Friday, October 13, 2017

Booknotes: The Election of 1860

New Arrival:
The Election of 1860: A Campaign Fraught with Consequences by Michael F. Holt
(UP of Kansas, 2017).

In standalone studies and in innumerable essays and book chapters, legions of authors and historians have offered their take on the 1860 election, and one might argue that no other presidential election has been scrutinized as much as the one that led to the first Republican president, southern secession, and Civil War. But there's certainly always room for another interpretation, especially when it comes from one of our most esteemed historians of the American political experience of the first half of the nineteenth century.

Michael Holt's The Election of 1860 "disrupts th(e) familiar narrative with a clearer and more comprehensive account of how the election unfolded and what it was actually about. Most critically, the book counters the common interpretation of the election as a referendum on slavery and the Republican Party’s purported threat to it. However significantly slavery figured in the election, The Election of 1860 reveals the key importance of widespread opposition to the Republican Party because of its overtly anti-southern rhetoric and seemingly unstoppable rise to power in the North after its emergence in 1854. Also of critical importance was the corruption of the incumbent administration of Democrat James Buchanan—and a nationwide revulsion against party." Holt's corruption angle seems to be the one most de-emphasized by (or left out of) other studies of the election.

More from the description: Holt "explores the sectional politics that permeated the election and foreshadowed the coming Civil War. He brings to light how the campaigns of the Republican Party and the National (Northern) Democrats and the Constitutional (Southern) Democrats and the newly formed Constitutional Union Party were not exclusively regional. His attention to the little-studied role of the Buchanan Administration, and of perceived threats to the preservation of the Union, clarifies the true dynamic of the 1860 presidential election, particularly in its early stages."

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