America in the 1850s

Abraham Lincoln Appears on the Scene

Where did American politics stand at the beginning of 1859?

The political scene was neither happy nor hopeful. Ever since Preston Brooks’ attack on Charles Sumner, members of the U.S. House and Senate had been apprehensive of a repeat. Some senators and congressmen even carried concealed weapons into the chambers.

There was acrimony on both sides of the aisle, with Republicans accusing Democrats of false policies and vice versa. President Buchanan was the only person with the power and authority to bring both parties to heel, but he was singularly ill-prepared for that role. During his long political career, Buchanan had proven adroit at subtle negotiations and persuasion: he was not adept at using raw political power. 1859 was, quite possibly, the year in which more Americans used words like “crisis,” “danger,” and “extremism” when referring to their politics and political leaders.


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