Monday, November 5, 2012

My Favorite Year: 1830

After last week's lecture on "fright night, antebellum style," where we examined the new freakiness of pre-Civil War America, I was excited to follow it up with perhaps my favorite lecture: "1830 America". The lecture gives us some perspective on the development of the United States from the revolutionary era to the rise of the second-party system. After a look at the landscape (population, electoral college, manufacturing, cotton production, slave numbers), we turn to the new rage for "America" that seemed to dominate.

  • Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language
  • The establishment of the American Anti-Slavery Society
  • The earlier establishment of American Tract Society, American Sunday School Union ...
  • The later address of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The American Scholar"
  • God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and other angels in America from upstate New York (Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon) to Virginia (Nat Turner and his "confessions")
  • James Fenimore Cooper's Leather-stocking novels (nostalgia with a political edge)
But of course, what defined "America" was still in question. Just as Garrison and others were naming their abolitionist society "American," South Carolinians were endeavoring to "nullify" federal laws. 1830ish showcased the end of one era (the making of "America" as a nation-state) and the beginning of a new one (the fracturing of "America" as a nation-state).

1830(ish) is far and away my favorite moment in time to teach. What's yours and why?

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