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352CIVIL WAR HISTORY the quality of being oneself, wherein they were alike. Those of us who knew them both as scholars and friends will always appreciate the differences—and their legacy as great historians. Both men agreed that "history is meaningless unless it's readable." Ronald D. Rietveld California State University, Fullerton The Mind of America, 1820-1860. By Rush Welter. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1975. Pp. ix, 603. $14.95.) Rush Welter believes that "more than any other generation, the adult Americans who flourished between 1820 and 1850 gave the United States its distinctive character and direction." His object is to amplify this assertion by a minute and critical examination of the distinctive characteristics of the "mind" of that generation. Whether the reader is persuaded that the period was indeed crucial to the formation of American character is not essential to an appreciation of Professor Welter's excellent book. The reviewer for one was predisposed to accept the proposition from the outset, and he finds in Welter's work abundant evidence to support a view reached on other grounds. The "mind" of a people is an elusive entity, and Welter is doubtless wise in narrowing his conception to the social, public, and indeed even political aspects of the American mind. His choice of sources virtually dictated his emphasis. He has read widely in the books, pamphlets, and speeches of public figures, the proceedings of state constitutional conventions, and magazines (but not newspapers), always with an eye for the values and attitudes that informed Amercans ' sense of their social experience. He has deliberately avoided the formal treatises in the conventional categories of intellectual history in order to isolate the elements of what might be called the popular mind. On the other hand, his close scrutiny of the sources in the context of the issues of public policy underscores the inability of Americans, given their ideological commitments, to come to grips with the issues. A major virtue of the book lies in its location at the intersection of ideology and policy. The democratic mind of the period expressed itself in two variants, liberal and conservative (roughly Democrat and Whig). The liberal Democratic version emerged triumphant when the conservatives "abdicated" the social responsibilities that went with their traditional commitment to an organic community. What survived was a negative conception of democratic government as one designed to free people from oppression rather than to effectuate the popular will. "Indeed, it seems entirely plausible that one of the reasons American democratic politics so rapidly degenerated into the pur- book reviews353 suit of private emoluments through illegitimate maneuver and dishonorable manipulation of the powers of government was that Democratic ideologues had so discredited traditional definitions of politics as to leave aspiring politicians no other definition of their role" (p. 178). Welter's chapters on the historical assumptions of the democratic mind help to clarify a matter that must have intrigued many students of the period, namely its peculiar obsession with the threat of "aristocracy." This is shown to have been a political concept applied to practical issues of public policy, and largely devoid of economic or social content. An illuminating comparison of English and American democratic thought underscores the inability of Americans to isolate the problems of social class. This was hardly surprising when it is noted that neither liberals nor conservatives in America correlated their views with social class distinctions. Welter observes that the typical democrat was preoccupied with money rather than wealth, "if wealth be considered a social phenomenon and money a purely individual achievement." Historians who emphasize the class structure of American society in the ante-bellum period should perhaps explain the peculiar silence of public spokesmen on this matter . Welter's findings underscore the need for an adequate historical sociology for the period. Although the tone of the book is dispassionate and objective the critical judgments of the inadequacies and contradictions of the democratic mind are often devastating. Welter starts with the implicit assumption that the virtues of a democratic society may now be taken for granted, while its shortcomings, so far as ideological issues reveal them, merit closer attention. His principal theme is the failure of the democratic mind...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 352-354
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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