In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

BOOK REVIEWS The Union As It Is: Constitutional Unionism and Sectional Compromise, 1787-1861. By Peter B. Knupfer. (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991. Pp. xiv, 285. $29.95.) An earlier generation of historians accepted the idea that in a country as large and diverse as the United States, compromise was the price of union. In a well-known work elaborating this idea, Herbert Agar argued that where differences in economic, social, religious, and racial interests and backgrounds were so marked, the government had to water down the demands of regions, races, classes, and business associations into a national policy that would alienate no major group. From this perspective the failure to compromise could be a causal factor in history, as in revisionist historians' explanation of the Civil War as the result of politicians ' partisan miscalculations and errors in judgment. The polarization of politics in the past three decades has tended to discredit the idea of compromise, a development reflected historiographically in the transformation of the problem of Civil War causation into the study of the economic, cultural, and political necessity of abolitionism, and the inevitability and positive good of the war that ended slavery. Peter B. Knupfer's account of constitutional unionism resists this tendency in recent scholarship, without reviving the point of view of revisionist historiography that too often served as an apology for slavery. Knupfer is concerned not with showing how the Civil War could have been avoided but with illuminating the nature of the Union and the political customs and culture that sustained it as a type of republican constitutionalism. Essential to this outlook, he maintains, was the ethos and practice of compromise. This is a subtle and penetrating work that has more of the character of an extended interpretive essay than a detailed political narrative. In four chapters Knupfer develops a constitutional theory of sectional conciliation , focusing on the Federalist authors of the Constitution, civics writers of the antebellum period such as Francis Lieber, and Henry Clay, the preeminent statesman of the compromise tradition. Three chapters review the principal events of the Compromises of 1820, 1833, and 1850 in the light of the theory of sectional conciliation that Knupfer finds 68CIVIL WAR HISTORY embedded in constitutional unionism. Defining compromise as the settlement of a conflict through mutual concessions, he distinguishes between two types of settlement. Compromise can be a communal act marked by "affective mutuality" that reflects a degree of intimacy and dependence between the parties, or it can be a contract lacking "the soul of mutuality" that reflects the parties' understanding of their selfinterest and results in exact, balanced equivalents. Knupfer regards the former as the more genuine and effective type of compromise, in part because, as conceived of by Federalist thinkers in the framing of the Constitution, it included the idea of a concurrent majority. This famous term, usually associated with John C. Calhoun but here viewed as a basic feature of the founders' political science, refers to the requirement of a large or super majority that has the effect of absorbing minority sentiments, thus enhancing the legitimacy of measures that constitute a compromise. Knupfer argues that the founding fathers, unable to agree on the future of slavery, most importantly established a consensus on mutual restraint that transformed the ambivalence born of compromise into a quintessential quality of republican statesmanship and American Union. They fashioned a "template" for making compromises that was successfully employed in 1820 and 1833 by the post-revolutionary generation of statesmen, who in conscious emulation of the framers formed quasiconstitutional compacts reaffirming the compact of 1787. According to Knupfer, these compromises possessed a customary authority that gave them the status of constitutional law. The founders' template for sectional conciliation was used again in 1850, but only in a formal and superficial sense and without success. This compromise was in the nature of a legalistic contract and was subverted by the forces of mass democratic participation, partisanship, and sectionalism that characterized mid-nineteenth century political culture. Clarifying and extending recent interpretations of this event, Knupfer says the Compromise of 1850 was intended to gain partisan and sectional advantage, rather than achieve genuine conciliation. The template...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 67-69
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.