Among the compromises made by the states at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 was one that acknowledged the existence of legal slavery. That deal, and the confl icting promise of equal justice embodied in the constitution they produced, together comprised an almost fatal structural fl aw. After ratifi cation of the constitution by the people of each state, there appeared in due course in the newly-created nation social and political fault lines. Those fractures inexorably increased—to the point of threatening the nation’s existence. In 1819 and 1820, it was a fi ght in Congress about whether slavery would be allowed or banned in the proposed new state of Missouri, the fi rst attempt to expand it beyond the original thirteen states. In the 1830s and 1840s, it was a movement to abolish slavery and grant equality “instantly.” In the late 1840s and 1850s, it was confrontations about proposed expansions of slavery into the far west and the plains. In 1860, it was the pivotal election of the nation’s fi rst avowedly antislavery president. That election caused the usual public-debate/bindingelection aspect of politics in the United States to fail. Eleven states claimed the extreme political position of secession, and the nation resorted to the extreme action of a war within itself.
This book tells the story of the constitutional deal on slavery and the increasing pressures that arose to undo it. And of the emergence of an Illinois lawyer and politician who led the nation through the ultimate crisis. A compelling look at history for any reader who wants to understand the causes of the Civil War.
Cliff Johnson understands the nature of the Constitution as the nation’s seminal legal document as well as one of its seminal political documents. He practiced law for over thirty years after graduation from the University of Chicago Law School and, as an adjunct professor, taught law for more than seventeen years at Oakland University. A quarter century of involvement in combative state-level election politics has equiped Johnson with valuable insight into Southern “states’ rights” defenses of legal slavery and Lincoln rebuttals of them. He provides a thoughtful and absorbing account of formative and momentous events during the period from the Constitution’s creation through the pivotal November 1860 presidential election and consequent secession of eleven southern states.