Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Mad Historian's Athenaeum, Vol. 1, No. 14

Howe, Daniel W. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. Oxford: New York, 2007. xviii + 904 ppg.

            Daniel Walker Howe’s entry into the Oxford History of the United States is another tome that meets the high standards of historical scholarship which is so indicative of the series. Howe, Rhodes Professor American History Emeritus, Oxford University and Professor of History Emeritus, University of California, Los Angeles earned the Pulitzer Prize for this outstanding volume. A sweeping coverage of a period of great transformation in American history, this volume continues to show how change has been a continuing theme in American history. This theme is a constant throughout the series. Particular themes that Howe covers in this volume revolve around technological advances and the early years of the Industrial Revolution in America. Religion is given a major examination as the Second Great Awakening transformed the morality of the nation and enhanced a nascent abolitionist movement from a tiny voice in the wilderness that became an exceedingly loud clamor.

            The Era of Good Feelings and Jacksonian Era are both covered in this volume. The developments in the historical field are reflected in this volume as social, cultural, religious, economic, political, and military histories are all given attention. The development of the nation accelerated after the War of 1812 as many of the obstacles to western expansion were removed including any protection for Native Americans who inhabited lands coveted by whites. Howe covers the incredible racism of this tragedy in detail. While advocates of American Exceptionalism will criticize this volume for its treatment of these historical events, Howe draws up the historical record and primary sources in his interpretation of this era. The result is one that rejects American Exceptionalism.

            Howe also goes into some depth in explaining how American politics worked in conjunction with changing economic differences within the country. The differences between North and South are given attention as slavery slowly faded in the North while growing in the South. He also explains how slavery was barely prevented from becoming legal in Illinois when it became a state and why. This establishes the growing schism between sections as political differences began to grow of the issue of slavery. However, as Howe is careful to note, they were kept in check as long as a balance of power was maintained. He ends the volume by covering the Mexican War which was brought on by the annexation of the Republic of Texas. 

            This is important because it was the expansion of slavery that would result in the American Civil War. The annexation of Texas was a deliberate expansion of slavery within the US and the Mexican War was another Southern attempt at expanding slavery which they felt was vital to its continuation as an economic system. Howe’s treatment of this issue again reveals skillful use of primary sources which have given historians a pretty accurate picture of what was going on concerning this period of time. There will be those who disagree with Howe’s assessment, but the facts are as Howe explains. 

            I am happy to include this volume in my library. As with all the volumes of this series, this entry is a good overall view of the time in question and makes for a good reference book. Unfortunately, the sheer magnitude of events precluded Howe from writing a larger book, but that would have taken additional volumes in itself. Howe’s work is a good synopsis for readers interested in examining the overall themes of this time. 

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