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The Oxford History of the United States is by far the most respected multi volume history of our nation In this Pulitzer prize winning critically acclaimed addition to the series historian Daniel Walker Howe illuminates the period from the battle of New Orleans to the end of the Mexican American War an era when the United States expanded to the Pacific and won control over the richest part of the North American continentA panoramic narrative What Hath God Wrought portrays revolutionary improvements in transportation and communications that accelerated the extension of the American empire Railroads canals newspapers and the telegraph dramatically lowered travel times and spurred the spread of information These innovations prompted the emergence of mass political parties and stimulated America's economic development from an overwhelmingly rural country to a diversified economy in which commerce and industry took their place alongside agriculture In his story the author weaves together political and military events with social economic and cultural history Howe examines the rise of Andrew Jackson and his Democratic party but contends that John uincy Adams and other Whigs advocates of public education and economic integration defenders of the rights of Indians women and African Americans were the true prophets of America's future In addition Howe reveals the power of religion to shape many aspects of American life during this period including slavery and antislavery women's rights and other reform movements politics education and literature Howe's story of American expansion culminates in the bitterly controversial but brilliantly executed war waged against Mexico to gain California and Texas for the United StatesWinner of the New York Historical Society American History Book PrizeFinalist 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award for NonfictionThe Oxford History of the United StatesThe Oxford History of the United States is the most respected multi volume history of our nation The series includes three Pulitzer Prize winners a New York Times bestseller and winners of the Bancroft and Parkman Prizes The Atlantic Monthly has praised it as the most distinguished series in American historical scholarship a series that synthesizes a generation's worth of historical inuiry and knowledge into one literally state of the art book Conceived under the general editorship of C Vann Woodward and Richard Hofstadter and now under the editorship of David M Kennedy this renowned series blends social political economic cultural diplomatic and military history into coherent and vividly written narrative

10 thoughts on “What Hath God Wrought The Transformation of America 1815 1848

  1. says:

    This is not a popular history but a scholarly treatment consistent with it being a component of “The Oxford History of the United States” Thus there is here than an average reader can comfortably digest It’s written well enough to flow well and the author keeps touching base with the big picture and with themes and angles on key events and people that mark his own contribution In such a well trod arena he does a good job standing of the shoulders of giants while keeping all the scaffolding out of sight as copious references It fulfilled a need for me to get a handle on my ignorance of a 30 plus year gap between the War of 1812 through the Mexican American War 1846 48 As bookends to this period I have read a significant number of books about the American Revolution and its aftermath and a whole lot of fiction and non fiction about the Civil War and the American West in the last half of the century My reading from the period has almost entirely been about either the Napoleanic Wars in the fiction of O’Brian and Cornwell or tales of pioneers explorers and mountain men by Guthrie and McMurtry “The Big Sky” “The Berrybinder Narratives” A lot happened in this 30 plus year gap things that take the tarnish off my pride with the pioneers and Founding Fathers Especially notable was the deadly removals of most of the Indians east of the Mississippi think “Trail of Tears” and the acuisition most of the American southwest and California from Mexico as the spoils of a war we started How did we get to such a virtual genocide and imperialist takeover when we started out collaborating pretty well with the Indians and threw off the reins of British monarchy while harnessing ourselves to the noble words of “inalienable rights” and “all men are created eual”? In Philbrick’s “Mayflower” I learned of peaceful relations with the Indians for about 100 years and in Ambrose’s “Undaunted Courage” I was left amazed how the Lewis and Clarke explorations in the Louisiana Purchase was welcomed by many tribes and was almost entirely violence free The hopeful prospects of peaceful coexistence were dashed pretty well to hell in this period The birth of hemispheric hubris had its birth in this period with the formulation of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 which asserted that no new European colonies in the New World would be countenanced The other tarnish on our plucky little republic I sought to remove in this read concerns the mystery of why it took so shamefully long to end slavery and whether there wasn’t some chance to do it without the Civil WarWhat I learned is that there is some sort of inevitability to history that in the words of a David Mitchell character “the weak are meat the strong do eat” But I was refreshed that there was always an undercurrent to adverse tides that flow toward the good I also treasured was certain villains I could have every right to curse and on heroes I could root for Andrew Jackson the one most responsibly for the Indian removals and James Polk the mastermind for the great Mexican ripoff make for great bad guys for my personalized narrative unfortunately nicknamed for my favorite tree “Old Hickory” and “Young Hickory” For heroes who sought to stem the flood and moral fallout of Manifest Destiny I could cheer for John uincy Adams and Henry Clay The fertile chorus is sung by the likes of abolitionist Frederick Douglass the father of Transcendentalism Emerson and the early journalist and feminist Margaret Fuller The first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Marshall also blazed bright on some key cases that carved out legitimate independent role for the judiciary as a check to abuses of the power of executive and legislative branches Jackson and Polk my new targets for shameJackson is admired by many due to his ideals of individual sovereignty against the tyranny of the majority and corrupt power of the elite core elements of the Democratic Party he founded But ultimately he was a hypocrite and a demagogue He got his juice from as a kickass military hero though he was particularly brutal in his part in the Indian wars and overblown as a winner of the Battle of New Orleans He got away with illegally invading Spanish Florida and executed prisoners The engagement of the British in New Orleans in the War of 1812 turned out to be of limited import coming as it did after a peace treaty was already set in London For public aggrandizement he successfully painted a picture as leading a brotherhood of crackshot Kentucky volunteers to victory when in fact their militia bolted at a critical fight along a canal and were the subject of his official censure His successes came from superior artillery and steady combat by local volunteers that included freed blacks mixed Creoles slaves and French pirates He reneged on his promise to repay the free blacks for fighting with land He kept New Orleans unreasonably long under martial law and imprisoned a judge who declared it illegal Such chicanery and disregard for law marked his presidency His effort to kill the National Bank by removal of all federal funds and disbursement to “pet” banks without legislative approval earned him a formal censure by Congress but he could scoff at that It was his policies to encourage southern states to put the Indians under their laws and powers and to allow federal minions to force unfair agreements with the Indians and carry out poorly planned removal actions that led to the travesty and tragedy that resulted Indian removals involving about 46000 people between 1830 and 1835The forced travel of the Cherokees from Georgia to Oklahoma cost about 4000 lives out of 12000 The Creeks in Alabama wangled a deal for some to get land allotments and stay behind but when whites took over these lands the Creeks fought back Between the heavy military response and their own trip to Oklahoma led to about a 50% mortality The Chickasaws of Alabama agreed uickly to go but they learned no space was secured for them when they arrived so they had to buy a small reserve from the Choctaws The Seminoles in Florida hid and fought back valiantly but to no avail The cost of the US war with them was ten times than what the whole cost of all the removals was supposed to be In terms of decimation the Sac and Fox tribe was decimated the most Out of about 2000 only 150 survived when their efforts to get away from enemy Sioux by slipping into Illinois was taken as hostile and worthy of a massacre In all the US got 100 million acres from the Indians including a lot of rich farmland in exchange for 50 million acres of poor land in Oklahoma and total expenses of 70 million uite a bill for a party which wanted small government and taxes as invisible as possible But happy for voters to be able to get cheap land for tobacco and cotton plantationsPolk came into office with the goal of expanding US territory to the Pacific Coast He wanted the Brits out of much of the Oregon Territory which was under common occupation He also had a secret mission to acuire California from Spain somehow The cheap deal to take Florida in 1819 made a precedent to strip Spain of its holdings Texas declaring independence soon after Mexico gained independence itself from Spain provided Polk with annexation of the region as a state Rather than accept the Nueces River as the southern boundary of Texas he made a claim for the Rio Grande for the boundary and sent troops there The expected skirmishes with Mexicans who saw them as invaders kicked off a war that Polk planned in advance to take advantage of Despite having no standing army it took only a surprisingly modest number troops and volunteers to New Mexico and California to defeat the meager military outposts Mexico had in place The young Mexican government was poor and unstable but they refused to submit to a forced sale of the vast regions under our occupation Polk chose well when he picked Winfield Scott to mount an assault on the capital to force a defeat His amphibious invasion at Vera Cruz is admired by all military historians a scale of attack not seen again by the US until D Day While Gen Zachery Taylor bogged down while driving down from Texas Scott was effective in following the path of the Conuistadors in taking Mexico City with little pillaging or bombings of the civilian population I got a kick out of the role of Robert E Lee as an engineer who devised brilliant ways to sneak the army across lava fields and around well defended chokepoints a story portrayed wonderfully in Michael Shaara’s “Gone for Soldiers” I was pleased to learn how much public and political outcry there was against the war The Whig Party couldn’t get muck traction from the voters however Politically Polk balanced conciliatory negotiations with the Brits in the northwest ie letting them have British Columbia over the “54 40 or fight” crowd against the favorable outcome of the Mexican War The acuisition of future states of New Mexico Arizona Utah Nevada and California for about 18 million was a bounty that fed into the sea to sea Manifest Destiny conception that moralistic opponents could not reverse Polk showed a bit of slime by treating his winning generals poorly and by giving his ambassador Nicholas Trist the boot for taking the unauthorized initiative to pull off the treaty and for not including even territory specifically Baja California in the cession Another black mark for me is that he mouthed the words of deploring slavery but even while in office uietly acuired a bunch for his Kentucky plantation The new lands and new states being formed out of the Louisiana Purchase made the whole conflict over slavery worse as political forces wrangled over how many would be slave states or free which affected the balance of power in Congress For a long time a “gag rule” was applied that permitted no petitions or bills affecting slavery in existing states to even be introduced in the legislature The post office won the right to block mailing of abolitionist literature to the south The Democrats could keep a strong coalition of southern slave holding planters and northern working class voters who feared competition for jobs from freed slaves To be a national party the Whigs had to rein in the antislavery sentiments of their northern middle class constituents and push for gradual compensated emancipation to placate southern voters The absurd scheme of making a homeland for freed slaves was another serious dream pushed by politicians as far back as Monroe A few cases of violent resistance among blacks to their status eg Nat Turner’s Revolt were subject to massive retaliation and permanent paranoia of a slave revolution as seen in Haiti or the British West Indies Slavery was just too much of an economic benefit to give up Combined with the high horse of states’ rights it was unlikely that any federal legislation or Supreme Court decision could hold any sway South Carolina and other southern states kept trying to exercise the right of states to nullify any federal law they deemed unconstitutional so the seeds were sown for a crisis of secession over any federal constraint on slavery The Civil War seems to have been inevitable Still it was uplifting to see the ferment of many people and factions to end slavery Other warm feelings from this history come from many elements explored in its 800 plus pages Innovations like the telegraph canals railroads mass printing and key manufacturing processes A renaissance among writers and journalists Experiments in utopian communities The amazing diversity in religious movements provided support both for white supremacy among some groups and for universal rights among others Overall the author finds millennial thinking affected most of the populace and fed into the conception of America as a proving ground for humanity to usher in the Second Coming or to create the heaven on earth The white Protestant dominion soon had to accommodate a lot of Irish Catholic immigrants after the potato famine and Hispanics residing in the new acuisitions The God Rush in California drew polyglot multicultural populations to our shores that helped raise the concept of the US as a fertile melting pot The revolution in public education saw women expanding their minds and ambition through school The book ends with a meeting of early feminists at Seneca Falls New York to forge a revised Declaration of Independence one with women added to “all men are created eual” and assertion of their rights to work own property and vote All in all a solid read that helped dispel much ignorance on my part Personally having grown up in Oklahoma I can better appreciate the sad story of how so many tribes got corralled there As a former resident of Texas I can appreciate how a Republic of Texas came about and then got annexed As a current resident of Maine I can better understand how it came to pass it was occupied by the British in the War of 1812 and later played a part in the manufacturing revolution linked to the water power of its rivers And as an American citizen I have gained a clearer narrative for heroes and villains in its evolution toward becoming a powerful nation one with a lot of blood woven into its tapestry but full of inspiring and colorful threads

  2. says:

    In America I saw than America Tocueville explained; I sought there the image of democracy itself with its inclinations its character its prejudices and its passions in order to learn what we have to fear or to hope from its progressTocueville is uoted here in this marvelous work of history a statement made contemporaneous to the time examined 1815 1848 but one that would serve a look around today The uote also serves as a reflection of this very meticulous insightful bookThere are Heroes and Villains aplenty here and Daniel Howe doesn't waffle on who is which He paints Andrew Jackson starkly as a racist and bully cloaked in a tapestry of manners and custom Yet as Thomas Hart Benton warned I tell you Hayne when Jackson begins to talk about hanging they can begin to look for ropes But far worse was James Polk impervious to the truth This made me feel like shyly knocking on the door of the Mexican government and asking if we could give a few states back Shame on usBy sharp contrast is the portrait of John uincy Adams who continues to grow in my estimation Adams appears and re appears in this narrative as if to assure us that America in spite of it all has a conscience and a beating heart I was so taken with this book that about two thirds of the way through I went back to check the dedication because who would Howe dedicate this lifework to I found this To the Memory of John uincy Adams That made me smile and makes me smile now just thinking about itThis is a period of American history of which I have read a fair amount If that matters Howe writes with certainty and some necessary cynicism but also with humor I think he gets it right A book of this sort does its job maybe if it makes you want to read additional referenced books This did I will eventually read the rest of the 'Oxford History' series this is my third but there are also books on Adams and Polk which now seem essential And how could I resist 'Anne Royall's 1829 Trial as a Common Scold' by Elizabeth Clapp I've TBRed A Notorious Woman Anne Royall in Jacksonian America but I wish for the discontinued title I wonder if Vollmann intends to write about the Trail of Tears Did you know that there were no 'cops' before 1844? Some of these I knew; some of these I didn't But Taney is taw ney; uincy as in John uincy Adams is uinzy; Santa Anna is san TAH na; and he says Thoreau was called THAW roe Really Andrew Jackson arrived in Washington in 1829 in a carriage and left eight years later on a train It's not just personalities here but transportation and banking and religion a lot and the beginnings of feminism Polk's war on Mexico John uincy Adams believed reduced the Constitution to a menstrous sic rag He has to learn to say what he really thinks I already had this and would have read it anyhow but thanks to Michael and Caroline for the nudges This is highly recommended

  3. says:

    October 2013 Second reading remarkable entry into the history of the time full of details synthesis and well considered opinionI took a seminar with Howe and it was the finest classroom experience I have ever had He is a wise and good man The book provides a remarkable overview of the time between 1815 and 1848 Central to Howe's argument are the changes made to transport and communications that hastened all the other changes to American life during the time period The America of 1848 had been transformed in many ways by the growth of cities by the extension of the United States sovereignty across the continent by increasing ethnic and religious diversity as a result of both immigration and conuest as well as by expanding overseas and national markets and by the intergration of this vast and varied empire through dramatic and sudden improvements in communications 5 What is not central to his argument is the creation of some new kind of democracy during this time He is not a fan of Andrew Jackson and the democracy historians have claimed he created For Howe Jackson's opponents the Whigs were not aristocrats and agents of social control but those interested in managing improvement both to the self and to the nation He finds them much important to American thought and development economic than Jacksonian white supremacists In the end his account is put slightly off balance by his dislike for Jackson but it feels appropriate and right as a counterbalance to Schlesinger Sellers and Wilentz I could wish for a little criticism of the market and of the new capitalism but that has been done elsewhere especially and maybe excessively by the men already noted Howe's distaste is evident in his writing about Jackson and Van Buren where the writing remains engaged if slightly less lively as if he were completing a dirty job But Howe is remarkable with intellectual life cultural developments the nature of Whig political thought and the details and contours of religious life If the book is not as breezy as the McDougall I finished earlier this year its intellectual richness depth of detail and clear and well thought writing is than enough to keep my memories of the class with Howe alive If I did not laugh out loud uite as much as with McDougall there were many intellectual amens with Howe It is over eight hundred pages but I look forward to sitting down and reading it again very soon

  4. says:

    Imagine a vegetable that tastes pretty good maybe you can do this I can't You eat this pretty good tasting vegetable and feel both satisfied and healthy Such was my experience reading What Hath God Wrought The title comes from Samuel FB Morris's famous line which he sent over the telegraph; as author Daniel Howe points out the line was not in the form of a uestion This is a doorstop of a book at 860 pages of text It's part of the well received Oxford History of the United States of which I've only read MacPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom It's a history of the US from 1815 the battle of New Orleans and the end of the War of 1812 to 1848 the end of the Mexican American War The book is informative lucidly written and briskly paced Due to its enormous scope Howe paints with broad strokes In the first part of the book Howe argues that this period in America constituted a communication revolution which is a thread he never fully develops choosing instead to pick it up and drop it off at various points At the end of the book he states he didn't set out to argue a thesis which I'd disagree with; he set out to argue he just failed but rather he set out to write a narrative Again I disagree this is not a narrative history in the sense it tells a flowing forward moving story Instead it is a diverse analysis of various events people movements and inventions He talks about women religion slaves literature the theater medicine politics the economy with a little bit of fighting tossed in here and there Howe devotes entire chapters to some of these subjects with the result that there are chronological leaps hence my contention this is not a narrative; or perhaps it is a series of small narratives For instance Howe has a chapter called The Awakenings of Religion In this chapter he talks about revivals millennial movements the great preachers eg Lyman Beecher and the evolution of various religious sects This calls for a separate timeline than the rest of the book; that is he'll talk about religion during the presidencies of John uincy Adams through James Polk then in the next chapter you'll be back in the presidency of AdamsThe book is exhausting in its determination to tell of this period of American history from all viewpoints By which I mean the stories of women and blacks usually relegated to special college courses are thoroughly told But don't worry if you care about the travails of dead white men they're all here At times the breadth becomes too much and you just want the book to focus For instance during the chapter on the Mexican War Howe devotes several paragraphs to the role of women in the war The brevity of the reference leads one to the assumption there wasn't much of a story to tell aside from a probably apochyphal story about a Mexican War Molly Pitcher All it does it break the flow of the story and forces Howe to toe the line between being a responsible historian and being politically correct The trouble with any book with academic pretensions is that it tends to come untethered from humanity Howe avoids this pitfall by starting each chapater with vignettes of average people living during these periods and by uoting freely from diaries He also does a respectable job of giving thumbnail biographies of the great personages of his day I especially liked his take on James K Polk which was uite even handed He showed him as one of our hardest working most efficient presidents in one term he acuired land for the US than any other president including TJ's Louisiana purchase and Andy Johnson's purhcase of Alaska; but he also described Polk's petty vindictive side such as his conniving with southern racistmilitia general Gideon Pillow to discredit Winfield Scott One of the great services of this book is tearing Andrew Jackson down from his pedestal and putting him in the pig pen where he deserves For whatever reason it's lately become okay to respect him I don't understand this The fact he's on the 20 is an insult Thankfully due to the economy I don't have to look at his ugly stinking horse like face Howe shows Jackson for what he was a barely educated twit; a possible sociopath the executions of Arbuthnot and Ambrister; his countless duels; a hypocritic adulterer; and an unreconstituted racist I am convinced Jackson destroyed the Second Bank of the United States because he was too dumb to understand finance The crowning achievement of Jackson's presidency was the Indian Removal Act which led to the Cherokee Indians who had developed white customs a written language and started farming like we told them to being forced to march to Oklahoma This was the Trail of Tears Thousands died When he left office Jackson said the greatest danger to America were abolitionists He appointed Roger Taney author of Dred Scott v Sandford to the Supreme Court Dear Andy Jackson thanks for your age of Democracy Jerk Howe also does much to rehabilitate the reputation of John uincy Adams Here Howe goes a bit overboard he overplays his hand by dedicating the book to JA I suppose though it's understandable since Howe wrote a book on the Whigs John Adam's son was certainly a witty man When it came to slavery he called the Constitution a menstruous rag Indeed Howe shrewdly positions JA and the Whig party as the forebears of abolition and women's rights Indeed one young Whig named Lincoln went on to do pretty well with the Republican party Winfield Scott is also rescued from the dustbin of history and repositioned as perhaps the greatest American general of all time Howe makes a decent case though Scott was a Whig so Howe was probably biased It is interesting though that Robert E Lee Virginian who betrayed his country and helped lead an unconstitutional revolt against the Federal Government is today revered and counted among our heroes while Winfield Scott Virginian who stayed loyal to his country and created the Anaconda Plan that Lincoln used to strangle the South during the Civil War is mostly forgottenThe lasting achievement of this book is taking a long hard critical look at a mostly forgotten gap in American history Now I hope that Oxford will fill in the period between 1848 and 1861

  5. says:

    What Hath God Wrought The Transformation of America 1815 1848by Daniel Walker HoweThe invention of electric telegraphy coming near the close of the period treated here represented a climactic moment in the widespread revolution of communications Other features of this revolution included improvements in printing and paper manufacturing; the multiplication of newspapers magazines and books; and the expansion of the postal system which mostly carried newspapers and commercial business to personal letters Closely related to these developments occurred a simultaneous revolution in transportation; the introduction of steamboats canals turnpikes and railroads shortening travel times and dramatically lowering shipping costs How these twin revolutions transformed American life will be the story told here Page 2“What Hath God Wrought” the title of this book refers to the first transmission by telegraph by Samuel Morse in 1844 The theme of this book is that the improvements in communications and transportation had major benefits to the development of the countryThis is a very dynamic time in the history of our country Slavery was the pandemic of the times white supremacy was rampant religious furor was probably at its peak the bitter partisanship of our political system took root and we read about the birth of the Democratic party This at a time when the literacy rate for the people of the United States was the highest in the world Where the United States was the only place in the world where the literacy rate for women eualed that of men These developments served the American nationalism and continental ambitions which are described hereIn this book we are introduced to Abraham Lincoln Here the book keeps with its theme of improvements in transportation and communications Lincoln first left home for a job clerking in the tiny town of New Salam With no connection to any transportation the town ended a ghost town This experience turns him into an ardent supporter of internal improvementsThe revolution in communication and transportation also helped the antislavery movement The mass production of printed material made people aware of the horrible existence of slavery in the United States Also improved transportation allowed speakers to travel widely spreading their viewsThere is a chapter about religions in the United States that I found a little boring but I drudged through and found a couple of interesting points One was that the various religious sects may have contributed some to the various divisions in the country The other was some observations by visiting Europeans Francis Trollope Harriet Martineau Francis Wright Alexis de Tocueville and Charles Dickens that Americans seemed to be obsessed with the pursuit of the “Almighty Dollar” This was at the expense of enjoying conversations or meals See Page 310Another chapter about religion revealed the way religion affected education Public education was established in the New England states but not in the south In some cases early in the period the education system was financed by government but this was a protestant effort With the increase in Catholic immigrants Catholic schools also looked for financing by the government but the government refused the same aid to Catholic schools so they eliminated all financing for any religious institutionA reader once mentioned that reading History freuently led to opening new avenues of interest In my case this journey into early American history has introduced me to some interesting biographies This book introduced Supreme Court Chief Justice John MarshallAnd then there was Andrew Jackson I felt like I was reading a primer for the Trump presidency My ignorance of this period is readily apparent in that I had no idea what this president was like or that he founded the Democratic Party In a time of widespread protest over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis I read that this period had the removal of Native Americans from their historic lands in the Southern United States and rabid White Supremacy The importance of the Supreme Court goes without saying but Jackson packed the Supreme Court with like minded people thus perpetuating his ideas of State Sovereignty for years I am not sure the writers of the Constitution saw that comingThis book became very hard for me to read The descriptions of and treatment of slaves and Native Americans and just the overall description of white supremacy is not something I need to read again and again Even some descriptions of the Abolitionist movement included the fact that the North did not advocate for emancipation because they were afraid of the Africans Americans moving north and taking their jobs Likewise it is mentioned that the new territories resisted the introduction of slavery because of the competition for jobs and wages and the Southern States were against the annexation or capturing of Mexico because they did not want all the Mexican people populating their countryAn interesting chapter describes an American Renaissance The highlight here was a description of a Concord Massachusetts sect that included Emerson and Thoreau For those with a religious bent it describes Emerson in a graduation speech at Harvard taking on John Locke He challenged Locke’s philosophy when he said that religious faith came before not after any belief in the miracles described in the bible “To aim to convert a man by miracles is a profanation of the soul” page 621This section is concluded with the statementThe writings of the Transcendentialists affirm some of the best ualities characteristic of American civilization self reliance a willingness to uestion authority a uest for spiritual nourishment Their writings even today urge us to independent reflection in the face of fads conformity blind partisanship and mindless consumerism Page 626There are parts of that statement which seemed contradictory but the last sentence stood out for meThe chapter also includes a description of the early libraries In a statement that should warm the hearts of any GoodReads members it says “by the 1840s perhaps sooner the United States possessed the largest literate public of any nation in the world history” page 627This is the third volume of the Oxford History of the United States I have read this year covering the late 18th and 19th centuries This is the best of those 3 but it is a difficult book to review I generally like historical surveys of periods I am unfamiliar with — it gives me a ten thousand foot view of the period This book covered a lot of years and a lot of topics Several of the topics were covered in depth which made for a long read I picked some of the highlights that I found particularly interesting but there were several that deserve attention Andrew Jackson’s defense of New Orleans the annexation of Florida the building of the Erie Canal the Indian Removal program of Jackson’s the annexation of Texas where we can relive the Disney version of Davy Crockett and the Alamo and the War with Mexico which is describes as a rehearsal for the Civil War There is an interesting detailed section at the end on the birth of the Women’s Suffrage movementThe author ends with a summary that the aggressive imperialism of Americans was a result of their concern for the future They wanted new land for the expanding population But the desire was not just expansion of land it also included improvements in the uality of life Dealing with the institution of slavery would have to wait History is made both from the bottom up and from the top down and historians must take account of both in telling their stories page 853

  6. says:

    This is the fifth volume in the excellent Oxford History of the United States and the lengthy description of the book above provides a good overall view of the work; there's no real need to repeat all of that here Howe has thoroughly mastered the literature of the period and he writes a compelling account of the nation's development during these critical years Howe's emphasis on the importance of the revolution in transportation and communications during the period seems spot on But in his sanctification of John uincy Adams and his criticisms of Andrew Jackson James K Polk and their respective supporters he seems a bit too willing to read back into the past the values of twenty first century America There is no doubt of the fact that many early Nineteenth century Americans if not the majority of them often thought and acted in ways that would now be deemed politically incorrect if not downright shameful But placed in the context of their own times rather than our ours they may perhaps deserve at least a little sympathy or at least a little understanding than Howe is willing to allow them

  7. says:

    This is a true cultural history not merely a political or economic history as so much of the literature on Jacksonian America is Daniel Walker Howe takes ideas and mediated experience seriously and he has an especially good ear for religion which is indispensable to a study of the period's politics as Lee Benson showed many years agoHowe is an unabashed admirer of the Whigs In fact he rejects the term Jacksonian America rightly in my opinion and even dedicates this book to the memory of John uincy Adams He pulls no punches in documenting the Jackson Democrats' contempt for the rights of women blacks foreigners and Native Americans Neither does he shirk from pointing out Andrew Jackson's self absorption rejection of the rule of law and disastrous notions about economics Howe is though less attentive to the ideas of some Democratic journalists and theorists than I would like For that I recommend Liberty and Power The Politics of Jacksonian America by Harry L WatsonThis is a long book but well written In many respects I see it as a love letter to America not to a mythical America of virtuous subsistence farmers pious orthodox Christians or contented Negroes and dastardly Indians but rather to the unpredictable deeply flawed America that always has been and most of all to the better and freer America that has always existed in the dreams of its citizens

  8. says:

    Very interesting Certainly a different take on the time than Sean Wilentz' The Rise of American Democracy The Presidents can be summed up suchlyMadison Monroe intentionally opaueAdams high mindedJackson authoritarianvan Buren political fixerHarrison fatally long windedTyler WiNO Whig in Name OnlyPolk suspicious acuisitive paranoid plotterHowe is as nasty to Jackson as Wilentz was sweet; President Jackson only comes off well during the Nullification CrisisHe also devotes a lot of coverage to religion in America; very important to an understanding of the time

  9. says:

    This book covers about thirty three years between the end of the War of 1812 until the aftermath of our war with Mexico in 1848 These years are sometimes considered by those with shallow historical knowledge to be merely the time which transpired from the early nineteenth century until the beginnings of the Civil War but in fact it was a time of fundamental change in the country Howe's work is sweeping in scope and minute in detail in its descriptions of the epic political and economic changes of the time and always authoritativeThe primary driving forces of Howe's narrative are the twin revolutions which occurred in transportation and communications Steam power led to the invention of the locomotive and the beginning of the end of the need for wind to propel ships The invention of the electric telegraph decoupled communication from transportation; that is communication speed was no longer limited by how fast an object could be physically transported The book's title is taken from the message sent by Samuel FB Morse a world class painter who dabbled as an inventor and put the telegraph to commercial use in his message from Washington DC to Balti on May 24 1844 Howe demonstrates that Morse's lifting of a uote from the Biblical book of Numbers was not an accident as it reflected the opinions of many Americans who saw the huge expansion of the nation's territory by that date as the fulfillment of a providential or heavenly destiny In practice the telegraph lowered the cost of business transactions by providing an efficient alternative to what we would now call snail mail; enabled farmers and planters to sell their products in far off markets; gave the new railroads an ability to schedule trains effectively; and facilitated the growth of newspapers which in turn enabled the growth of political parties Howe ascribes an importance to this development to be on a par with the internet revolution of the following century American society was liberated from the tyranny of distance which plagued civilization for thousands of years This era is sometimes described as the Age of Jackson in recognition of the figure who dominated political thought and with his friend Martin Van Buren built a political machinery which won and held control of the presidency most of those years Howe bristles at typical references to Jacksonian Democracy concerning the power of the popular vote in choosing a president for the first time and the channeling of ideology into two dominant political parties As Howe states there was no democracy for the huge number of slaves or for the great majority of free blacks living in the country; neither were women given the chance to participate in democratic elections Howe early and often ascribes the focus of Andrew Jackson's presidency reflected later in the administration of James Polk as a dedication to the preservation and extension of African American slavery and expropriation of Native Americans and Mexicans Andrew Jackson's primary goal at the start of his presidency was removal of the Indians living in the then American Southwest that is the Southern states east of the Mississippi River Before the end of his two terms he would use the powers of the US government to dispossess about 46000 members of a racial minority who he considered an impediment to national growth His successor Van Buren would expel a like number of natives; in return they would gain 100 million acres of prime farmland for land speculators to sell to white settlers The fascinating rise of Jackson's political career is covered in detail in the early part of the book Jackson became an instant celebrity for his defeat of a seasoned British armed force at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 The War of 1812 was economically devastating for the Americans There were some notable American naval victories against the British but most land campaigns were failures culminating with the humiliating loss and destruction of Washington DC to the Brits Small wonder then that the public latched upon the general who won the greatest battle as the hero of the war Jackson would eventually ride his popularity as Washington had before all the way to the White House; his accomplishment would be copied in the scope of this book by William Henry Harrison the hero of Battle of the Thames and Tippecanoe and Zachary Taylor the hero of Buena Vista Political alignments were in flux in the country when Jackson ran for the Presidency The old two party system of Hamiltonian Federalists and Jefferson Republicans had broken down The Federalists had made a bad judgement in their opposition to the War of 1812 and had dissolved After the War James Monroe had enjoyed governing in the political vacuum of the Era of Good Feelings His successor John uincy Adams wanted to continue to govern by consensus as Washington and Monroe had enjoyed but his inability to rise to the challenges of his growing opposition ensured he would not be reelected Jackson running for the office in 1828 had no ualms about declaring warfare against those who stood in the way of his programsEssentially what occurred was a division of the one political party the Republicans into factions by the time Adams left office Defenders of his administration referred to themselves as National Republicans representing the continuing nationalism that arose from the experience of the War of 1812 By the time that war had ended there were many and Adams was their leader who saw the shortcomings in the nation's transportation and manufacturing infrastructure as damaging to the country's war effort and impediments to future economic progress The John uincy AdamsHenry Clay faction was opposed by those who followed the banner of JacksonVan BurenJohn C Calhoun the pro slavery Democratic Republicans who believed in continuing the old state rights tradition of the Old Republicans By 1834 defections would occur in Jackson's now named Democratic Party in response to the president's placing of the government's political power into the hands of his close friends nicknamed the kitchen cabinet and his placing of the old National Bank's funds into the hands of bankers friendly to his administration The political opposition to Jackson with the addition of the disaffected Democrats would adopt the name Whigs for the traditional term for critics of executive usurpations As Howe states the Whigs and Democrats would constitute the nation's two major political parties for the next twenty years The most spectacular expansion of American territory under the guise of Manifest Destiny occurred during James Polk's administration Howe calls Polk the most successful President ever due to his attainment of all of the ambitious objectives he established before his inauguration He would ultimately successfully settle the Oregon uestion with Great Britain establishing the present northwestern boundary between the United States and Canada; reduce the Tariff to a revenue basis; complete the permanent establishment of an Independent Treasury; and acuire California The last goal was not even announced prior to the 1844 election Polk was a master at keeping key points of his policies close to his vest He masterfully carried on high stakes diplomacy simultaneously with Great Britain and Mexico on the OregonTexas boundary issues and perfectly timed a settlement on Oregon to coincide with his invasion of Mexico America would have a whole new Southwest by the end of Polk's first term but his accomplishments would sink his presidency and make the Civil War inevitable The very war which fulfilled the imperial ambitions of Polk and his Democrats created dissension in his own party; he was replaced by a Whig general Taylor who had become a public hero The acuisition of California would become a rallying point for the growing uproar over introducing slavery into new territoriesstatesHowe's contention is that the Democrats dominated American policy during these years but America's future was represented by the lineage of Whigs from John uincy Adams to Abraham Lincoln who favored a strong national government and economic modernization The Whig tradition would also be the basis of humane laws provide access to education end the expansion of slavery and begin the process of greater euality for women The advances in transportation and communications as Howe shows greatly aided the spread of the religious revivalist movement we call the Second Great Awakening A result was a fundamental increase in the percentage of Americans who belonged to churches and also to a reawakening of conscience among those who saw slavery as evil; the antislavery movement then fostered the women's movement What seems obvious now was not even envisioned by the beginning of the nineteenth century However religion can push for conservative thinking as well as progressivism and that is what happened in America in the wake of the great wave of Christian revivalism The same dichotomy applies to political reform The rise of mass political parties and popular voting for presidential electors broadened democracy among those allowed to vote but allowed white male supremacy to remain entrenched across the country We can make change happen but we cannot always know what will grow from it Howe reminds us that history works on a long time scale

  10. says:

    Howe takes us through America’s transition from a rural nation of family farmers to one in the throes of industrialization urbanization the communications and transportation revolution increasingly diverse immigration emerging religious plurality millennialism the birth of the women’s rights movement powerful political parties and intense divisive politics ethnic cleansing imperialism dependence on king cotton and slavery and disingenuous self serving presidents By 1848 America had already become a nation the founding fathers could not have envisioned Howe’s detailed and comprehensive recounting of US history from 1815 to 1848 digs into the cultural and social issues as well as the economic and political Two themes stood out to me 1 greed as a primary driver of slavery ethnic cleansing imperialism and political divisiveness; 2 the impact of the Second Great Awakening and the transportation and communication revolutions on social valuesSlavery became firmly entrenched due to the immense profitability of cotton under the plantation system Prior to this the evil nature of slavery and the idea of eventual emancipation were widely accepted in America But greed changes everything It led to the virulent defense of slavery using the rationalization that blacks lacked the capacity to prosper on their own and that slavery was white paternalism It led to the divisive politics that fought against the national bank and all government programs aimed at economic development least the bank or government become powerful enough to challenge the slave owners Those who would profit from land to grow cotton from breeding and selling slaves and from land speculation found their advocate in Andrew Jackson who fulfilled their wishes by taking that land from the Indians who were brutally removed Later the need to expand slavery to protect the profits of plantation owners would empower James Polk to instigate a war with Mexico resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands and displacing most of the Mexicans in the captured territory The importance to the South of keeping the federal government small created deep political divisions A polarized electorate made Jackson president in 1828 in what Howe called the dirtiest election in American history The Jacksonian Democratic Party believed private enterprise and the sates alone were responsible for economic investment Thus Jackson gutted the national bank which would not be authorized again until the South seceded In opposition the defeated president John uincey Adams and others who believed in federal government investment in America formed the Whig Party The Whig’s were strongest in the industrializing North where businessmen believed the federal government should be an instrument of progress The Democrats were strongest in the agrarian South where plantation owners saw the federal government as a disruptive force that could only damage their fortunes This argument about the role of the federal government is just as divisive today as it was thenIndustrialization led to profound social change Textile mills to process Southern cotton began sprouting up in New England employing young “mill girls” While working long hours for low wages this was still an opportunity for independence for women that had never existed before The industrial revolution was accelerated by the transportation revolution Canals such as the Erie Canal completed in 1825 and the railroads beginning in1829 made feasible production for distant markets Factories began to displace family and village businesses leading to the creation of the middle class and the role of the housewife when women no longer were co workers in the family farm or craft Then the communications revolution took off with the telegraph in 1844 enabling a robust market economy connecting buyers and sellers instantaneously The telegraph facilitated the formation of mass political parties and the rapid growth of social movements now that they could get their message out uickly The country was launched on a trajectory of ever accelerating change The Protestant religious revival known as The Second Great Awakening began addressing social issues in order to prepare for the millennium when Christ would return This reform movement provided an opening for free blacks and slaves to demand freedom and led to the founding of the African Methodist Episcopal church the first denomination formed by African Americans Protestantism’s advocacy of Bible reading had significantly increased literacy especially among women who now could take important roles in reformist churches and as authors advocating women’s issues This led to the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement in 1848 That year the Seneca Falls convention began the struggle for woman’s suffrage Nineteen year old Charlotte Woodward drove a wagon from her farm to attend She would be the only original signer of the convention’s Declaration of Sentiments who would survive to vote in the 1920 election 1848 was a watershed year in other ways as well The addition of Mexican territories brought to a head national division over slavery beginning with the Wilmot Proviso and ending in the Civil War A third event was the Irish potato famine which brought huge numbers of Catholics to Protestant America resulting in nativism gang warfare and deep ethnic political polarization that also contributed to the war Fourthly the discovery of gold in California led to rapid development of the West and the first significant Asian immigration The old fights over federal government investment in “improvements” and tariffs to support industrialization fell by the wayside Territorial expansion made slavery the dominant issue The Whigs would give way to the Republicans John uincy Adams died in 1848 collapsing on the floor of the House where he was serving with fellow Whig first term Congressman Abraham Lincoln symbolizing the transition into a new period in American history