In early 1860, pundits across America confidently predicted the election of Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas in the coming presidential race. Douglas, after all, led the only party that bridged North and South. But the Democrats would split over the issue ofslavery, leading Southerners in the party to run their own presidential slate. This opened the door for the upstart Republicans, exclusively Northern, to steal the Oval Office. Dark horse Abraham Lincoln, not the first choice even of his own party, won the presidency with a record-low 39.8 percent of the popular vote.
Acclaimed scholar Douglas R. Egerton chronicles the contest with a historian's keen insight and a veteran political reporter's eye for detail. Vividly, Egerton re-creates the cascade of unforeseen events that confounded political bosses, set North and South on the road to disunion, and put not Stephen Douglas, but his greatest rival, in the White House.
We see Lincoln and his team outmaneuvering more prominent Republicans, like New York's grandiose William Seward, while Democratic conventions collapse in confusion. And we see the gifted, flawed Douglas marking his finest hour in defeat, as he strives, and fails, to save the Union. Year of Meteors delivers a teeming cast of characters, minor and major, and a breakneck narrative of this most momentous year in American history.
About the Author
Douglas R. Egerton is Professor of History at LeMoyne College. He is the author of five books, including He Shall Go Out Free: The Lives of Denmark Vesey, Gabriel's Rebellion: The Virginia Slave Conspiracies of 1800 & 1802, and Death or Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America.
“A lively, expertly rendered narrative of politics as a prelude to war.” –Kirkus (starred)
“Egerton is a master. Year of Meteors reveals the fragility of the American political landscape, a place where politicians, no matter how hard they try, are unable to predict the future.”—Scott Gac, author of Singing for Freedom
“Egerton tells the story of the dissolution of the Union as it should be told, not from the perspective of those looking back on the crisis but from the clouded vision of those who lived through it. He shows us men who often did not realize that the smallest steps taken could have dire consequences, and in the process, he captures the pettiness and the nobility, the wisdom and the recklessness of leaders too often hailed as heroes or dismissed as villains.”—Carol Berkin, author of A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution and Civil War Wives
“Well-informed, judicious, and lively political history. Douglas Egerton has a sharp eye for telling biographical details, and he deploys them to great analytical and narrative effect.”
—Bruce Levine, author of Half Slave and Half Free
“Year of Meteors is well thought out, deeply researched and intelligently presented. Egerton traces the backround and events that shaped the political world at a moment of severe danger to the nation. In doing so he successfully opens to view a world that is long gone but whose politics remains relevant into our own day.”—Joel H. Silbey, author of Storm over Texas and Respectable Minority
“This is politics as high drama, and Egerton does it justice with his lucid, meticulous account of backroom deals, parliamentary brawling, and speeches whose rhetorical vitriol (one Republican convention speaker called Southerners “the whole vassalage of hell”) presaged violence. Also fine is Egerton’s analysis of the human motivations that tore the country apart.”—Publishers Weekly
“Provocative and well argued.”—Booklist
“Civil War buffs will appreciate the book's dozens of vividly drawn characters…readers who take politics seriously will get the thrill of an insider's view of a hard-fought campaign…”—Associated Press
“Fascinating account of the bizarre and explosive election of 1860 …”—Wall Street Journal
“Heavily documented, relying on substantial primary and manuscript sources, this book sheds new light on an often researched topic. All those with an interest in the importance of race in the nation's history will want to acquire this highly readable work …”—Library Journal
“Certainly, Lincoln's election in 1860 precipitated secession, which resulted in war, and the sesquicentennial of that event, on November 6, truly marks the beginning of the forthcoming cycle of commemoration. Douglas R. Egerton's Year of Meteors offers a thorough analysis.” —Chronicle of Higher Education Review
“Thanks to Egerton’s insight into 19th-century political strategy and skullduggery, the graceful “Year of Meteors” reads like a fresh insider-informed exposé of a modern presidential election instead of an exposé of a race that took place when Maine had more residents than California…” —Christian Science Monitor