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8+ Works 895 Membros 14 Críticas

About the Author

Michael F. Holt, a leading authority on nineteenth-century American politics, is Langbourne M. Williams Professor of American History at the University of Virginia

Obras por Michael F. Holt

Associated Works

Writing the Civil War : The Quest to Understand (1998) — Contribuidor — 118 exemplares
Congress and the Crisis of the 1850s (2011) — Contribuidor — 9 exemplares


Conhecimento Comum



The presidential election of 1860 was unlike any other in American history. The product of the contentious and often violent politics of the 1850s, it saw no less than four candidates contesting for the White House. With the fracturing of the Democratic Party over the issue of slavery, the Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln was able to win with a only a plurality of the vote, thanks to the majority he won in the electoral college through his near sweep of the populous states of the northern United States. In response to his victory, seven southern states sought to break away from the Union, an action that led to the bloodiest war in the nation's history and the eventual abolition of slavery in the country.

Given its dramatic nature and the momentous events that followed, the election has never wanted for attention from historians. Yet Michael F. Holt argues that a number of misconceptions have accumulated around the election which have distorted our perception of it. His book offers a revisionist account of the campaign that highlights these obscured or distorted elements in an effort to gain a better understanding of the issues that defined it for the voters who participated. Foremost among them, he argues, is the idea that the election was primarily about slavery, which he sees as the view of the southerners who would subsequently seek to break away from the union. For most voters, though, the main issue was the corruption of the Buchanan administration. Holt shows how Republicans highlighted this in the months leading up to the election, making the case that what was needed was a clean sweep of the executive branch. As he explains this also played a key role in the selection of "Honest Abe" as the nominee, as Lincoln's profile was one better suited to make the case for the Republicans than that of his main competitors, William Seward and the corrupt Simon Cameron.

While the Republicans sharpened their arguments about Democratic corruption in advance of the election, the Democratic Party was plagued with infighting between the president, James Buchanan, and Stephen Douglas. Holt traces the origins of this to Douglas's refusal to admit Kansas as a state under the proslavery Lecompton constitution. As Holt points out, this coupled with Douglas's qualified acceptance of the Dred Scott decision also alienated him from the southern Democrats who increasingly dominated the party, setting the stage for the party convention in Charleston in 1860 at which the Democrats fractured into pro- and anti-Douglas factions. With a victory by the (at that point undecided) Republican candidate increasingly likely, a group of politicians organized a conservative alternative to Republicans in the form of the Constitutional Union Party, who selected the elder statesman John Bell as their presidential contender. With the nomination of Douglas and Vice President John Breckinridge by the separate Democratic factions, the stage was set for a chaotic contest.

In covering the campaign that followed, Holt pushes back against the traditionally narrow view of it as separate contests between Lincoln and Douglas in the north and Breckinridge versus Bell in the south. Though Breckinridge, and Bell both refrained from electioneering, their campaigns sent speakers and mounted rallies in the northern states as well as the southern ones, while Republicans distributed ballots in the border slave states as well. Most dramatically Douglas undertook the then-unusual step of personally campaigning by making speeches in both the northern and southern states. Holt's chapter on the campaign itself is the best in the book, as he describes the myriad activities the parties adopted to turn out the vote. In this respect the Republican effort proved the most successful, as the dramatic appeals to young voters with the "Wide Awake" clubs and criticisms of Democratic corruption delivering them the victories they needed in the key swing states. As Holt points out, slavery was a salient issue only in the south, where arguments that Republicans were seeking outright abolition were so disconnected from Republican campaign goals that Republicans failed to take seriously the threats of secession by many southerners —a delusion that would quickly be dispelled in the weeks following Lincoln's victory.

As a longtime scholar of antebellum politics, Holt brings a lifetime's worth of learning to his subject. Yet he wears this lightly, providing an accessible description of the election while making arguments that go far towards shaking up the traditional interpretation of the 1860 election. Yet Holt oversells the revisionist nature of his account. Though he performs a valuable service in highlighting aspects of the campaign that were obscured by subsequent events, as Holt himself acknowledges at the end, perceptions of Democratic corruption and "misrule" in the north were as much tied to the perception of the party's excessive deference to southerners' anxieties about slavery as it was the buying of votes or the favoring of Democrats in awarding contracts. Moreover, his account of the election itself only qualifies somewhat the view of it as separate contests, suggesting the misconception is more one of emphasis than detail. Yet in the end these are criticisms of degree rather than of substance. Overall, Holt's reexamination of the 1860 election offers a refreshing reexamination of one of the truly pivotal moments in American history, and is necessary reading for anyone seeking to understand the election and how it led to the devastating conflict that followed.
… (mais)
MacDad | Mar 27, 2020 |
The antebellum period saw the formation and destruction of the second party system in U.S. politics between Andrew Jackson’s Democrats, which survived to the present, and their rivals the Whigs that did not. Michael F. Holt’s magnum opus, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, details how the Whigs emerged from all the anti-Jacksonian forces to their disintegration in the mid-1850s due to the factional and sectional divisions.

Beginning in the mid-1820s, Holt explains the origins of the anti-Jacksonian groups that formed and later coalesced to form the Whig party in the winter of 1833-4 in Washington, D.C. then how it eventually branched out and formed in states. Through thorough research from the national down to the state, county, and local levels Holt explored how the Whig party was planted and grew throughout the country and competed against their Democratic foes. Yet this research also exposed the intraparty feuds within state parties that affected conventions on all levels, platform fights, and Election Day enthusiasm. Exploring a political relationship between state politics and national politics that is completely different than that seen in the second half of the 20th-century and early 21st, Holt shows how this different political paradigm both rose up the Whigs and eventually destroyed them.

With almost 1300 pages of text and notes, Holt thoroughly explored the 20 year history of the American Whig party from the national to the local level within every state of the Union. Throughout Holt’s assertion that the Democrats always controlled “the narrative” of the Whig’s history and how that played on the Whig intraparty feuds which eventually was one of the main three causes of the party’s disintegration. The focuses on Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, party traitor John Tyler, party destabilizer Zachary Taylor, attempted party savior Millard Fillmore, and slew of other prominent Whigs gives the stage to historical actors who shaped history. Throughout the text, the reader sees how events if changed just slightly might have allowed the Whigs to continue as a national party and the effects that might have had going forward but ultimately who personalities and how some decisions out of the party’s control resulted in fatal wounds occurring.

The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party is not for the general history reader, this tome is for someone dedicated to an in-depth researched book that shifts from the halls of Congress to the “smoke-filled backrooms” of state conventions in states across the nation to election analysis in various congressional districts across the young republic. The work of an academic lifetime, Michael F. Holt gives insight into political party that ultimately lost in history but that still had a lasting impact to this day in modern American politics.
… (mais)
mattries37315 | 2 outras críticas | Oct 12, 2018 |
This extremely short work is a part of the American Presidents series of short biographies of our nation’s chief executives, and while I understand the concept, and can make allowance for the comparative obscurity of the subject in this case, 130 pages is simply not much book.

I wouldn’t recommend the American Presidents series for Presidents such as Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Grant, either Roosevelt or most of the Presidents in the 20th century. However, for many of the 19th century Presidents, 200 pages of material will contain about all the material you need to know about Presidents such as Pierce, Tyler, Buchanan, Arthur, Garfield, Van Buren, Fillmore, Hayes, etc. Still, this work, on Franklin Pierce is as thin as water. Even worse, it is poorly presented and makes for prose that is sometimes difficult to digest.

Pierce is routinely ranked among the least effective of U. S. Presidents, largely as a result of factors beyond his control. He is blamed for fracturing the then dominant Democratic Party; however, the looming Civil War and the issues involved made such a fracture largely unavoidable. It is no coincidence that two of the most maligned U.S. Presidents are the two immediately preceding the War, as if their actions precipitated the War and that others in their position might have somehow avoided it. Certainly, Pierce was no stand out President, however in many ways, he was a victim of his place in history.
… (mais)
santhony | 4 outras críticas | Jun 15, 2018 |
Because I came to it knowing so little about Pierce, I learned quite a bit from Holt's biography, but there's no denying it is thin broth. I was surprised by Holt's admission that he had not bothered to read Hawthorne's campaign biography of Pierce--surprised as well as disappointed, since Pierce's friendship with Hawthorne is one of the things that most made me want to read up on this miserably unsuccessful president. The book is highly thesis-driven--arguing single-mindedly that Pierce's administration failed mainly because Pierce put the good of his political party ahead of that of the nation--and as a consequence has the plodding earnestness of a graduate thesis, rather than the confident sweep of the work of an eminent historian at the end of a distinguished career. Still, I'd recommend it as an introduction to the sectional crisis of the 1850s for a reader who prefers history filtered through biography.… (mais)
2 vote
middlemarchhare | 4 outras críticas | Nov 25, 2015 |



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