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History As It Happens

Jan 12, 2023

As politics grew increasingly violent in the 1850s, Americans understood that unresolvable conflicts over the extension of slavery and the disproportionate political power of the slaveholders could lead to disunion and war. In the view of some historians, activism outside Congress, driven by radical abolitionists as well as pro-slavery ruffians, forced the major parties to seek compromises to hold the country together, only to fall short because of the immensity of the problem and intransigence of the Slave Power. This political turmoil produced prolonged and acrimonious contests for House speaker, a history that suddenly became relevant again when the House needed 15 ballots over five days to elect California Rep. Kevin McCarthy. In this episode, University of Connecticut historian Manisha Sinha, a leading authority on the history of slavery and abolition, talks about the parallels between past and present as Americans witness today's political polarization worsening.