Sunday, August 13, 2017

Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election the Brought on the Civil War by Douglas R. Egerton

Look who was sitting on the ledge outside my bedroom window this morning.  Isn't it cute?

Cute little squirrel tail:

Playing is Mozart's Divertimento KV 563

Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election that Brought on the Civil WarYear of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election that Brought on the Civil War by Douglas R. Egerton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Douglas Egerton is a professor of History and he does an impeccable job describing the presidential campaign that elected Lincoln in 1860.

In 1857, Dr. Emerson moved to Missouri with his slave Dred Scott, where he hired him out on lease. Missouri was a free state and by hiring Scott out there Emerson effectively brought the institution of slavery into a state that had outlawed slavery.

Scott sued for his freedom and while many people assisted him, he ultimately lost. The question was whether a African slave had the same rights as white citizens and if so what did that portend?

This created a domino effect in both the North and the South. What about the states that had come or were coming into the United States? Would they be free or slave holding?

Northern people of any political persuasion, while not necessarily agreeing to granting slaves equal status as white people, nevertheless, did not want future states or western states to become slave states.

Conversely, southern politicians were concerned that they be allowed to expand their slave trade west.
In Egerton's brilliant account, we learn of both Northern and Southern players that caused a furious presidential race that has probably not been equaled, although our most recent election certainly gave it a run for its money.

The trash talking between delegates had an acuity and eloquence that I marvel at. It was a different time period where politicians had sophisticated vocabularies and powers of expression that surpass any modern novelist.

Their passion surpasses today's as well. Our politicians can get ugly, but these guys were bringing knives and guns into the Senate and House.

We learn of the end of the Whig party and the birth of the Republican party, the Southern Democrats and who were the real orchestrators of the Southern states' secession.

Egerton gives us a step by step account of each area of the 1860 election, thorough and interesting descriptions of the different people running and if he gets bogged down in numbers and polls, that's a minor quibble for a good and wild ride through one of the most turbulent times in America.

If you like history and specifically Civil War history this is an invaluable source.

View all my reviews


  1. that's a gray squirrel? we just saw one of those in the yard this morning... they're rather rare here; it was nice to see one... as has been said, listening to M is like turning on a light bulb...
    i'm reading "The Gilded Age" by Twain; mainly it's a sarcastic and humorous take off on the political figures of the 1870's... T doesn't mention it, but i think it's right before the Tweed gang age of corruption... don't know what that has to do with the D/L debates, but the level of learned discourse at that time was surely superior to that of the post war period... according to T, carpet bagging was endemic in the north as well as the south... interesting book and nice post... tx...

    1. Hi Mudpuddle. That is a gray squirrel. They are not rare here. They are all over the place and be quite destructive. But they're still cute little things.

      I can't remember if I read Twain's Gilded Age or heard of the Tweed gang. I do like reading about this time period. Especially living in the south there is a lot of history here. We just got back from Natchez Mississippi over the weekend. We stayed in an Antebellum house and toured around the place. It's just an itty bitty town but you feel as though you are going back in time. I really enjoyed the architecture and they had a great historical photograph museum.

      I've heard of carpet bagging but I need to read more. I know it had to do with charlatan's and politics but other than that I'm vague on the detail.

  2. Hi Sharon - I would love this book. There is so much to know about the lead up to The American Civil. Throughout my life it seems that I have seen documentaries and read al little on this subject. But I do not think that I have delved in to the detail that this book seems to offer.

    I also appreciate the furry visitors who have come near my windows over the years. I have some interesting pictures of raccoons who climb my bushes at night to get to the bird feeders.

    1. Hi Brian. This book contains a lot of information that I did not know before. I did not realize how little a role Jefferson Davis played in the secession and how much William Yancy did. It clarified a lot of the information about what led up to the Civil War.

      I often keep my guinea pigs outside during the day in pens just to give them a change of scenery. It's interesting that the squirrels forage around them but the don't bother each other. I guess they instinctively know they aren't competing for food.

  3. I was not expecting a squirrel – how lovely. I thought it would be a bird of some kind.

    Year of meteors sounds utterly fascinating. Thank you for your review, I may not have heard of it otherwise.

    I hope the week is going well for you.

    1. Hi Barbara! We have no shortage of gray squirrels in our yard. Our dogs used to keep them at bay before they became to old to chase them.

      If you like American Civil War history you would really enjoy this book.

      Have a great week across the pond, yourself!

  4. Sharon, Lincoln is often misunderstood as the great emancipator; in fact, he resisted emancipation until it became a political and military strategy. Does the book you've so nicely reviewed touch upon Lincoln's attitudes on race, slavery, and related issues?

    1. Hi R.T.

      This book brings a lot of that out. No one was perfect or one dimensional. I think there are some people today who need to understand that or we need to tear down every statue of every historical figure that has been erected in the country because not a single one did everything right.

  5. Dred Scott: what an interesting and disenfranchising piece of judicial American history b/c it recognized slaves as actual property! (I know this is a sidebar) but I think of the Dred Scott decision when people defend abortion. Babies are just property, just like slaves were considered property in the 1800s. How we twist our definitions when they suit us, and then it is ok. Anyway, sorry. This does sound like a "fun" read. I'll add it to my Civil War TBR list. : )

    1. Hi Ruth. I am exactly with you. I can think of a lot of life style practices that are normal today, including killing babies, that one day in the future will be looked back upon in horror.

      I wonder why some people who are so self-righteous about the sins of the past can't see how they are committing those same sins by holding on to the same mindset. "Some people are more equal than others."

  6. We're overrun with squirrels, as well, and I hate to say, but I can't even see them as cute anymore. :) Chipmunks, bunnies, birds, etc.---all very cute, but husband calls them rats with big tails. (But still fun to find on your window sill). I always learn something from your book reviews and found it interesting to compare today's politics to back then.

    1. HI Marcia! You and my mother feel the same way. She lives in Florida and they have a beautiful Magnolia tree in their back yard. It would produce big, beautiful blossoms...if the squirrels didn't eat the buds.

      She calls them destructive rodents.


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.