Title: What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848
Author: Daniel Walker Howe
Categories: Jacksonian America, Whigs, Economic History, Political History, Religion, Reform, National System, Western Expansion, Communications Revolution
Place: United States
Time Period: 1815-1848
Daniel Walker Howe writes a sweeping synthesis of America between the conclusion of the War of 1812 and the Mexican American War in 1848. In doing so he works explicitly in an historiographic vein of Jacksonian democracy by taking an oppositional viewpoint from Arthur Schlesinger Jr.'s The Age of Jackson, Charles Sellers' The Market Revolution, and Sean Wilentz's The Rise of American Democracy. He differs from all three in castigating Andrew Jackson's Democrats not as champions of spreading democracy but primarily as agents of violent, exploitative white supremacy. In contrast, he champions the Whig party as one that best embodied the era by pointing towards a path of America's future.
More broadly, Howe optimistically views this period as one of a communications revolution spurred on by a booming, prosperous economy. Acting as a positive force as a kind of fertilizer, communications developments such as canals, railroads, the telegraph, and the press helped to facilitate a flourishing of popular religious and reform movements that Howe is sympathetic to. Much like Joyce Appleby in Inheriting the Revolution, he sees this period as one in which Americans tended to embrace rapid economic change rather than shun it (a tendency best embodied by the commercial and infrastructural vision of the Whig's National System). John Quincy Adams and the Whiggish "Improvers" are the hero of Howe's story. Influenced by the Second Great Awakening and postmillenialism's faith in the ability for human improvement and advancement, these men and women optimistically saw themselves as carrying forward divine mandates to better American society.
Key Themes and Concepts
- "Communications revolution" - lays foundation for growth of political democracy
- Postmillenialism as dominant evangelical theme - perfecting the self AND society
- Whigs and John Quincy Adams as embodying the age and future path of America rather than Jackson
- Andrew Jackson as an authoritarian champion of extending white supremacy over the continent so that all white males could enjoy spoils, regardless of birth or education
- Market economy as a positive development as a kind of fertilizer
U.S. History Qualifying Exams: Book Summaries
by Cameron Blevins
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