At the EDGE of the PRECIPICE: Henry Clay and the Compromise that ‘Saved’ the Union
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In 1850, America hovered on the brink of separation. Tensions
between North and South mounted, as the debate over slavery grew
rancorous. An influx of new territory prompted Northern politicians
to demand that new states remain free. In response, Southerners
threatened to secede from the Union. Only Henry Clay could keep the
nation together. At the EDGE of the PRECIPICE is historian Robert V. Remini’s
fascinating recounting of the Compromise of 1850, a titanic act of political
will that only a skillful statesman like Clay—concerned not only about peace
but his political future—could broker.
Remini ably dissects a dangerous
moment in the nation’s history and the remarkable but flawed man who
ushered the nation through it. Although the Compromise would collapse
10 years later, plunging the nation into war, Clay’s victory in 1850 ultimately
allowed the Union to defeat the Confederacy by giving the North
an extra decade to industrialize and prepare for war. A masterful narrative by an eminent historian, At the EDGE of the PRECIPICE also offers a timely reminder of the importance of bipartisanship in a tumultuous age.
Excerpt from page 69:
"The two men faced each other on that rainy night and reached an important understanding. Webster noticed that his visitor looked haggard and coughed incessantly. They spoke for an hour, Clay outlining what he intended to propose in the senate to effect a compromise between the warring factions, and Webster interrupting at times with questions and suggestions. As he listened, Webster 'thought Mr. Clay’s objects were great and highly patriotic…. That perhaps providence had designed the return of Mr. Clay to the senate, to afford the means and the way of averting a great evil from the country.' Webster also thought that Clay’s plan would be 'satisfactory to the North, and to the reasonable men of the south.' Still he did not commit himself, not until he had a chance to study the individual proposals in depth. But he assured his former rival that he would be supportive and said he agreed in substance to what Clay had proposed."