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The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln Paperback – September 17, 2006

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 1104 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (September 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393329216
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393329216
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #441,754 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Going against prevailing historical fashion, Sean Wilentz delivers a long, exhaustive survey of political machinations, both grand and minute. Though he forays into social and cultural history, the bulk of The Rise of American Democracy is a blow-by-blow account of what happened in the corridors of young America with a "house divided." Wilentz, author of Chants Democratic (1984) and professor of history and director of the American studies program at Princeton University, tells this compelling story with precision and poise, but reviewers question whether anyone but scholars will slog through the 1000-page tome. Within academic halls, at least, this impressive volume is certainly eligible to be the definitive synthesis of the era.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Dr. Wilentz has written an engaging account on the growth of democracy and the forming of political parties.
zero signal
It is definitely not boring and if you are interested in this time period, then you should definitely read this book.
It will be the rare reader who will not feel that the book would have to be read multiple times to fully digest it.
J. Grattan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

108 of 114 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In "The Rise of American Democracy" (2005) Sean Wilentz has written a sweeping study of pre-Civil War United States. His study explores the long-standing tensions in early America which led to the Civil War, and it emphasizes the nature and fragility of democratic government. Sean Wilentz is Professor of History and director of the Program in American Studies at Princeton. He has written extensively on American history.

The primary goal of Professor Wilentz' book is to show how democracy expanded and grew in the United States from the earliest days of the Republic through the election of Abraham Lincoln. The book is lengthy (796 pages of text plus over 150 pages of notes) and filled with learning and detail.

In his book, Professor Wilentz offers a traditional narrative history as he focuses, and stresses "the importance of political events, ideas, and leaders to democracy's rise -- once an all-too-prevalent assumption, now in need of some rescue and repair". (p. xx) The three primary characters in his story are Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Abraham Lincoln, and the history centers around the direction these leaders gave to the development of democracy in the United States.

There are three large sections in the book. The first section covers the United States from the Revolution through the War of 1812 and emphasizes the transition from an elitist government founded on property and privilege to Jeffersonian democracy.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Constant Weeder on September 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I find it hard to describe this tremendous work of scholarship and learning. In all the 70-plus years that I've been reading American history, never have I learned so much new factual material and never have I seen such tightly reasoned analysis presented so concisely. My underlining of passages appears on almost every page. To take just one isolated case, the Bank of the United States, I learned what Hamilton had in mind, what the Federalists agenda was when it was established, how Andrew Jackson vetoed its re-charter and why, and the economic panics caused by the political jostling over a period of fifty years and more. From grand issues such as the expansion of slavery, to individual portraits of the little-known presidents who served in the 1830s and 40s, to such minutiae as the derivation of the word "booze" (from E. C. Booz, who operated a saloon in New York), I came away feeling that I had just completed a two-year postgraduate course in American history, a far superior one to that which I studied in Berkeley in the early 1950s. This is definitely a prize-winning work: it is balanced, detailed, easily read and grasped by those willing to take the time to do it, and I heartily recommend it to any reader unfamiliar with the crucial events of 1795-1861.
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Nathaniel H. Biggs on March 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This long academic text covers the changes that took place in the development of American democracy between the presidencies of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. Actually the book begins with democracies roots in America during the period of the Revolution and the Articles of Federation. The book traces the growth of American democracy from the "top-down" democracy of the early Federalists and Jeffersonians to the more grass-rooots oriented democracy that really began to take shape in the 1830s and 1840s to the crisis that American democracy faced with the coming of the Civil War.

Professor Wilenz does an excellent job chronicling the many changes that took place in American democracy during this time. In an easy to read style, Wilenz covers the changing political, economic, and sociological circumstances that effected the way that democracy developed in America. This text is an excellant political overview of the first 90 years of America's history. From the first stirrings of popular democracy under Jefferson, to the advances of the Jacksonian period, to the rise of abolition and southern fire-eaters, to the series of territorial crisis that finally brought about the Civil War. This book covers all of these events in a manner that is easy to understand and ties them together into a larger historical context. I have read other books covering the same period and came away feeling confused; not with this text. The example that sticks out in my head is the rise of the Whig Party in the late 1830s. Other texts have left me confused regarding the reasons behind the rise of the Whigs; I found Wilenz's explanation very easy to follow.

My only word of caution regarding this book - it is not for casual reaaders.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My computer log reveals that in the last 7 years I have read 133 books presenting the American government and its presidents during the 1800's. There are many classic's amongest them including McCullogh's - John Adams, Chernow's- Alexander Hamiltons and the recent "Team of Rivals". The latter two I predicted would compete for the Pulitzer Prize next year. However, The Rise of American Democracy could conceivably overshadow these two masterpieces to become the celebrated History work of 2005. Why? Because it is a profound and elegantly written piece which illuminates the gestational events leading to the civil war which sucha clear cause and effect presenatation of the facts that for once you will endeavor to say " I fully understand why the Civil War occurred and why slavery existed and why the South fought so diligently to preserve this institution and its lifestyle. What is slavery? "Receiving bt irresistible power, the work of another man, and not by his consent". The discussion on the Dred Scott decision which effectively produced a pivotal dichotomy in American politics by greating the great didvide or the Mason Dixson line. Every president partook in slavery's continuation either by compliance, ignorance, sheer stupidity (JQ Adams) or most often from fear of reprisal. The only statuesque figure who never found it fashionable to waver is opinion was Abraham Lincoln. Although, Lincoln expounded for their freedom he did not believe in their intellectual equality. Which if he had would truely have made him a man ahead of his time. But again he supported womens suffrage as early as 1841. Incidentally I do not recall learning anything on the Kansas-Nebraska bill with its attempt to circumnavigate the Missouri compromise of 1851.Read more ›
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