Enormously powerful, intensely ambitious, the very personifications of their respective regions--Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun were widely seen as the foremost statemen of their age. In the decades preceding the Civil War, they dominated American congressional politics as no other figures did, and there was scarcely a national issue or debate in which they took no part. Now Merrill D. Peterson, one of our most gifted historians, brilliantly re-creates the lives and times of these great men in this monumental collective biography.
Arriving on the national scene at the onset of the War of 1812 and departing political life during the ordeal of the Union in 1850-52, Webster, Clay, and Calhoun opened--and closed--a new era in American politics. In outlook and style, they represented startling contrasts: Webster, the Federalist and staunch New England defender of the Union; Clay, the ''war hawk'' and National Rebublican leader from the West; Calhoun, the youthful nationalist who became the foremost spokesman of the South and slavery. In 1832, when they came together in the Senate for the first time, united in their opposition of Andrew Jackson, the idea of the ''Great Triumvirate'' was born. The idea survived and entered the history books because these men divided so much of American politics for so long between them.
Peterson brings to life the great events in which the Triumvirate figured so prominently: the debates on Clay's American System, the Missouri Compromise, the Webster-Hayne debate, the Bank War, the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, the annexation of Texas, the Compromise of 1850. At once a sweeping narrative and a penetrating study of non-presidential leadership, this book offers an indelible picture of the era--a conservative age in which statesmen saw their principal mission as preserving the legacy of free government received from the Founding Fathers. And, as Peterson shows us in fascinating detail, Webster, Clay, and Calhoun were the prime exemplars of three facets of this national mind.