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“A vivid, episodic pageant of westward-ho empire building. . . . This is narrative history writ large and vigorously—with foreshadowings of tragedy.” —Publishers Weekly
“In this balanced political and military history, Woodworth tracks political tensions exacerbated by continental expansion. . . . Woodworth dramatically presages the collapse of political parties in the 1850s by his accessible account of the 1840s.” —Gilbert Taylor, Booklist
Woodworth (History/Texas Christian Univ.; Sherman: Lessons in Leadership, 2009, etc.) examines the political and military conflicts that accompanied the westward flow in the 1840s and exacerbated hostilities between the North and South.
Although the author's thesis is principally political, he focuses mostly on the military struggles of the time. Myriad pages and maps deal with specific battles, chronicling participants, locale, strategies, tactics, failures, victories and casualty figures. At times the thesis struggles to emerge from beneath the bodies of fallen combatants, but Woodworth certainly knows the territory. He begins with the presidency of Martin Van Buren, who was greeted almost immediately by the Panic of 1837 and the incipient stages of abolitionism. The author summarizes the brief presidency of William Henry Harrison, with solid analysis of the ludicrous "Log Cabin campaign"—was this the first American election when image trumped all else? He also looks at the John Tyler administration, the rise of the abolitionists, the migrations to Oregon and California and the story of Joseph Smith (Woodworth barely restrains his disdain for Smith's religious claims). When Texas enters the narrative as a military and political issue, the battle scenes commence and do not conclude until the end of the Mexican War. Occasionally, Woodworth switches from one battlefield to another, moving from the deserts of Mexico to the halls of Congress, where we follow the increasingly hostile debates between advocates of free and slave states, including Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and other era notables. Following a discussion of the Gold Rush of 1849 and the Wilmot Proviso, the author describes the negotiations and personalities that made possible the Compromise of 1850, a measure that stalled the Civil War but did not stop it.
An approach that will appeal mostly to readers of military history.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
List of Maps
PART ONE The Two-Party System
One The Log Cabin and Hard Cider Campaign 3
Two Tyler, Clay, and the Durability of the Two-Party System 26
Three Abolitionism 40
PART TWO Westward Expansion
Four The Oregon Trail 57
Five The Allure and the Danger of California 78
Six The Mormons and Their Migration 91
PART THREE The Politics of Expansion
Seven Tyler and Texas 107
Eight The Election of 1844 125
Nine Texas Annexation 139
Posted December 1, 2010
In 1840 four different nations control what will become the United States' lower 48 states. Who controls which area is in dispute with two or more nations's making claims. In other places, control is in name only as the owning government is weak and/or distant. Ten years later, the United States is master of the area with stable borders recognized by conquest and treaties. Four states have joined the Union, double the number joining in the 1830s, with a fifth to follow in 1850. Three Presidential elections, War with Mexico, westward expansion, the California Gold Rush, Mormons and questions about slavery make for a lively ten years.
Steven E. Woodworth is an excellent author and a respected historian. This book showcases these skills providing the read with an entertaining learning experience. Under his deft hand, we follow the major events of the decade seeing how they interact and relate. While written to look at major trends, he never forgets the details that make history interesting and real. Skillfully written word portraits are bring to life the Presidents, politicians, explorers and generals that populate these pages. His deft hand quickly explains the issues and the viewpoint of the various sides. Whigs and Democrats have very real differences and very real similarities. The two-party understanding over slavery starts to unravel during this time. This is the start of the political divisions that will divide the Democrats, destroy the Whigs and create the Republican Party.
The book is organized into major sections entitled: The Two-Party System, Westward Expansion, The Politics of Expansion, War with Mexico, The Political System and the Controversies of Expansion. Each section contains three to six chapters covering the subject. The section Westward Expansion has chapters on The Oregon Trail, California and the Mormons. The book ends with a look at the problems expansion is causing. These problems will take up most of the 1850s and lead to civil war.
Each chapter while concentrating on the subject never loses sight of the nation at large. A series of well-placed maps allow the reader to follow the story with ease. The book is fully footnoted with a complete index. This is an excellent history, informative and fun to read.
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Posted March 20, 2012
Posted May 31, 2011
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