Sunday, December 5, 2010

Stanley Harrold

Stanley Harrold is professor of history at South Carolina State University. Among his recent books are Subversives: Antislavery Community in Washington, D.C. 1828-1865 and The Rise of Aggressive Abolitionism: Addresses to the Slaves.

His new book is Border War: Fighting over Slavery before the Civil War.

Last month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I’m reading Douglas R. Egerton’s Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election That Brought on the Civil War, which Bloomsbury Press published this past September. “Year of Meteors” comes from Walt Whitman’s poem expressing his feelings about the months between the December 1859 execution of John Brown for treason against the state of Virginia and the presidential election of November 1860. Whitman called it a “brooding year,” as the specter of southern secession and civil war hung over the nation.

One of Egerton’s achievements lies in lending a sense of immediacy to the political events involved in 1860’s momentous presidential campaign. He portrays the conflicting goals, sensibilities, versions of American nationalism, personal ambitions, strengths, and weakness of the men who sought to shape the country’s future. Some readers may wonder why Egerton places Stephen Douglas before Abraham Lincoln in his book’s subtitle. As they read, however, they will understand that the shattering of Douglas’s Democratic Party was key to the outcome of the election and the events that followed.

Egerton is at his best in describing the “national” conventions that produced four contenders for the presidency in 1860. His analysis of the political maneuvering at Democratic conventions in Charleston, Richmond, and Baltimore, as well as the Republican convention in Chicago and Constitutional Union Party in Baltimore are riveting. They remind me of the time before almost universal primary elections deprived modern national conventions of drama. Those who read Year of Meteors will witness the interaction of forces that turn history into drama. Among them are loyalty, disloyalty, vanity, practicality, hope, and fear.
Read more about Stanley Harrold's Border War at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test Border War.

--Marshal Zeringue