A detail of a map drawn during the Lewis and Clark expedition, c. 1800

A detail of a map drawn during the Lewis and Clark expedition, c. 1800

United States in the 19th Century

The 19th century saw the maturing of the United States, the Civil War that ended slavery and the triumph of capitalism.

  • Our United States by Woodburn, Moran, and Hill. What makes Our United States a great book is that it is actually designed to facilitate the learning of the past by the reader, not simply to expose him to the sum of what the author knows. It is not merely a "knowledge dump," as one of my students has termed it, like virtually every modern presentation of the past. "Our United States" is a selective telling of the fundamental facts about the story of America which must be grasped first, if the reader aims to embark on a productive study of history. In the words of the authors, "it is a better educative procedure to follow...the main lines of progress that have marked the history of our country than to attempt to carry them all along at the same time. Instead of presenting a mass of miscellaneous and unrelated facts merely in the order of their happening, we have sought, therefore, to bring out in a unified way the great movements in our history, their causes, beginnings, and growth, and to make known the achievements and character of the great men and women who have made the United States what it is today."(out-of-print, see sources.)
  • Modern Progress by Willis Mason West. The first of the general works on the history of Western civilization that I want to recommend to today's readers is Modern Progress by Willis Mason West. West's theme is progress. He values present-day America, freedom, and technology, and he seeks to present the past in terms of the fundamentally positive progression, without, however, treating progress as an oversimplification. West's telling is fundamentally successful.(out-of-print, see sources.)
  • The First Tycoon, The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T. J. Stiles. Cornelius Vanderbilt was the first modern capitalist in the United States. Stiles give a heroic account of Vanderbilt, showing in detail how his achievements flowed from his character, and sets Vanderbilt's actions into the broader context of the growth of America from the Presidency of George Washington through the transformation of the United States into the world's leading industrial power, a growth carried out in large measure by Cornelius Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt, from a beginning in shipping in New York, established the most efficient transportation line to the gold fields of California, personally pioneered a course across the Isthmus of Nicaragua, financed a war to prevent American slave-holding southerners from expanding slavery into Nicaragua, contributed substantially to the Union victory over the Confederacy, and built the most efficient and least expensive railroad line in America. Vanderbilt invented much of the modern corporation and modern finance, and thus was the man, above all others, who pioneered the transformation of industry away from both aristocratic monopolies and small-scale private manufacture into privately-owned, large-scale, integrated enterprises. Vanderbilt did all this with singular, selfish attention to his goals, asking only to be left unmolested by royalty and governments, and serves as an inspiring example of productive character and how much is possible when creativity and private property is left free to act.
  • The Middle Period: 1817-1858 by John Burgess. An important shift in American culture attends the passing of the Revolutionary generation. This period, marked by democratization (as symbolized by Andrew Jackson), a tragic failure to eradicate slavery, and, most unfortunately, a significant rise in economic statism, is not easy to wade through. But John W. Burgess makes it seem uncomplicated in his book "The Middle Period: 1817-1858," (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1909).(out-of-print, see sources.)
  • Reconstruction and the Constitution by John William Burgess. Yet again Burgess delivers a uniquely well-crafted narrative that relays both compelling details and a fascinating theme. In this case, I agree with Burgess's basic idea: that northern leaders, including Lincoln, Seward, and Johnson failed to grasp the intellectual foundations for the proper re-integration of the South once it was conquered.(out-of-print, see sources.)
  • History of America by Eric Daniels. These recorded lectures give an essentialized history of America from its colonial beginnings.
  • The Household History of the United States and its People by Edward Eggleston. Written in 1901 as a survey of US history for adolescents, this provides a straightforward overview of the United States, uncontaminated by skepticism or political correctness.
  • The World of Andrew Carnegie, 1865 - 1901 by Louis M. Hacker. A detailed history of the character and evolution of the United States during its most capitalist period, that between the ending of the Civil War and the beginning of the First World War.
  • The Myth of the Robber Barons by Folsom. Capsule biographies of key industrialists of the 19th century, the most capitalistic period in American history: Vanderbilt, Hill, Scranton, Schwab, Rockefeller, and Mellon.
  • James J. Hill and the Opening of the Northwest by Albro Martin. The most detailed and accurate biography of James J. Hill, one of the most successful industrialists of the 19th century. His field was railroads, the high-technology of the era. He pioneered many ideas that have utility in all businesses at all times.

Links

  • History Recommendations from Scott Powell – History reading recommendations from Scott Powell
  • Manhatta – An art film by Strand and Charles Sheeler, Manhatta shows the beauty and vitality of New York in 1920, the dynamic energy and freedom of the world's greatest city.
James Jerome Hill

James Jerome Hill

United States "Liberty" Gold Dollar, 1857

United States "Liberty" Gold Dollar, 1857

Chicago and Northwestern Railway, map of Chicago area, 1904

Chicago and Northwestern Railway, map of Chicago area, 1904