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Early Democracy and the Path to the Civil War

August 13 @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm

$10.00 – $15.00

In the first of two Civil War-focused programs this Fall, we are honored to welcome WSJ journalist and historian Robert W. Merry for his sixth book and latest debut. Exploring a critical lesson about our nation that is as timely today as ever, Decade of Disunion illustrates the separation of the country during the enveloping slavery crisis of the 1850s, or rather, the long prelude to the Civil War – specifically, how Massachusetts and South Carolina led the way, and the American struggle through the aims, fears, and maneuvers of the subsequent prominent figures at the center of the drama, with particular attention to the key players from these two states.

“With characteristic wisdom and grace, Robert W. Merry takes us back to critical hours in the history of American democracy, shedding new light on ancient questions that are, alas, urgent once more. To revisit how we fell apart in the nineteenth century can help us see the crises of the twenty-first more clearly.” – Jon Meacham

If you are unable to attend the event, but would like to reserve one or more signed copies, please purchase here.

About the Book

The Mexican War brought vast new territories to the United States, which precipitated a growing crisis over slavery. The new territories seemed unsuitable for the type of agriculture that depended on slave labor, but they lay south of the line where slavery was permitted by the 1820 Missouri Compromise. The subject of expanding slavery to the new territories became a flash point between North and South.

First came the 1850 Compromise legislation, which strengthened the fugitive slave law and outraged the North. Then in 1854, Congress repealed the Missouri Compromise altogether, unleashing a violent conflict in “Bleeding Kansas” over whether that territory would become free or slave. The 1857 Dred Scott decision—abrogating any rights of African Americans, enslaved or free—further outraged the North. And John Brown’s ill-planned 1859 attack at the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry stirred anger and fear throughout the South.

Through a decade, South Carolina, whose economy depended heavily on slave labor, struggled over whether to secede in a stand-alone act of defiance or to do so only in conjunction with other states. Meanwhile, Massachusetts became the country’s antislavery epicenter but debated whether the Constitution was worth saving in the effort to abolish bondage. Both states widened the divide between North and South until disunion became inevitable. Then, in December 1860, in the wake of the Lincoln election, South Carolina finally seceded, leading the South out of the Union.

Beginning with the deaths of the great second-generation figures of American history—Calhoun, Webster, and Clay—Decade of Disunion is a sobering reminder that democracy is not self-sustaining—it must be constantly and carefully defended.

About Robert Merry

Robert W. Merry is the author of five previous books, including President McKinley: Architect of the American Century and A Country of Vast Designs, James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent. He spent a decade covering Washington for The Wall Street Journal and served as an executive at Congressional Quarterly Inc. for twenty-two years, including twelve years as CEO. He lives with his wife, Susan, in Langley, Washington, and Washington, DC.


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CLS Member
Early Democracy and the Path to the Civil War
$ 10.00
118 available
General Admission
Early Democracy and the Path to the Civil War
$ 15.00
123 available


August 13
6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
$10.00 – $15.00


Charleston Library Society
164 King Street
Charleston, SC 29401 United States
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