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The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to…

The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (edition 2006)

by Sean Wilentz

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713620,126 (3.9)9
Title:The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln
Authors:Sean Wilentz
Info:W. W. Norton (2006), Edition: Reprint, Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:American politics, History

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The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln by Sean Wilentz

Recently added byprivate library, custercar, skirmishgirl, BobClarkeLibrary, vhl219, gabe5525, SquireA, RogerOwen
  1. 10
    The Age of Jackson by Arthur Meier Schlesinger Jr. (MarkStickle)
    MarkStickle: Wilentz is largely Schlesinger warmed-over, at greater length and not as well-written. Curiously, in nearly 1000 pages we never learn exactly what Wilentz means by 'democracy' and who exactly the concept includes. In its Jeffersonian and Jacksonian incarnation it certainly does NOT encompass women, blacks, or native Americans.… (more)
  2. 00
    Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South by Christopher Dickey (bks1953)

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Princeton professor Sean Wilentz here presents the in-depth story of the turn in American politics toward democracy. I suppose it is relatively well-known that the Founding Fathers (especially, say, John Adams) considered the phrase "democratic government" simply another way of saying "mob rule." Rules governing enfranchisement were written into the early state's charters…rules specifically designed to exclude persons of color and the poor from having a voice in government.
However, from its inception—no matter how much the Founding Fathers feared its outcome—a deeply democratic impulse was a key engine of American political development. However, this impulse took different forms: in fact, it might be more accurate to speak of American democracies, ultimately rooted in the differing socioeconomic spheres of the city and the country.
Wilentz demonstrates how this fundamental struggle to define American democracy shaped every major early American political debate the rise (and fall) of the federal banking systems, labor, and—most importantly—slavery. In particular, Wilentz I think does a fine job of demonstrating how the American Civil War was rooted in both concerns about state's rights and about slavery. He is also adamant that, though the break was an outworking of the "city" and "country" democracies birthed in the nation's founding, the institutionalization of slavery and white racial superiority was fundamental to the founding of the Confederate States of America; in the twisted logic of the time, the establishment of white superiority was seen as necessary to preserving true democratic rule.
On one level, this book is spectacularly well-done. The writing is clear, the research is meticulous (nearly 200 pages of endnotes are provided!), and his characterizations of the key figures are lively and even entertaining. However, at another level, the amount of detail can be almost excruciating for non-specialist readers like me. To be honest, I reached a point where I continued to read the book simply because I had read so much already that I felt that I must see it through. I'm glad that I did, but I knew that I was not probably getting as much benefit from Wilentz's work as I could or would have if I would have had a better background in the history of the period.
At the end of the day, I must give the book high marks, recognizing that any fault I found with it more relates to my poor preparation as a reader than to any flaw with the book itself. I would definitely say this is a book for connoisseurs not dilettantes. Wilentz shows that American politics has, from our birth, been infinitely complex, shaped by the forces of stalwart principle and expedient compromise.
Perhaps the most important part of the book for me was found in the final chapter, where Wilentz demonstrates how Abraham Lincoln saw himself as the inheritor of Thomas Jefferson's mantle. Many postmoderns have noted the oddity (and seeming hypocrisy) that the man who penned the Declaration of Independence with its self-evident truth that "all men are created equal" still owned slaves. However, Wilentz's story shows both how Jefferson was not hypocritical in his own time and yet laid the foundation for the rise of American democracy that eventually demanded the end of slavery. I'm left to ponder the reality that, like the writers of Scripture, it is possible that Jefferson wrote "better than he knew," his words giving shape to a reality even he couldn't see at the time. It causes me to ponder the nature of the continuing work of the Spirit as a reality of human life, and wonder where might the Spirit be at work today in our midst, speaking to us in the most unlikely of voices in the most unlikely of ways. ( )
  Jared_Runck | Oct 28, 2018 |
“The Rise of American Democracy,” by Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, is nothing short of a magisterial synthesis of political history in the United States from 1800 to 1860. In 800 pages, followed by extensive annotated endnotes, Wilentz explores how the bases of political power and political involvement expanded through the momentous antebellum period – and how they laid the foundation for both Southern secession and Northern resistance at the outbreak of the Civil War.

It is a story filled with conflict and a myriad of overlapping movements striving to obtain for themselves what the Revolutionary generation had called “the blessings of liberty.” It details the slow, but steady, expansion of suffrage in all of the states in the early 19th century. Then it considers how these voters were wooed by, or formed, political groups to pursue various goals, especially economic ones. In each election, various coalitions of these groups banded together as larger political parties, but Wilentz makes clear that these groups were never completely united or even entirely cohesive, which has significant implications on any understanding of American history during the period.

Breathtaking in scope, in research, in judgment, and in the ability to incorporate into the overall narrative hundreds of influential figures, Wilentz's book is, simply, a masterwork, the culmination of an impressive career. Not only readable, but consistently engaging, it reminds all that what is called historical progress is not inevitable or easy, but has been achieved in American history in the consistent and persistent agitation and activity of politically engaged groups of people. ( )
  ALincolnNut | Mar 3, 2014 |
4953. The Rise of American Democracy Jefferson to Lincoln, by Sean Wilentz (read 7 Sep 2012) (Bancroft Prize in 2006) This massive study of democracy's advance in the US from 1800 to 1861 is brimming with careful and original research. There are 796 pages of text, 156 pages of notes, and a detailed 96 page index. I liked that the study of each election for President and each Administration was carefully explicated in lucid prose. It is hard to see how the subject could be better explained. I thought sometimes explanations were more detailed than necessary, but I found the book masterful and very convincing in showing the pretty steady advance of democratic ideas, even though when it ends in 1861 there are still huge advances to be made in American democracy. .After reading this book no one with an open mind can doubt that the Confederacy came into being because the South wanted to keep slavery and the myth of the South wanting 'freedom' is thoroughly shown to be untenable. ( )
  Schmerguls | Sep 7, 2012 |
A very long narrative of the development of democracy in America. Covers a lot of rather obscure events, and I felt that I was seeing lots of trees, but the forest was hard to make out. Still, it does give a good sense of how democracy developed, from the end of the Federalist era to the Civil War.

Wilentz does seem somewhat enamored of Jefferson, Jackson, and the Democrats, and not at all pleased with the Federalists and the Whigs. So while he does mention some of the horrible ways that Jeffersonians and Jacksonians treated Blacks and Indians, he is rather forgiving of their human rights abuses. At the same time, he is very harsh in his treatment of the undemocratic tendencies of the Federalists and Whigs. ( )
  JPMcGrath86 | Jan 18, 2010 |
I'm still in the process of reading this book but I really like how the author writes. It's fairly easy to get through considering it is somewhat lengthy (page wise). It's a great political history during an amazing time in America's past. Mr. Wilentz definitely does bring to life the debate over the role the new government would have in Americans lives. His study explores the tensions in early America which led to the Civil War while emphasizing the fragility of a democratic government. It is definitely not boring and if you are interested in this time period, then you should definitely read this book. Keep in mind it is a sweeping study of pre-Civil War United States. ( )
  Angelic55blonde | Jul 11, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393058204, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:35 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A political history of how the fledgling American republic developed into a democratic state offers insight into how historical beliefs about democracy compromised democratic progress and identifies the roles of key contributors.

(summary from another edition)

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