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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 then 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, when partisans on each side reached across the aisle to preserve the Union from tragedy.
The little known story of perhaps the most productive Congress in US history, the First Federal Congress of 1789-1791.The First Congress was the most important in US history, says prizewinning author and historian Fergus Bordewich, because it established how our government would actually function. Had it failed--as many at the time feared it would--it's possible that the United States as we know it would not exist today. The Constitution was a broad set of principles. It was left to the members of the First Congress and President George Washington to create the machinery that would make the government work. Fortunately, James Madison, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and others less well known today, rose to the occasion. During two years of often fierce political struggle, they passed the first ten amendments to the Constitution; they resolved bitter regional rivalries to choose the site of the new national capital; they set in place the procedure for admitting new states to the union; and much more. But the First Congress also confronted some issues that remain to this day: the conflict between states' rights and the powers of national government; the proper balance between legislative and executive power; the respective roles of the federal and state judiciaries; and funding the central government. Other issues, such as slavery, would fester for decades before being resolved. The First Congress tells the dramatic story of the two remarkable years when Washington, Madison, and their dedicated colleagues struggled to successfully create our government, an achievement that has lasted to the present day.
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