What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1814-1848

by Daniel Walker Howe

Hardcover, 2007

Call number

973.5 H



Oxford Univ Pr (2007), Edition: 2nd, 904 pages


The Oxford History of the United States is by far the most respected multi-volume history of our nation. In this Pulitzer prize-winning, critically acclaimed addition to the series, historian Daniel Walker Howe illuminates the period from the battle of New Orleans to the end of theMexican-American War, an era when the United States expanded to the Pacific and won control over the richest part of the North American continent.Howe's panoramic narrative portrays revolutionary improvements in transportation and communications that accelerated the extension of the American empire. Railroads, canals, newspapers, and the telegraph dramatically lowered travel times and spurred the spread of information. These innovationsprompted the emergence of mass political parties and stimulated America's economic development from an overwhelmingly rural country to a diversified economy in which commerce and industry took their place alongside agriculture. In his story, the author weaves together political and military eventswith social, economic, and cultural history. He examines the rise of Andrew Jackson and his Democratic party, but contends that John Quincy Adams and other Whigs--advocates of public education and economic integration, defenders of the rights of Indians, women, and African-Americans--were the trueprophets of America's future. He reveals the power of religion to shape many aspects of American life during this period, including slavery and antislavery, women's rights and other reform movements, politics, education, and literature. Howe's story of American expansion culminates in the bitterlycontroversial but brilliantly executed war waged against Mexico to gain California and Texas for the United States.Winner of the New-York Historical Society American History Book PrizeFinalist, 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction… (more)

Media reviews

[An] exemplary addition to the Oxford History of the United States.
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One of the chief merits of “What Hath God Wrought” is Howe’s earnest effort, and great success, at chronicling changes of all sorts, from rates of childhood mortality to the gross national product, from the frequency of bathing to the firepower of cannons.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Narboink
A comprehensive examination of one of the most extraordinary periods of American history, "What Hath God Wrought" gives an account of the technological, intellectual, cultural, political, military and religious developments between 1815 and 1848. The volume of data is enormous, and Daniel Walker Howe does a brilliant job of synthesizing it into a master class on the era.

Walking away with a richly deserved Pulitzer in 2008, Howe takes a long view of his subject(s) and provides the kind of context and overarching narrative that other, more provincial historians routinely avoid. I've tried (and failed) to read biographies of Andrew Jackson; here the "Jacksonian" period is covered with lucidity, insight and unsentimental clarity. It was an absolute pleasure to read.
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LibraryThing member wildbill
This is an interesting book with a great deal of information. Before I read this book my knowledge of the period from the end of the War of 1812 to the end of the U.S.-Mexico War was limited to Andrew Jackson and his presidency. Mr. Howe added a great deal to my knowledge of the events and the changes in America during this time.
He emphasized the developments in transportation and communication. From the building of the Erie Canal to a railroad network that exceeded the miles of track in Europe America in this period built the infrastructure that led to the Industrial Revolution in the last half of the century.
The use of steamboats meant that no longer did westerners sail down the Mississippi, break up their boats and sell the lumber and walk back home.
The penny newspaper carried information to a country where for the first time the rate of literacy in women equaled that rate in men. The development of the telegraph led to speed of light communication from one end of the country to the other making the information in newspapers more timely.
Jackson's political revolution masterminded by Martin van Buren gave rise to the spoils system and the growth of national parties. Jackson also led the beginning of manifest destiny with the wholesale ethnic cleansing of native Americans living in the American southwest and southeast. Howe does not pull any punches in describing the practices that destroyed the inheritance of the five civilized tribes in the name of white superiority. Jackson's disdain of the rule of law in getting done what he wanted to leaves little doubt as to who was civilized.
Religion was another topic covered in detail in the book. The Methodist church grew in this period from a small sect to 2.7 million members by 1850. The Baptist and Roman Catholic churches also grew in this era the former based on the efforts of traveling preachers and the latter gathering members by immigration. When the American Methodist Episcopal church was founded in 1816 it was the only institution in the country under black control. Temperance and abolitionism were causes supported by the growth of religion. Howe also describes the founding of Mormonism and its move to Utah after the assassination of Joseph Smith.
This era saw the rise of abolitionism and the growth in the South of pro-slavery ideology. The life and career of Sojourner Truth provide a good example of how abolitionism began and grew.
The book ends with the U.S.-Mexico war and the presidency of James Polk. Howe gives a thorough description of the events of the war and the political controversy that surrounded it. Abraham Lincoln's speech in opposition to the war details the Whig opposition to the war. The annexation of Mexican territory fueled the debate over the expansion of slavery foreshadowing the controversy that led to the Civil War.
There is a 20 page bibliographical essay at the end of the book. The author describes numerous sources for each of the topics covered in the book. This is an excellent resource for further study.
I enjoyed the book very much. This review is only a brief outline of the wealth of information provided in a well written and accessible fashion. I have read some criticism of the author for distorting the narrative of events in the name of political correctness. What I found was an even handed, accurate and honest portrayal of events. America is a great country but the government and people of the country have done some reprehensible acts in the course of their history. Any honest history of the country has to include those actions.
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LibraryThing member markbstephenson
This excellent volume taught me much and left me wishing that John Quincy Adams or someone else of like stature might replace Andrew Jackson on our $20 bills. Surely Old Hickory's crimes against the Cherokees, Creeks and other tribes along with his fierce advocacy of slavery and many other unstatesmanlike behaviors richly deserve such an eviction.… (more)
LibraryThing member cyclops1771
Interesting social and political coverage of the time between the end of the War of 1812 and the 1848 end of the Mexican War. Interesting in that it focuses on social events not always included in these type of histories, such as the role and conditions of women, slaves, and religions, not just the political sphere.
LibraryThing member sweetFrank
Howe begins his account of the 30 years between the end of the War of 1812 and the aftermath of the Mexican War with a nod to Thomas Hobbes, saying “Life in America in 1815 was dirty, smelly, laborious, and uncomfortable.” On the other hand he notes that most owned land, taxes were low, and there were no titles or abbots. Over these years the percentage of the population considered urban increased from 7% to 18%, but the real tension was not that of a increasingly industrialized society in a nation of small farmers, but of the conflict between the Slave Power with its limited-government philosophy of Jefferson and Jackson on the one hand, and the expansionist, use-federal-government to build canals and roads, etc approach of Clay and the New Democrats. The book is an economic, social, cultural, and political exploration of a defining period that began with the “Era of Good Feeling” as it was known when I was in high school, and ended in the highly-partisan and sectional-based conflicts, dominated by the Southern states judging every measure by the test of its effect on the curtailment or extension of slavery. In many ways it is a depressing history, replete with the perfidy of Jackson towards the Indians, and the trashing of the Constitution by several of the state governors while the federal government looked the other way. The conflict over the Second Bank of the United States, which I once thought was central to the period is more than a footnote, of course, but certainly not the defining event. In Howe's view (according to my reading) that may have been adoption by the Democratic Party of the 2/3rds rule which essentially gave the South veto power over any Presidential candidate. If you are interested in that time frame, this is a fine work.… (more)
LibraryThing member ValSmith
An excellent "microhistory" of a very specific time frame in US history, from the Battle of New Orleans to the beginning of the Mexican War (and details about that war to the Treaty of Gaudelupe Hidlago). I recommend it to American history students often since I read it.
LibraryThing member phyllis01
A terrific overall look at America during this time. If you think Andrew Jackson was the greatest president evah, though, this may not be the book for you, unless you are willing to see him in his entirety.
LibraryThing member bjmitch
Unlike most books about the period 1815 through 1848 in American history, this is not a hagiography of President Andrew Jackson. It's a more balanced view of what was happening in the entire nation during that time, along with how the political scene in Great Britain and Mexico affected American history.

I've read so much about Jackson, much of it unqualified admiration of his presidency, that it was a relief to read who else was prominent and what they were up to. It does include Jackson's fight against the national bank, the results of his feuds with political enemies (of which there were many), and of course the Eaton affair. It is on the brink of being biased against Jackson as well, I must admit.

I learned more about the Mexican War and the acquisition of Texas, New Mexico and California than I have ever known. And I felt this was a good background book for reading about the Civil War. I recommend this book and believe Howe wrote it in an easy style for a non-academic to read. However, I would caution that it is an 855 page book. This isn't a fast read but slower, careful reading is rewarding.
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LibraryThing member santhony
I am an avid student of history and was pleased to purchase this comprehensive work on a period of American History often overlooked. Most casual students are well familiar with the Founding Fathers and the periods of history surrounding the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. From the early 1800s until the Lincoln Presidency, however, comparatively little is written or studied.

As suggested by the title of this work, the period from 1815 until 1848 was indeed a time of transformation, from the agrarian, East Coast dominated economy of the Revolutionary era, to the geographically expanding and urbanized economy created in large part by the Industrial Revolution. That having been said, I can’t say that I was mesmerized by this book and found it somewhat of a grind to get through. I don’t know if it was the subject matter or the writing style, but the story seemed disjointed and never flowed smoothly. Much of the writing is in the style of a textbook, and as a result failed to capture my attention.

It seemed that fully half the book focused on the Presidency and policies of Andrew Jackson, and suffice it to say, the author is no fan of Jackson. While there is much to condemn in Jackson’s character and administration, it is no exaggeration to suggest that if the creators of Mount Rushmore had room for one more bust, Jackson’s would almost certainly have been the one chosen. And though the author correctly points out valid criticisms of Jackson, he at times tries a little bit too hard, such as strenuously and repeatedly painting Jackson with the brush of “white supremacist”. Not to suggest that Jackson was not a white supremacist, only that virtually 100% of the white American population of the time (including abolitionists) were rabid white supremacists.

Also, the author seems to be exceptionally fond of Henry Clay, suggesting that had he been elected in 1844, the Civil War might have been avoided. The author relies upon Clay’s willingness to enact a program of compensated emancipation, as if the South were interested in such a plan. Had he attempted such a program, it is more likely that the War would have accelerated rather than avoided. And while one may argue over the morality of the Mexican War, it is hard to argue with results (acquisition of Alta California, New Mexico and much of what is now Texas), and Clay was on record as being adamantly opposed to the aforesaid territorial expansion, even after the war had been concluded.

In summary, the book is a laudable effort to fill in a period of American history often glossed over. It is well researched and comprehensively presented. It is not however an engrossing read and suffers somewhat from an overly negative bias as relating to the period of Jacksonian administration, and a consequently overly positive viewpoint toward those on the opposite end of the political spectrum.
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LibraryThing member jjwilson61
Another solid entry in the Oxford History of the United States series. I didn't know a lot about the antebellum period and this 900 page tome was very enlightening and never dull. From politics to technology and social and religious movements there was a lot going on in this 33 year period which had a momentous effect on later events. I learned how Martin Van Buren invented the political party and how really horrid a human being Andrew Jackson was (and how he reminds me in a lot of ways of Trump).… (more)
LibraryThing member kiparsky
A massive but not over-stuffed guide to a short but extremely active period in American history, and one often overlooked. This period saw the transition from the nation founded along the Atlantic to the one which spanned the continent, from a basically agricultural economy to a burgeoning industrial power. This period also saw the development of religious and social movements which are still active today, and also laid the groundwork for much of the current US political system. Howe's approach is, as he says in his conclusion, to tell a story, not to argue a thesis. He does not present an overarching Theory Of American History into which all of the events detailed can be shoehorned. Instead, he presents threads which seem to be related (a covert theory of history, but an unavoidable and uncontroversial one) and follows them in an order which is roughly chronological, but only very roughly. One of the advantages of Howe's approach to the material for the amateur historian (like myself) is that he is not afraid to revisit events, to plow over the ground from several angles. This allows the reader unfamiliar with the period (such as myself) to develop a more firm understanding of the overall picture than would be obtained by a more linear path. Quite worth the reading.… (more)
LibraryThing member GoofyOcean110
This was an amazing book, sweeping yet detailed. Highly recommend it for any history buff.
LibraryThing member Doondeck
A thorough and insightful review of period of American history that is usually overlooked.
LibraryThing member auntieknickers
It took a long time to listen to this audiobook, but it was well worthwhile. I learned a great deal about a period of American history that was skimped in the history courses I've taken, and yet one which was deeply important in the development of the United States. Howe brings in a lot of cultural information as well as the tales of Presidents and generals. The major thing I took away from this book was a distaste for Andrew Jackson. In some ways he seems more like a Tea Partyer than someone who is still memorialized by Democrats holding Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners. This is part of the Oxford History of the United States; I'm now going back to the story of the Revolution in The Glorious Cause.… (more)




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