Publication Date





University of Virginia Press


Antebellum politicians knew that words mattered. In 1856 Louisianan Judah P. Benjamin complained in the Senate that remarks made by antislavery colleague William H. Seward “will be spread through the machinery of the federal post office. It is printed in your [Congressional] Globe. It will be read, probably, by millions of people.” “No such faint voice as mine,” Benjamin whined, “can follow it to every village, to every hamlet, to every cottage to which it has spread.”The prospect of antislavery sentiment invading southern villages, hamlets, and cottages worried this slaveholding politician. Years after the Compromise of 1850 had supposedly achieved “finality,” political disputes over slavery had not ceased and the acrimonious language of the Compromise debate still shaped how Americans thought about slavery, race, and sectionalism. In A Strife of Tongues: The Compromise of 1850 and the Ideological Foundations of the American Civil War, Stephen E. Maizlish explains why words alarmed. In this extensively researched work of political, intellectual, and cultural history, Maizlish recounts how the Compromise debate, far from mollifying sectionalism, only sharpened divisions between slave states and free states and established an ideological framework in which the ensuing sectional crisis would unfold.