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 of slavery, 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.
As one reviewer put it, “This is politics as high drama, and Egerton [in Year of Meteors] 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.”
Listen in as we meet the author of Year of Meteors, Douglas R. Egerton, who is Professor of History at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, New York.
Recorded Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at the Newberry Library.