Jonathan's Reviews > What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848

What Hath God Wrought by Daniel Walker Howe
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's review
Feb 21, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: academic-reading-and-research, pulitzer-prize, jacksonian-america, oxford-history-of-the-united-states
Read in February, 2008

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 ago).

Howe 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 Quincy 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. Watson.)

This 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.
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