The excellent volume in the Oxford History of the United States covers the period from the creation of the Constitution through the War of 1812. This 26 year period saw many changes take place in the United States. During this time George Washington served as President and helped to define that office. The first three presidents managed to keep the United States out of the wars that defined and tore Europe apart for over 25 years. Under Thomas Jefferson the nation doubled in size with the Louisiana Purchase. Advances were made in science, literature, religion, law, and politics. Few realize how important these years were. During this time an experiment in governing a large number of people spread out over a vast territory with a representational government.
Gordon Wood is an excellent historian and this volume is proof that he is a great writer. The book covers a great deal of material, but never comes across as a dry academic text. The various sections give a great overview of the period and the people. The book is organized along topics more than a strict timeline, though the topics do follow a chronological order. The chapters on the Judiciary and on Religion were very good and quite balanced. There is a lot of helpful information that many Americans would do well to learn. This is a book that every American ought to read.
The phrase “What Hath God Wrought” was the first message sent long distance over the telegraph. This was in some ways the beginning of the communications age. This book covers the period from 1815 to 1848. Many viewed the War of 1812 as the second American Revolution. In the aftermath of that war the American nation began to grow quickly. By the end of the period another war would be fought. This one with Mexico. That war would complete what we today call the Continental United States.
This period is rich in American history. The nation grew in size, but also in many other areas. Religion flourished in many new and differing ways. An American culture began to grow in the areas of science, literature, and the arts. The tasks of governing a Republic of vast proportions was a novel concept and continued to perplex many leaders. This period saw the end of the Federalist party with the government becoming a one party system with the Republican party in control during the Monroe years. After that the Republican party split itself in two as the followers of Andrew Jackson created the Democrat party and the opponents of Jackson creating the Whig party. Some of the greatest orators and politicians of 19th century America lived and served in this time. It was the period of Jackson, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John Calhoun, and John Quincy Adams. Towards the end of the period new leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas began to rise.
Slavery was the elephant in the room that could no longer be ignored. As abolitionist societies began to grow in the North the Southern planter class become more and more adamant about protecting slavery. This conflict would continue to pull at the fabric of the nation until, a dozen years after the final period of this book, it would tear the nation in two.
These are only a few of the areas covered by Daniel Walker Howe in this outstanding volume in the Oxford History of the United States. Even a seasoned reader of history is bound to discover some new gems in these pages. Howe’s prose is never wooded and the subject is made very accessible. With magnificent books like these it is a shame that so few Americans read history. This is a great place to begin the study of a crucial time in our nation’s history.
The Battle of New Orleans is a strange battle to discuss. It was the last battle in the War of 1812. It was fought after the war had actually ended. Since transportation was so slow the news of the war’s end did not arrive in time to prevent the battle. One one side were the invaders. General Packinham led an army of battle hardened British soldiers. Many of them had campaigned against the French armies in Portugal, Spain, and France with the Duke of Wellington. They were not an army used to defeat. Against that force was General Andrew Jackson of Tennessee. Jackson had assembled a motley crew of Louisiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky volunteers, US Army regulars, Baratarian pirates, and Choctaw warriors. When on January 8, 1815 the 11,000 man British force attacked it was repulsed with heavy losses by the Americans.
Winston Groom, best known as author of Forrest Gump takes the reader on a fascinating ride through the story of this war. Groom introduces the conflict by discussing an ancestor of his who fought at the battle. Then he gives a long background on the history of Jean Laffite and his Baratarians. He discusses the city of New Orleans, the background of the war, Andrew Jackson, and a host of other things. Groom is a brilliant author and his prose really shines forth in this book. He doesn’t pretend to be a professional historian. Where the records are confusing or contradictory, which is often, he gives several possibilities and then shares which one he like best. This is a great book about a fascinating battle. Do yourself a favor and read this.
Grant is one of the most underrated heroes of American history. He is usually remembered as a drunk, a butcher, or an incompetent, who had one of the most corrupt presidential administrations ever. There's a grain of truth in some of these — Grant did have a drinking problem earlier in his life; his final push to end the Civil War resulted in appalling casualties; and many of the men he picked for his administration betrayed his trust. (No evidence about the incompetence, except with money: he was a brilliant general and a wonderful writer.)
But Grant remains a hero: personally honest, a devoted husband and father, a courageous soldier, a brilliant strategist, and totally committed to Lincoln's vision for ending the war. H. W. Brands demonstrates his remarkable virtues in chapter after fast-moving chapter. Even his presidency gets more positive attention than usual: among other things, he broke the power of the Ku Klux Klan in the postwar south.
And of course there's the inspiring story of his battle with bankruptcy and cancer and his struggle to complete his memoirs before succumbing to the final assault. Their subsequent publication (by Mark Twain) ensured the prosperity of his family for many years after his death.
H. W. Brands tells the story as much as possible in the words of the participants. Every biographer of Grant will quote from the same letters and journals and memoirs; but usually these are snippets interspersed with summary and interpretation. Brands is more generous in his quotations, presenting whole paragraphs and even groups of paragraphs. The result is an exceptionally vivid account. Brands has captured him in motion.
Stephen Hoye narrates briskly and with a lot more passion than is usual in nonfiction. It's an audiobook I plan to return to again and again.