America of 1848-61 in Impending Crisis by D. Potter Essay (Book Review)


David Potter, in his book, “The Impending Crisis,” analyzed in detail issues, events, and personalities that occurred in American history between 1848 and 1861. The author explored the genesis and impacts of the conflict between the South and the North. Potter argued that although the Northerners and Southerners had common ideals that tied them together as a nation, social, economic, and racial factors deeply divided American society. Potter showed how these factors divided the American society into two different societies with incompatible ideologies, values, and institutions. A conflict between the South and the North later arose and compelled the South to agitate for secession. Potter argued convincingly that language, politics, the legal system, religion, and an interdependent economy served to unite the American society for a common nationhood. While the South valued a rural, agriculture-based social structure, the Northern society had advanced to commercial, industrial, and urbanized system and regarded itself as a free society (p. 371). Therefore, the book review asserts that, despite sectional differences, the commonalities allowed the U.S. to overcome challenges during the antebellum period and ultimately emerge as a superpower in global politics.

Summation of Chapter 11-20

In chapter 11, Potter described economic and political development in the South and examined the impact of South’s institutions on the lifestyles of people. It was during the slavery period that the economic and political divisions between the North and the South became clear. While the South’s economy had an agricultural basis, industrialization was the basis of the Northern economy. The South later faced economic challenges as the antislavery movement emerged (p. 316). Intellectuals such as Edgar Allan Poe led the slavery movement and James Cooper demanded reforms and termination of slavery in the South. Later, the North supported the movement that sought to abolish slavery through a Congressional vote. Unfortunately, this action severed relations between the North and the South and consequently led to a bitter conflict that deteriorated into the Civil War. Potter stated that the events triggered a severe crisis in the South, which transformed it into a closed society (p. 225). At this point, Potter noted that sectional divisions motivated the South to root for secession from the Union.

The victory for the Union in the Civil War destroyed the South’s idea of republicanism. The victory made a turning point in America’s history as the nation started the path to industrialization. As described in chapter 16, settlers in the Far East transformed the region into an economic hub through industries such as mining, ranching, and agriculture. Potter described how technological advancement, labor availability, and expansion of markets further contributed to economic growth, expansion in the education sector, and the emergence of modern consumerism culture (p. 415). This showed how economic interdependence strengthened the ties between the North and the South after the war. Besides economic transformation, political development provided a favorable environment that enabled the North to spread its vision to the South, which later became the vision of the U.S. The vision coupled with military development propelled the U.S. into global leadership.

Types of Sources

Potter used detailed footnotes to support his argument. Potter used both primary and secondary sources, giving credence to his scholarship. Although the secondary sources were not a little old, the primary sources were up to date. Peer-reviewed articles from journals like the American Quarterly, Kansas Historical Quarterly, and Louisiana History among others were used to describe the perspectives of the citizens during this period. For instance, Potter used an article about the determinants of the South’s political strength by Broussard James published in the Louisiana History to describe how the slavery policies became increasingly unpopular even in the Southern states (p. 372). The secessionist movements that were widespread in Southern states like Florida aimed at protecting the Southern ideology of republicanism were analyzed based on specific primary studies (p. 419). In examining the pre-war and post-war periods, Potter used articles from journals such as Harvard Law Review to analyze the doctrines and laws adopted by the South. Potter also used information from journal articles to analyze the treaties and diplomatic rows as well as trace the origin of the secessionist movements.

Besides journal articles, Potter also used popular magazine articles such as the Lincoln Herald to analyze the lives and roles played by influential people during the antebellum period. Published letters and documents authored by influential figures like Francis Lieber as well as lectures and speeches are other primary sources used in this book (p. 456). Over-reliance on primary sources to describe the distinctive characteristics of the South, the impending war and the post-war recovery enhanced the credibility of Potter’s argument. For instance, Potter relied on an article by Allen Johnson in the Yale Law Journal to characterize the South as a traditional society that emphasized on rural-based class system and the North as a modern and industrial society (p. 382). Secondary sources like books were undoubtedly the major sources that Potter used. Potter relied on books in many ways to describe the different dimensions of the conflict. For example, Potter relied on information from books to describe the South’s pro-slavery movement (p. 416). Potter used these sources effectively to construct the arguments presented in the book and analyze the repercussions of each action during the antebellum period.


In chapters 11-20, Potter gave a concise yet detailed account of the political ideologies, slavery, secession, and abolitionism in the South, which occurred between 1848 and 1861. Despite the differences in ideologies between the North and the South, economic interdependence prevented the Union from splitting into two separate regions, and thus contributed to the economic and political prosperity of the U.S.

This book review on America of 1848-61 in Impending Crisis by D. Potter

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