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The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 82, July 1978 - April, 1979

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

anecdotal. In the Truman-MacArthur controversy, Manchester joins
ranks with such revisionists as Gary Wills and John Edward Wiltz and
finds that no one, Harry S. Truman, George C. Marshall, Douglas Mac-
Arthur, nor the joint chiefs, came to the table without purposes beyond
the immediate strategic concerns. Very likely the book that shapes Mac-
Arthur's reputation in the generation to come, American Caesar does
as well as one may expect a popular biography to do.
Texas A&M University ROGER BEAUMONT
The Political Crisis of the 185os. By Michael F. Holt. (New York: John
Wiley Sc Sons, 1978. Pp. xv+330. Foreword, preface, tables, bibli-
ography, index. $10.95.)
Controversy characterized political life in the United States during
the 1850os; Michael F. Holt's study, a volume in the Critical Episodes in
American Politics series, may well be as controversial as its subject. In
examining the political crisis of the last antebellum decade, Holt agrees
that "fundamentalist" historians have established beyond doubt that
slavery and issues related to slavery produced bitter sectional conflict
and then disunion. But he argues that this interpretation of Civil War
causation is inadequate or at least incomplete. If issues related to slav-
ery caused disunion, why, he asks, did only seven of the fifteen slave
states secede when Abraham Lincoln was elected? Second, if slavery ex-
tension caused the war, why did it come in 1861 and not in 1820 or
1846 or 1854, other times when the issue was heated? His answer might
be summarized in one word-politics. "The key to Civil War causation
is to be found in the reasons why the American political system could
no longer contain the sectional conflict, not in the conflict itself" (p. 3).
Holt begins his argument by tracing the history of the second Amer-
ican political party system from its inception during the 183os, empha-
sizing the idea that the system depended on strong partisan conflict over
issues such as the national bank and protective tariff. The Democratic
and Whig parties succeeded in building strong voter identification and
in convincing Americans that the party system promoted the republican
ideas of self government, liberty, and equality. Sectional issues such as
slavery and territorial expansion were kept in check through the 184os
by the tendency of partisan leaders "to provide party alternatives to the
voters of the opposing sections and to argue that nonslavery issues still
required the preservation of the major parties" (p. 66).
Then, with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, the Whig


Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 82, July 1978 - April, 1979. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. Accessed May 2, 2016.

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