America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink

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Oxford University Press, 1992 M04 30 - 416 pages
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It was a year packed with unsettling events. The Panic of 1857 closed every bank in New York City, ruined thousands of businesses, and caused widespread unemployment among industrial workers. The Mormons in Utah Territory threatened rebellion when federal troops approached with a non-Mormon governor to replace Brigham Young. The Supreme Court outraged northern Republicans and abolitionists with the Dred Scott decision ("a breathtaking example of judicial activism"). And when a proslavery minority in Kansas Territory tried to foist a proslavery constitution on a large antislavery majority, President Buchanan reneged on a crucial commitment and supported the minority, a disastrous miscalculation which ultimately split the Democratic party in two. In America in 1857, eminent American historian Kenneth Stampp offers a sweeping narrative of this eventful year, covering all the major crises while providing readers with a vivid portrait of America at mid-century. Stampp gives us a fascinating account of the attempt by William Walker and his band of filibusters to conquer Nicaragua and make it a slave state, of crime and corruption, and of street riots by urban gangs such as New York's Dead Rabbits and Bowery Boys and Baltimore's Plug Uglies and Blood Tubs. But the focus continually returns to Kansas. He examines the outrageous political frauds perpetrated by proslavery Kansans, Buchanan's calamitous response and Stephen Douglas's break with the President (a rare event in American politics, a major party leader repudiating the president he helped elect), and the whirl of congressional votes and dramatic debates that led to a settlement humiliating to Buchanan--and devastating to the Democrats. 1857 marked a turning point, at which sectional conflict spun out of control and the country moved rapidly toward the final violent resolution in the Civil War. Stampp's intensely focused look at this pivotal year illuminates the forces at work and the mood of the nation as it plummeted toward disaster.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - baggette - LibraryThing

MrStamp is an eminent scholar, no doubt, but this book has nothing that encourages the reader to continue. The is no meter; no pace. He starts in December 1856 and circles around the whole previous 5 ... Read full review

America in 1857: a nation on the brink

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Eminent historian Stampp ( The Peculiar Institution , Knopf 1956; The Imperiled Union , LJ 5/1/80) argues that 1857, not 1860, marked the political and emotional point of no return between North and ... Read full review


1 A New Year and a Fresh Start
2 Politics and the Social Milieu
4 The President the Chief Justice and a Slave Named Scott
Slavery and Sectionalism
6 Popular Sovereignty Kansas Style
7 Dog Days
8 Flush Times and an Autumn Panic
The Lecompton Constitution
Buchanans Decision
The Fruits of Lecompton
Manuscripts Consulted
Newspapers Consulted
Abbreviations Used in Notes

The Parties in Equipoise

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Page 6 - That the Constitution confers upon Congress sovereign power over the Territories of the United States for their government, and that in the exercise of this power it is both the right and the imperative duty of Congress to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism, polygamy and slavery.

About the author (1992)

Kenneth M. Stampp is Morrison Professor of History Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. A past president of the Organization of American Historians, a recipient of an American Historical Association Award for Scholarly Distinction, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he is the author of several seminal works in American history, including The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South and The Imperiled Union.

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