front cover of Daniel Smith Donelson
Daniel Smith Donelson
Soldier, Politician, Tennessean
Doug Spence
University of Tennessee Press, 2023

Daniel Smith Donelson was the grandson of two of early Middle Tennessee’s most famous founders—John Donelson and Daniel Smith—and nephew of Tennessee’s perhaps most famous soldier statesman, Andrew Jackson. And while Civil War historians are familiar with Donelson because he led a Confederate brigade, his namesake fort in Middle Tennessee, and his importance to the war effort as he transitioned into Confederate war administration, Donelson the significant son of Tennessee has eluded a full study, and no book-length biography has been published, until now.

Unfortunately, Daniel Smith Donelson left no body of papers, which leaves any biographers, as Richard Douglas Spence contends, to approach their subject through a “historical back door” via Donelson’s legendary uncle and his brother, Andrew Jackson Donelson, who enjoyed a significant political career in his own right. Spence’s biography begins with Donelson’s upbringing at the Hermitage after Donelson’s father died when he was three. From there Spence follows Donelson’s career as a planter, militiaman, state congressman, Civil War general, and finally an administrator overseeing the Confederate Department of East Tennessee. Fort Donelson was named in his honor, and his brigades fought at Cheat Mountain, Perryville, and Murfreesboro (Stones River). He was posthumously promoted to major general after dying of disease on April 17, 1863, at the age of sixty-one.

Spence’s approach reveals aspects of Donelson’s life and career that in many ways rival his Civil War record for importance, providing fresh perspectives on Jackson’s tumultuous presidency and the contentious nature of antebellum politics in Tennessee.


front cover of Daniel Webster and the Oratory of Civil Religion
Daniel Webster and the Oratory of Civil Religion
Craig R. Smith
University of Missouri Press, 2005
Daniel Webster (1782–1852) embodied the golden age of oratory in America by mastering each of the major genres of public speaking of the time. Even today, many of his victories before the Supreme Court remain as precedents. Webster served in the House, the Senate, and twice as secretary of state. He was so famous as a political orator that his reply “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!” to Senator Robert Hayne in a debate in 1830 was memorized by schoolboys and was on the lips of Northern soldiers as they charged forward in the Civil War. There would have been no 1850 Compromise without Webster, and without the Compromise, the Civil War might well have come earlier to an unprepared North.
Webster was also the consummate ceremonial speaker. He advanced Whig virtues and solidified support for the Union through civil religion, creating a transcendent symbol for the nation that became a metaphor for the working constitutional framework.
While several biographies have been written about Webster, none has focused on his oratorical talent. This study examines Webster’s incredible career from the perspective of his great speeches and how they created a civil religion that moved citizens beyond loyalty and civic virtue to true romantic patriotism. Craig R. Smith places Webster’s speeches in their historical context and then uses the tools of rhetorical criticism to analyze them. He demonstrates that Webster understood not only how rhetorical genres function to meet the expectations of the moment but also how they could be braided to produce long-lasting and literate discourse.

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Dawn Clark Netsch
A Political Life
Cynthia Grant Bowman
Northwestern University Press, 2010

Illinois Democratic politics has recently produced the most skilled and inspirational politician in memory . . . and has also reminded us of the need for further reform. It is fitting, then, that the latest installment of the Chicago Lives series turns to Dawn Clark Netsch, a leading reformer of Illinois politics since the 1950s and the first woman major party nominee for governor of Illinois.

Netsch was a pioneer, or the first of her gender, in almost every endeavor she undertook. From the very beginning of her career, when she led the move to desegregate Northwestern University's undergraduate dorms, her passion for social justice extended beyond the rights of women to rights for racial minorities and those of all sexual orientations. Bowman charts Dawn Clark Netsch's remarkable political career, from her work behind the scenes as assistant to Governor Otto Kerner and as a participant in the 1970 Constitutional Convention to her later service in elected office, first as Illinois state senator for eighteen years and later as Illinois comptroller, and culminating in her historic run for governor in 1994. Throughout, Netsch lost neither her genteel yet unpretentious demeanor, nor her passion for progressive politics as exemplified by her early mentor, Governor Adlai E. Stevenson.


front cover of The Dealmakers of Downstate Illinois
The Dealmakers of Downstate Illinois
Paul Powell, Clyde L. Choate, John H. Stelle
Robert E. Hartley
Southern Illinois University Press, 2016
Winner, ISHS Annual Award for a Scholarly Publication, 2017

Many people are unaware that from 1945 to 1975, downstate lawmakers dominated the Illinois political arena. In The Dealmakers of Downstate Illinois, Robert E. Hartley details the lives and contributions of three influential southern Illinois politicians, Paul Powell, Clyde Choate, and John Stelle. He describes how these “dealmakers” were able to work with Democrats and Republicans throughout the state to bring jobs and facilities to their region. Using a variety of coalitions, they maintained downstate political strength in the face of growing Chicago influence.
Hartley traces the personal histories of Powell, Choate, and Stelle, shows how they teamed up to advance a downstate political agenda, and reviews their challenges and successes. Beginning with an account of early experiences, including the battlefield courage that earned Choate the Medal of Honor as well as Stelle’s World War I experience and later entrepreneurship, the book continues with an exploration of the groundwork for their collaborative legislative agenda and their roles in the growth of Southern Illinois University and the passage of income tax legislation. Hartley reviews the importance of Powell’s relationship with Governor Stratton, Choate’s leadership of the 1972 Democratic National Convention and his relationships with Governor Walker and with Chicago interests. 
The Dealmakers of Downstate Illinois is a vivid, straightforward tale of fighting in the legislative chambers, backstabbing behind the scenes, and trading special favors for votes in pursuit of not only personal gain but also the advancement of a regional agenda.

front cover of The Decline of Comity in Congress
The Decline of Comity in Congress
Eric M. Uslaner
University of Michigan Press, 1996
Why do members of Congress resort to name-calling? In this provocative book, Eric M. Uslaner proposes that Congress is mirroring the increased incivility of American society. He points to five core values—American exceptionalism, enlightened individualism, egalitarianism, science as social engineering, and religion—that have been eroded since the 1960s. The author argues that a lack of trust permeates members of Congress to the point that they would rather seek control than compromise. This, Uslaner contends, is the real cause of gridlock in Washington. The Decline in Comity in Congress demonstrates why institutional reform will not correct this problem and why Americans need to change before their government can.

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Dividing the Union
Jesse Burgess Thomas and the Making of the Missouri Compromise
Matthew W. Hall
Southern Illinois University Press, 2015
Winner, ISHS Superior Achievement Award for a Scholarly Publication, 2016

In 1820 the Missouri controversy erupted over the issue of slavery in the newly acquired lands of the Louisiana Purchase. It fell to Jesse Burgess Thomas (1777–1853), a junior U.S. senator from the new state of Illinois, to handle the delicate negotiations that led to the Missouri Compromise. Thomas’s maturity, good judgment, and restraint helped pull the country back from the brink of disunion and created a compromise that held for thirty-four years. In Dividing the Union, Matthew W. Hall examines the legal issues underlying the controversy and the legislative history of the Missouri Compromise while focusing on the aspects of Thomas’s life and character that gave him such influence. The first in-depth biography of Thomas, Hall’s work demonstrates how the legislative battle over the Compromise reflected the underlying nuances of the larger struggle over slavery.
The text of the Missouri Compromise originated from the Northwest Ordinance. Article VI of the Ordinance purported to prohibit slavery in the Northwest Territory, but paradoxically, a provision that assured property rights in another article was used to protect slavery. People in some parts of the Northwest sought to circumvent Article VI by formulating indenture laws and various state constitutional provisions addressing slavery. Pro- and antislavery activists eventually developed quite different interpretations of the relevant language in these documents, making negotiations over slavery in the new territory extremely complicated.
As Hall demonstrates, Thomas was perfectly situated geographically, politically, and ideologically to navigate the Missouri controversy. He was the first speaker of the Indiana Territorial General Assembly, one of the first territorial judges in the Illinois Territory, and the president of the Illinois State Constitutional Convention in 1818. Because the drive for statehood in Illinois was strong, the convention managed to skirt the divisive issue of slavery, due in large part to Thomas’s efforts. That he was never required to clearly articulate his own views on slavery allowed Thomas to maintain a degree of neutrality, and his varied political career gave him the experience necessary to craft a compromise.
Thomas’s final version of the Compromise included shrewdly worded ambiguities that supported opposing interests in the matter of slavery. These ambiguities secured the passage of the Compromise and its endurance until the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. By weaving Thomas’s life story into the history of the Missouri Compromise, Hall offers new insight into both a pivotal piece of legislation and an important, previously overlooked figure in nineteenth-century American politics. 

front cover of Do All the Good You Can
Do All the Good You Can
How Faith Shaped Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Politics
Gary Scott Smith
University of Illinois Press, 2023

Methodism in the public and private lives of the politician

After more than forty contentious years in the public eye, Hillary Rodham Clinton is one of the best-known political figures in the nation. Yet the strong religious faith at the heart of her politics and personal life often remains confounding, if not mysterious, to longtime observers. Even many of her admirers would be surprised to hear Clinton state that her Methodist outlook has “been a huge part of who I am and how I have seen the world, and what I believe in, and what I have tried to do in my life.” 

Gary Scott Smith’s biography of Clinton’s journey in faith begins with her Methodist upbringing in Park Ridge, Illinois, where she faithfully attended worship services, Sunday school, and youth group meetings. Like many mainline Protestants, Clinton’s spiritual commitment developed gradually throughout childhood, while her combination of missionary zeal and impressive personal talents has informed her career from the time of her pro bono work at Yale on behalf of children to the present.

Her Methodist faith has been very important to many of Clinton’s high-profile endeavors and in helping her cope with the prominent travails brought on by two presidential campaigns, never-ending conservative rancor, and her husband’s infidelity. Smith’s account examines Clinton’s faith in the context of work ranging from her 1990s pursuit of healthcare reform to a “Hillary doctrine” of foreign policy focused on her longtime goal of providing basic human rights for children and women--a project she saw as essential to United States security. The result is an enlightening reconsideration of an extraordinary political figure who has defied private doubts and public controversy to live by John Wesley’s dictum: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”


front cover of Don't Let the Fire Go Out!
Don't Let the Fire Go Out!
Jean Carnahan
University of Missouri Press, 2004
The slogan Don’t Let the Fire Go Out! became the guiding force for Jean Carnahan as she confronted life’s challenges after her husband, son, and longtime friend were killed in a plane crash on October 16, 2000. The wife of Mel Carnahan, the well-known and highly respected Missouri governor and popular leader of the Democratic Party, Jean Carnahan made history when she agreed to serve in the U.S. Senate after Missouri voters elected her husband to the position posthumously. Don’t Let the Fire Go Out! is a fascinating and compelling look at the life of this amazingly strong woman.
Although the emphasis in this book is on the years 2000 through 2002—as Carnahan survived the tragic deaths of her loved ones and made her push forward with the campaign to fill what would have been her husband’s Senate seat—it also covers her family, her years of growing up in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C., and her marriage to Mel Carnahan. She offers a rare, behind-the-scenes look at life in the Governor’s Mansion during her years as Missouri’s First Lady. The book also provides insight into Mel Carnahan’s devotion to public service. Jean Carnahan recounts her own introduction to the U.S. Senate, her struggle with the decision to vote against the confirmation of John Ashcroft as attorney general, her interactions with other senators, the loss of her Missouri farmhome to fire, a trip to Afghanistan, her reelection defeat in 2002, and countless other experiences that shaped her life and thought.
Don’t Let the Fire Go Out! is an intimate and revealing memoir of an extraordinary woman who overcame great tragedy to become the first woman from Missouri to serve as a United States senator. Resilient, intelligent, and charming, Jean Carnahan will inspire all who read her remarkable story.

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Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon
Suffragist, Senator, Plural Wife
Constance L. Lieber
Signature Books, 2022
Martha Hughes Cannon (1857–1932) may best be known as the first female state senator in the United States, elected in Utah in 1896, nearly a quarter century before most women in the country could vote. She was also a suffragist, physician, gifted speaker, plural wife, faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and mother of three. This short biography examines what drove Cannon to accomplish so much. Following two periods of self-imposed exile to avoid prosecution for polygamy, and a subsequent career in partisan politics, she died in California, surrounded by her children and grandchildren but virtually forgotten by the larger world. She had much to say during her lifetime and has much to say to us today about persevering in spite of adversity. Constance Lieber chronicles the important story of one of the American West’s and Mormonism’s most intriguing characters.

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