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Short Synopsis
Fergus M. Bordewich presents the riveting, dramatic story behind one of U.S. history's longest debates: the Compromise of 1850.

Full Synopsis
The Mexican War introduced vast new territories into the United States, among them California and the present-day Southwest. When gold was discovered in California in the great Gold Rush of 1849, the population swelled, and settlers petitioned for admission to the Union. But the U.S. Senate was precariously balanced with fifteen free states and fifteen slave states. Up to this point, states had been admitted in pairs, one free and one slave, to preserve that tenuous balance in the Senate. Would California be free or slave? So began a paralyzing crisis in American government, and the longest debate in Senate history.

Fergus Bordewich tells the epic story of the Compromise of 1850 with skill and vigor, bringing to life two generations of senators who dominated the great debate. Luminaries such as John Calhoun, Daniel Webster, and Henry Clay—who tried unsuccessfully to cobble together a compromise that would allow for California's admission and simultaneously put an end to the nation's agony over slavery—were nearing the end of their long careers. Rising stars such as Jefferson Davis, William Seward, and Stephen Douglas—who ultimately succeeded where Clay failed—would shape the country's politics as slavery gradually fractured the nation.

The Compromise saved the Union from collapse, but it did so at a great cost. The gulf between North and South over slavery widened with the strengthened Fugitive Slave Law that was part of the complex Compromise. In America's Great Debate Fergus Bordewich takes us back to a time when compromise was imperative, when men swayed one another in Congress with the power of their ideas and their rhetoric, and when partisans on each side reached across the aisle to preserve the Union from tragedy.

"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." ---Kirkus

"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
Publishers Weekly Review

America's Great Debate

Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union

Author Fergus M. Bordewich

Narrated by Norman Dietz

Publication date Sep 10, 2012

Running time 17 hrs

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