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The period from 1851 to 1859 is one of transition, in which the political organizations which had been dominant during the previous thirty years were broken up, and gave place to new crystallizations of voters; and in which also the former political ideas and issues were absorbed in the paramount rivalry of slavery and anti-slavery. To bring out the contrast between the old parties and their aims and the new and imperious issues is the object of Professor Smith's volume. 

It was a period of remarkable characters as well as of stirring events; Clay and Webster are just descending on the horizon; Seward, Chase, Douglas, Jefferson Davis, Sumner, and Wade, come to the front as the protagonists in Congress and outside. The abolition movement, described in Slavery and Abolition (vol. XVI. of the series), gives place to a broader and ever-widening anti-slavery movement, stirred by the fugitive - slave cases and by Uncle Tom's Cabin, but kept persistent by the attempts at the extension of slavery into the territories. The southern attitude towards slavery changes from the defensive to the aggressive assertion that slavery was meritorious. The conditions described by Garrison in Westward Extension (vol. XVII. of this series), are also changed: the annexation of Texas and the future of New Mexico are no longer disputed, and the controversy shifts to Kansas, and thus involves the long-standing Compromise of 1820.

The book begins after the passage of the Compromise of 1850, which is described in the previous volume, and chapters i. to iii. are given to the finality period and to the attempt to keep slavery out of politics. In chapter iv., Professor Smith traces the appearance of the new generation of public men, who are to remain in power until after the Civil War. Then come two chapters, v. and vi., the first on the internal development of the country by railroad building, the other on the renewed attempts at external expansion by the annexation of Cuba. Chapters vii. to xii. describe the Kansas-Nebraska episode, its effect in breaking up the old parties, the attempt to make a new issue through the Native American movement, and the final result in establishing a national anti-slavery party, which comes near electing its candidate in 1856. Chapter xiii. is on the panic of 1857 and its economic results. Then follows, in chapters xiv. and xv., an account of the Dred Scott decision and of the renewal of the Kansas struggle in the debate over the Lecompton bill, the two chapters illustrating the last attempts to adjust the slavery controversy by the federal judiciary or Congress Chapters xvi. and xvii. describe the breach between the northern and southern democrats. Then, after one chapter (xviii.) on Buchanan's diplomacy, including schemes of the annexation of future slaveholding territory, the text closes with two chapters on the state of mind in the north and in the south, especially with reference to the Union.

The special importance of the volume in the American Nation series is that it shows the efforts to prevent the crisis which finally resulted in the Civil War, by coming to an understanding as to the future of slavery; and that it reveals the impossibility of reconciling the rival habits of thought on that dividing question.



In the present volume I have endeavored to show how, in the years between 1850 and i860, the sectional divergence between free and slave states came to permeate law and politics, literature, and social intercourse. This result was brought about in spite of the reluctance of the majority of the northern and southern people to admit any such antagonism and over the persistent opposition of public leaders who exhausted every device to keep political feeling amicable and unsectional. If I have emphasized any one feature it is the course of party development, for it was in the field of party management and in party struggles that the battles of sectionalism were fought at this time, largely determining the course of executive action and of legislation. The final party catastrophe which was the immediate cause of secession is left for a later volume in this series, but the year with which this volume closes, 1859, marks the virtual breakdown of the effort at non-sectional politics. In the preparation of this work, I have based my conclusion upon the independent study of the documentary sources and other contemporary material, but in special fields, I have not hesitated to rely upon the labors of other investigators, and throughout I have consulted the larger historical works which cover this period. I wish to record my special indebtedness to the History of the United States by James Ford Rhodes, upon whose scholarly thoroughness I have continually relied for assistance and guidance.

Theodore Clarke Smith.