Friday, August 28, 2015

Book Review: Storm over Texas by Joel H. Silbey

Oxford University Press
Pivotal Moments in American History series

In this book, author Joel Silbey claims that the long-running controversy over whether or not to bring the republic of Texas into the United States was a key point on the path to the Civil War.

The author clearly researched this book very well and he provides many quotes and evidence to support his arguments about the effects this controversy produced.

He does not claim that the arguments over Texas immediately led to an inevitable Civil War, but, rather, shows how it began the process that led to war, perhaps like a small chip in a windshield that can lead to worsening problems over time. He explains how the disputes over Texas affected the workings of American political parties and how partisan politics gradually shifted to a more "sectional" political reality thanks in part to this controversy.

Though this book concerns political events, it also describes the American political system of the era, which relied on two major political parties (Democrat and Whig) to define and debate issues. Sectionalism had popped up occasionally before The Texas issue, but had always calmed back down letting political debate remain set along partisan lines, a tradition that started to change with the dispute over Texas.

The author does an outstanding job of showing the inter- and intra-party workings of this system, particularly of the Democrats and how these workings started slowly evolving during and after after the Texas controversy. It was within the Democratic party where the first signs of the effects of the Texas issue began to become evident in 1844 and 1845 and where sectionalism began to grow and seep outward. 

Politicians like Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, James Polk and John C. Calhoun all played prominent roles as this drama slowly unfolded, such as Van Buren and his supporters growing disenchanted with Polk, leading to disputes within the Democratic Party and Van Buren becoming a Free Soil Party candidate. Calhoun, meanwhile contributed greatly to the reappearance and growth of sectionalism.

Additional events after the annexation - starting with the debates over the Wilmot Proviso and continuing with issues such as the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Preston Brooks' attack on Charles Sumner, Bleeding Kansas and the Dred Scott decision - continued the path that annexation had started, resulting in secession after the 1860 Presidential election. The Kansas-Nebraska act comes across as the one event that provoked a quick and strong reaction, but even it was only building on feelings, disagreements and changes that had sprouted up after the debate over Texas.

This is a good book, very informative, especially on how the political system and parties worked and how the annexation of Texas affected them. The author's writing flows fairly well, making this book a good read.  Sibley provides much evidence from many sources to support his points and he weaves many different quotes into his narrative in a fine, readable fashion. His work provides a fine perspective on American politics in the years before the Civil War and how, with a blow from the debate over Texas, the chip in the American windshield led to a full fracture in April 1861.


  1. Thanks for this review, Richard. Does he go into the history of how slavery played into the Texas war for independence from Mexico and arguments over admission of Texas into the United States as a slave state?

  2. He did not disclose scuds the Texas War for Independence much, if st all, but definitely discussed the slavery issue in terms of the attempts to annex it into the U.S.That was a theme throughout the book, particularly how the two parties dealt with it and kept the fact cuts away from sectional issues as long as they could.

    I thought the discussion about how it disrupted the Democratic Party was the most interesting. Perhaps I had not read about that enough before, but it stood out to me

  3. Dr. Silbey's book is, indeed, pure history and the excitement of a reading of his book is not so much the history he relates but, rather, the consoling sense that we have been there before and, armed with understanding, we may be able to do a better job next time.

    Ohio Hunting Whitetail Deer


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