Bombast is praised as oratory, compromise is confused with virtue and opportunism is elevated to necessity – the processes by which the United State’s Senate works have not changed in the past two hundred years. Proving once and for all that hindsight is not 20-20 Bordewich’s book credits the men of the day with principles and prescience which they quite simply did not have. Using contemporary political caricatures to illustrated this entry their explanatory notes may give the reader a slightly more accurate view of how the compromise and the compromisers were perceived in their day.
America’s great debate : Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the compromise that preserved the Union Fergus M. Bordewich. New York : Simon & Schuster, 2012 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. x, 480 p. : maps ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. -463) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
A symbolic group portrait eulogizing recent legislative efforts, notably the Compromise of 1850, to preserve the Union. The work is in some respects a memorial to the triumvirate of senior American legislators: Henry Clay, John Calhoun, and Daniel Webster, who appear in the center of the group. All three were deceased by the end of 1852. (Calhoun died on March 31, 1850, Clay on June 29, 1852, and Webster on October 24, 1852). The print’s publisher may have sought to take advantage of the optimistic climate which followed passage of the Compromise of 1850. As a commemoration of this legislative achievement, however, its hagiography is faulty–perhaps in the interest of wider appeal. John Calhoun, the central standing figure, opposed the compromise and died well before its passage, whereas key figures in the legislative battle for its acceptance, such as Senator James M. Mason of Virginia, are not shown here at all. Aside from Calhoun, the men portrayed here were generally considered friendly to the compromise, some of them being members of the Senate’s Committee of Thirteen, many from the South. The print may also relate to the debates surrounding the presidential campaign of 1852. Both Whig and Democratic parties formally endorsed the compromise in their respective 1852 platforms. Whig presidential candidate Winfield Scott (prominent at far left) had lobbied strenuously on behalf of the compromise. The absence of Scott’s Democratic rival Franklin Pierce may be explained by the fact that the print appeared before the dark-horse candidate’s nomination in early June. (The print was deposited for copyright on May 27, 1852.) The figures pictured here are (front row, left to right): Winfield Scott, Lewis Cass, Henry Clay, John Calhoun, Daniel Webster, and (holding a shield) Millard Fillmore. Calhoun and Webster stand with their hands resting on the Constitution, a bust of George Washington between them. Cass holds a document “Protest [illegible] Treaty.” Scott, in uniform, grasps with his right hand a portfolio from which protrude papers and maps recalling his Mexican War victories. In the left background are (left to right): Speaker of the House Howell Cobb of Georgia, Virginia representative James McDowell, Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, and former secretary of state John M. Clayton of Delaware. In the second row at right: Ohio senator Thomas Corwin, James Buchanan, Stephen A. Douglas, attorney general John J. Crittenden, and senators Sam Houston of Texas and Henry Foote of Mississippi. Behind, beneath a genius carrying a laurel branch and liberty staff, are senators Willie P. Mangum of North Carolina and W. R. King of Alabama. At far right, below an eagle, are Daniel S. Dickinson of New York, Supreme Court justice John McLean of Ohio, and senators John Bell of Tennessee and John C. Fremont of California. In the background curtains are drawn to reveal a gleaming temple with a colonnade surmounted by a large ball, a figure holding a liberty cap, and a phoenix.
The spellbinding story behind the longest debate in U.S. Senate
history: the Compromise of 1850
, which brought together Senate luminaries on the eve of the Civil War
in a desperate effort to save the Union.The Mexican War
introduced vast new territories into the United States, including California and the present-day Southwest. California appealed to join the Union, but would it and the other territories be admitted as slave or free? The Senate was precariously balanced with fifteen free states and fifteen slave. Southerners asserted that they would not tolerate any imbalance in their disfavor.
A caustic portrayal of the abolitionist Whigs’ manipulation of Winfield Scott during the 1852 campaign. Influential Whigs (left to right) New York “Times” editor Henry J. Raymond, “Tribune” editor Horace Greeley, and New York senator William Seward escort Scott across Salt River via the “Baltimore Bridge.” The bridge is composed of eight planks, representing the eight parts of the Whig platform as adopted at their June national convention in Baltimore. With Seward on his shoulders, Scott steps carefully across the bridge, carefully avoiding stepping on plank number eight, which reads “The series of acts of the Thirty-first Congress, commonly known as the compromise or adjustment, (the act of the recovery of fugitive from labor included) are received and acquiesced in by the Whigs of the United States, as a final settlement in principel and substance of the subjects to which they relate.” The plank was an endorsement of the Compromise of 1850. Seward, who opposed the compromise, covers Scott’s mouth with his hand, saying, “General, I have been trying to get safely over this Stream for some time, and your Shoulders, are broad enough to bear me; never mind your tongue or your pen I’ll manage them, but look well to your footsteps as this particular spot, it takes a pretty long Stride but stretch your legs, as I do my Con-science,–and you can get over anything.” Greeley, another vociferous abolitionist, follows behind carrying a tureen of “Free Soil Soup” and Scott’s heavily plumed hat. He adds, “That’s the talk Bill! you take care of his mouth, and his fingers, & Ill look out for the, feathers, and soup, perhaps you had better Stop and let him have a ‘hasty plate’ of it, as I have seasoned it highly with “black” pepper, to suit our taste, & we can give him a mouthful of Graham bread when he gets through.” The “hasty plate of soup” was a lingering joke at Scott’s expense dating from the general’s Mexican War career. (See “Distinguished Military Operations,” no. 1846-15.) “Black” pepper is a racist allusion, while “graham bread” was actually a well-known dietary preference of Greeley’s. Raymond trails behind Greeley, carrying a copy of the New York “Times” and a document marked “Telegraphic Dispatches.” He marvels, “Well I declare! Seward will get the old joker across after all; since he had that severe attack of the Botts, I thought he would never go over Safe.” Virginia Whig John Minor Botts caused a stir at the convention by reading a letter from Scott wherein, for the first time, he endorsed the compromise.
Henry Clay, one of the greatest figures in Senate history, tried to forge a compromise that would fulfill the dream of manifest destiny. At the same time a related crisis erupted over the boundary of New Mexico and Texas with the latter threatening to go to war. Clay’s efforts to resolve both problems failed. Instead a young senator from Illinois, the self-proclaimed new voice of “the West,” Stephen A. Douglas, devised a tortuous compromise that preserved the Union, at least for another decade. As Senate lions such as Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun exited, Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and William H. Seward replaced them. A new era dawned.
A cynical view of party competition for the working man’s vote in the presidential campaign of 1852. In a polling place, four candidates struggle to force their own election ticket on a short, uncouth-looking character in a long coat. The latter holds a whip, suggesting that he is either a New York cabman or a farmer. The candidates are (left to right): Whig senator from Massachusetts Daniel Webster, Texas Democrat Sam Houston, Illinois Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, and Whig general Winfield Scott. The cartoon must have been produced before the June 5 nomination of dark-horse Franklin Pierce as the Democratic candidate, as Pierce is not shown. Webster: “My honest friend, these men are interested parties, I have no further interest in this matter myself, than the inclination to ‘Serve my beloved Country,’ My Family cannot subsist on less than 25,000 $ a year.” His comment may refer to his own personal financial straits or to the nepotism involved in securing his son Fletcher’s lucrative appointment as surveyor of the Port of Boston in 1850. Scott (in uniform, grasping the man’s coat): “My good Friend, allow me to present you this Ticket, I am ‘Old Genl. Scott’ you know me, I licked the British & the Mexicans, if elected I shall probably lick all Europe.” Houston: “This is the ‘Ticket’ for you, my good friend, I am ‘Old Sam Houston’ if elected I shall not only ‘lick all of Europe,’ but all ‘Creation’ to boot.” Douglas (his arms around the man): “There, there, go away, go away, don’t worry the man, leave him to me, leave him to me.” Affixed to the wall at right are two posters or signs marked “DEMT.” and “WHIG.” In the left background stands Henry Clay leaning against a chair observing the scene, along with President Millard Fillmore who looks in through a window.