The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 102, July 1998 - April, 1999 Page: 261
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achieves this goal, but also places Alexander William Doniphan in the larger
context of the period, an accomplishment that all biographers should aim to
Launius reveals that Doniphan's life characterized the spirit of the times.
Doniphan was born in 18o8, grew up in Kentucky, graduated from Augusta Col-
lege, and began reading law in 1827. After his admittance to the bar, Doniphan
moved to Missouri. He was a young, ambitious man who made the most of every
opportunity and held strongly to the belief in individual liberty. It was his pur-
suit of liberty that led him to defend the Mormons in the 183os and volunteer
for service in the Mexican War. These two events not only shaped his life, but al-
so propelled Doniphan to fame. Launius, though, goes beyond the scope of
Doniphan's legal and military service. He reveals how America struggled with
westward expansion, religious freedom, supply and command problems in time
of war, and foreign relations.
Launius further explicates the political struggles that the Whig party endured
on the volatile frontier, and the political alignments that occurred after Whig
demise. Doniphan worshipped Henry Clay and upheld the tenets of the Ameri-
can system. Yet, Doniphan was also a slaveowner who defended the rights of
southerners. Doniphan, though, was a man of principle not party. It was this de-
votion to principle, and to political moderation, that allowed Doniphan to sup-
port continually a neo-Whig agenda, slavery, and nationalism. When it came
time to choose between secession and union, between slavery and free labor,
Doniphan towed the moderate line and voted for Constitutional Union Party
candidate John Bell. When it became necessary, however, to fight for the Blue or
the Gray, Doniphan balked; he moved across state and worked as a special
claims agent for victims of the war in Missouri. Though Launius attempts to sal-
vage an indecisive Doniphan with a 'high' devotion to moderation, he does a
better job of revealing the intricate socio-political relations and struggles in the
rise of sectionalism over nationalism.
Launius's monograph is thoroughly researched, well written, and clearly ar-
gued. Nevertheless, it has its shortcomings. Launius, at times, appears to contra-
dict himself. He argues, for example, that Doniphan did not engage in office
seeking because of "the Whig Party's lack of interest in him" (p. 2oo). Yet, as
Launius reveals, Doniphan was a Mexican War hero, a prominent lawyer, and a
standard bearer of the Whig party, whom the press and party leaders continually
endorsed for office, especially for the 1848 gubernatorial election. More glaring,
Launius is clear that his intent is more than a biographical sketch. His purpose is
to use the life of Doniphan to speak to "the present crisis in American politics at
the end of the twentieth century" (p. xiii). Launius disesteems a 'politics of
choice' in favor of political moderation. Such a political climate, he asserts,
might have saved the country from civil war. Many historians and political scien-
tists will disagree with this. Still, this quibbling aside, Launius provides us with an
excellent biography that not only sheds light on an instrumental antebellum
politician, but also serves as a framework within which to view the historical de-
velopments and dilemmas of our country. Both scholars and nonacademics will
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 102, July 1998 - April, 1999, periodical, 1999; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101219/m1/304/: accessed November 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.