A grand political history in a fresh new style of how the elitist young American republic became a rough-and-tumble democracy.In this magisterial work, Sean Wilentz traces a historical arc from the earliest days of the republic to the opening shots of the Civil War. One of our finest writers of history, Wilentz brings to life the era after the American Revolution, when the idea of democracy remained contentious, and Jeffersonians and Federalists clashed over the role of ordinary citizens in government of, by, and for the people. The triumph of Andrew Jackson soon defined this role on the national level, while city democrats, Anti-Masons, fugitive slaves, and a host of others hewed their own local definitions. In these definitions Wilentz recovers the beginnings of a discontenttwo starkly opposed democracies, one in the North and another in the Southand the wary balance that lasted until the election of Abraham Lincoln sparked its bloody resolution. 75 illustrations.
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Sean Wilentz is the George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History at Princeton University and author of the Bancroft Prize–winning The Rise of American Democracy, Bob Dylan in America, and many other works. He is completing his next book, No Property in Man, on slavery, antislavery, and the Constitution, based on his Nathan I. Huggins Lectures delivered at Harvard in 2015.From Publishers Weekly:
As the revolutionary fervor of the war for independence cooled, the new American republic, says Princeton historian Wilentz, might easily have hardened into rule by an aristocracy. Instead, the electoral franchise expanded and the democratic creed transformed every aspect of American society. At its least inspired, this ambitious study is a solid but unremarkable narrative of familiar episodes of electoral politics. But by viewing political history through the prism of democratization, Wilentz often discovers illuminating angles on his subject. His anti-elitist sympathies make for some lively interpretations, especially his defense of the Jacksonian revolt against the Bank of the United States. Wilentz unearths the roots of democratic radicalism in the campaigns for popular reform of state constitutions during the revolutionary and Jacksonian eras, and in the young nation's mess of factional and third-party enthusiasms. And he shows how the democratic ethos came to pervade civil society, most significantly in the Second Great Awakening, "a devotional upsurge... that can only be described as democratic." Wilentz's concluding section on the buildup to the Civil War, which he presents as a battle over the meaning of democracy between the South's "Master Race" localism and the egalitarian nationalism of Lincoln's Republicans, is a tour-de-force, a satisfying summation and validation of his analytical approach. 75 illus. not seen by PW. (Oct.)
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