil War Potter begins with the debate over the Wilmot Proviso and ends with the first shots at Fort Sumter, and clearly presents all of the economic, social and political aspects of the sectional conflict in between with the most emphasis on the latter All of Potter s arguments are solidly backed up.Interestingly, Potter deals with the era as people saw it as the time, meaning he often covers issues that other historians skip over just because they don t directly relate to the sectional crisis He also portrays John Brown s raid as a publicity stunt and his treatment of James Buchanan and Stephen Douglas is rather sympathetic Potter also emphasizes how the South scored many tactical victories in the sectional conflict that later turned out to be strategic defeats An evenhanded, consistent history, although social and economic history seems to take a relative backseat at times, and his downplaying of the Dred Scott case is not entirely convincing. focuses on nationalism vs sectionalism I would put emphasis on either ideology or material economic factors driving the wedge The focus is mostly on the political arena in congress and sausage making legislation while important on the surface politics is moved by sentiments of populations which in turn is driven by the material factors that go into such sentiments So while this book puts the headlines in congress and events in general its flaw is it doesn t go deep into the pressures driving it. Reading This is just an excellent and highly readable account of the period leading up to the Civil War It is a political history of the country during that period it doesn t cover social, cultural or economic developments except as they bear upon the subject matter.In the last few years, a number of Southerners have asserted that the Civil War was not really fought over the issue of slavery, but rather over states rights issues, tariffs, etc This book, written in 1976 and the winner of the Pulitzer Prize back then, makes an overwhelmingly compelling case that this is wrong, that slavery was not only the most important issue leading to the war, but in fact the only issue. This is an extremely well written book about the 1850 s and the issues that led up to the Civil War The secession of the South was about far than the issue of slavery In fact, even the issue of slavery was about than slavery.Potter lays out the major happenings of the 1850 s and how each one led to the distrust of the Union by the Southern States For example, when the United States won the Mexican American War in 1848, we took over a lot of territory held originally by Mexico California, New Mexico, Arizona In the aftermath there was much argument about whether the territories would permit slavery or not The politicians of the Southern States argued that this was a states right issue and that the people of the territories should decide The politicians and leaders in the Northern States wanted Congress to pass laws prohibiting slavery in the territories but allowing the people to vote on whether they wanted to be a free or slave state when they submitted for statehood.This was, of course, a thinly veiled attempt to outlaw slavery in the new states By prohibiting slavery in the territories there would be no slavery supporters to vote for slavery when applying for statehood While this seems to be about slavery, slavery actually plays a nominal role in this argument For one thing, according to Potter, very few slave owners were going to move to the new territories because they were not conducive to using slaves to farm the crops For another, the argument was really about how much power the central government would have Remember that at this time in our history, states had much power than they do now, and the politicians in those states did not want to relinquish it.Potter uses the other historical high points of the 1850 s to show how this battle over states rights, the breakup of the Whig party, the internal fracturing of the Democratic Party, the Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court, etc each contributed another drop to the cauldron of disunion until it overflowed in Civil War. This historic account of the state of the Union in the years prior to the Civil War focuses primarily on the slavery question how matters were compromised and how the compromises broke down It was written in the 1960s, so some of the theses younger historians have developed are not represented It is an interesting book in that Lincoln plays so little a part in the story as is correct , but also because Potter doesn t appear to be a big fan of Lincoln generally he seems to dismiss Lincoln s role in the 1858 senatorial debates as not that important Well worth reading, but not the entire story of the period. David Potter died before this book was published so all the success and praise, including a Pulitzer Prize, could only be received posthumously It is however a magnificent work that captures the over a decade period that was leading up to the Civil War The book is part of the New American History series not the Oxford History series that I had been reading Unlike the Oxford History volumes, it does not dive as deep into the average people as well as the elites with the same amount of elegant detail, nevertheless it is a great book A small note to any readers that when they read this book they may to want to be aware beforehand it was written before the term African American became widely accepted and instead uses the anachronistic word Negro It actually took me a minute to catch on because when reading about the past one comes about the word Negro quite a bit, normally I just view the term in its historic lens, but as I read further the term was used quite generally referring to the Negro population and to Fredrick Douglass as a leading Negro thinker even when not talking from a historical perspective.This book covers the political battles of the many participants who were in the political arena in the late 1850s the work also covers the political theories of the state of American Nationalism, and the formation of Southern Nationalism Potter also discusses how the impact of books and literature that were written in the 1850s impacted the time period One example of a powerful and hard hitting book was the original The Impending Crisis that dealt with the problem of slavery from a southern prospective of non slaveholding whites A famous example of strong literature is the immortal Uncle Tom s Cabin In almost every respect, Uncle Tom s Cabin lacked the standard qualifications for such great literary success It may plausibly be argued that Mrs Stowe s characters were impossible and her Negroes were blackface stereotypes, that her plot was sentimental, her dialect absurd, her literary technique crude, and her overall picture of the conditions of slavery distorted But without any of the vituperation in which the abolitionists were so fluent, and with a sincere though unappreciated effort to avoid blaming the South, she made vivid the plight of the slave as a human being held in bondage It was perhaps because of the steadiness with which she held this focus that Lord Palmerston, a man noted for his cynicism, admired the book not only for its story but for the statesmanship of it History cannot evaluate with precision the influence of a novel upon public opinion, but the northern attitude toward slavery was never quite the same after Uncle Tom s Cabin Men who had remained unmoved by real fugitives wept for Tom under the lash and cheered for Eliza with the bloodhounds on her track p.140One of the things Potter discusses in the book that I was very pleased to here is the tendency for most people to look back at the past with the feeling of inevitability This attitude does everyone a disservice because it creates a misinterpretation of the past and the people who were living in it Although, his own title of this book helps with that narrative that he was trying to combat Seen this way the decade of the fifties becomes a kind of vortex, whirling the country in ever narrower circles and rapid revolutions into the pit of war Because of the need for a theme and focus in any history, this is probably inevitable But for the sake of realism, it should be remembered that most human beings during these years went about their daily lives, preoccupied with their personal affairs, with no sense of impending disaster nor any fixation on the issue of slavery p.145Potter also discusses the Lincoln Douglas debates, and while doing so he tries to cut though the legend and misinterpretations that often are made about this event He tries to make it plain what the two opponents believed and what they were fighting for The difference between Douglas and Lincoln and in a large sense between proslavery and antislavery thought was not that Douglas believed in chattel servitude for he did not , or that Lincoln believed in an unqualified, full equality of blacks and whites for he did not The difference was that Douglas did not believe that slavery really mattered very much, because he did not believe that Negroes had enough human affinity with him to make it necessary for him to concern himself with them Lincoln, on the contrary, believed that slavery mattered, because he recognized the human affinity with blacks which made their plight a necessary p354He explains the raid of Harper s Ferry and the antislavery crusader John Brown in his rather insane attempt to cause a slave rebellion In Potter s narrative what Brown lacks as an armed rebel he excels as a martyr The North morns his death, which infuriates the South and makes them feel isolated Thus after the election of Lincoln they begin their attempts to break the South away from the Union.Everything discussed in this review and is covered in this incredible book I would recommend it to people who already have a strong knowledge of the history of this country who would like to increase their understanding of this difficult time period. This is an outstanding history of the 13 years leading to the American Civil War The focus is heavily on the political maneuvering on the part of congress and presidents, but social cultural factors are attended to as well I found it both brilliant and riveting There are too many ways in which the polarization of the country in the 1850s have distressing parallels today, but these only add to the strong interest of this book.
David Morris Potter was an American historian of the South
- 638 pages
- The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861
- David M. Potter
- 21 October 2017 David M. Potter