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Arguing until Doomsday

Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and the Struggle for American Democracy

By Michael E. Woods

352 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 4 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5639-7
    Published: April 2020
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-5640-3
    Published: February 2020

Civil War America

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As the sectional crisis gripped the United States, the rancor increasingly spread to the halls of Congress. Preston Brooks's frenzied assault on Charles Sumner was perhaps the most notorious evidence of the dangerous divide between proslavery Democrats and the new antislavery Republican Party. But as disunion loomed, rifts within the majority Democratic Party were every bit as consequential. And nowhere was the fracture more apparent than in the raging debates between Illinois's Stephen Douglas and Mississippi's Jefferson Davis. As leaders of the Democrats' northern and southern factions before the Civil War, their passionate conflict of words and ideas has been overshadowed by their opposition to Abraham Lincoln. But here, weaving together biography and political history, Michael E. Woods restores Davis and Douglas's fatefully entwined lives and careers to the center of the Civil War era.

Operating on personal, partisan, and national levels, Woods traces the deep roots of Democrats' internal strife, with fault lines drawn around fundamental questions of property rights and majority rule. Neither belief in white supremacy nor expansionist zeal could reconcile Douglas and Davis's factions as their constituents formed their own lines in the proverbial soil of westward expansion. The first major reinterpretation of the Democratic Party's internal schism in more than a generation, Arguing until Doomsday shows how two leading antebellum politicians ultimately shattered their party and hastened the coming of the Civil War.

About the Author

Michael E. Woods is associate professor of history at the University of Tennessee and director of the Papers of Andrew Jackson project.
For more information about Michael E. Woods, visit the Author Page.

Reviews

"Speaks to the internal tensions within party organizations, the blinding force of ambition, and the ways distrust of democratic processes and institutions can destroy democracy itself. In that, it is a book for our time."--Library Journal

"Vividly portraying the political and personal rivalry between Stephen Douglas and Jefferson Davis, Arguing until Doomsday paints a clear picture of the inner workings of the Democratic Party before and during the Civil War. Penning a history that crosses sectional and ideological lines, Michael E. Woods provides a blueprint for understanding American politics in this era."--Rachel A. Shelden, author of Washington Brotherhood: Politics, Social Life, and the Coming of the Civil War

"Today, we remember Stephen Douglas as Abraham Lincoln’s Illinois rival. But this fine book juxtaposes Douglas, the quintessential western promoter, against Mississippi’s Jefferson Davis, champion of the proslavery South. Their epic clash, expertly narrated by Michael E. Woods, ruptured the Democratic Party and set the stage for civil war."--Daniel W. Crofts, author of Lincoln and the Politics of Slavery: The Other Thirteenth Amendment and the Struggle to Save the Union

"This extraordinarily well-researched, clearly argued, and well-written book reaps many dividends from placing Douglas and Davis in contentious conversation. Woods’s nuanced treatment of the Democratic Party as a dynamic and troubled coalition offers a valuable corrective, and his joint biographical treatment reveals the longer-term context for the well-known debates of the Civil War era."--Matthew Mason, author of Apostle of Union: A Political Biography of Edward Everett