Books I’ve Used in My Jacksonian Course

I’ve taught the Jacksonian course three times: twice at my previous institution and once at Cumberland. I conceived of the course at my previous institution as an Early Republic course; the title, “Republicanism, Democracy, and Expansion, 1789-1845,”  emphasized the themes around which the content was organized. At Cumberland, the course is entitled “Jacksonian Democracy,” but I organized it the same way. Historically, “Jacksonian Democracy” has worked as a life-and-times survey of Andrew Jackson, which isn’t what I want students to take away from it.

But there’s a problem. Changing the course title at Cumberland would require maneuvering through a bureaucratic maze. Changing the content doesn’t require any bureaucratic hoops, but changing the title does. Makes perfect sense, right? So, the course title probably will remain the same, and I’ll teach the course content the same way I always have.

I’ve used the following texts in the Jacksonian course, some more than once. Here’s my assessment of them:

Lance Banning, The Jeffersonian Persuasion: Evolution of a Party Ideology (Cornell University Press, 1980) ISBN 0801492009

     I really like Banning’s book. It influenced me quite a bit in grad school. Students didn’t like it very much, in part, I think, because they didn’t understand the concept of republicanism.

R.B. Bernstein, Thomas Jefferson (Oxford Univ. Press, 2005) ISBN 978-0195181302

     Overwhelmingly approved by students. Gordon Wood calls it the best short biography of Jefferson, and I agree.

Steven Deyle, Carry Me Back: The Domestic Slave Trade in American Life (Oxford Univ. Press) ISBN 0195310195

     A great book, but too long for students. I would assign (and have assigned) one of Deyle’s articles on the topic.

Sam Haynes, James K. Polk and the Expansionist Impulse (Longman) ISBN 0321370740

     The best short biography of Polk. It ties in well with Banning’s book.

Paul E. Johnson and Sean Wilentz, The Kingdom of Matthias: A Story of Sex and Salvation in 19th-Century America (Oxford University Press, 1995) ISBN 0195098358

     Students liked this book, but I didn’t think it was very effective in conveying what I wanted students to learn about Jacksonian religious reform. I think I would have to pair it with another book if I used it in the future.

Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life (HarperPerennial) ISBN 0060916060

     I really like this book, and students seemed to agree. It does a great job of getting students interested in the social aspects of the period.

John Lauritz Larson, The Market Revolution in America (Cambridge University Press, 2010) ISBN 978-0521709897

     This book has joined John Higham’s book, History (“the red book of death,” according to some of my former students), as most-hated book I’ve assigned. I laugh on the inside when students complained because none of them have tried the alternative that I could have assigned: Charles Sellers’ The Market Revolution, one of my most-hated books. (I respect Sellers’ work, but his Market Revolution could have been written much more clearly and succinctly.)

John Marszalek, The Petticoat Affair: Manners, Mutiny, and Sex in Andrew Jackson’s White House (LSU Press) ISBN 0807126349

    Full disclosure: Marszalek was my dissertation supervisor and graduate mentor. I underutilized this book. Some students thought it was too detailed and confusing.

Robert V. Remini, Joseph Smith (Viking) ISBN 067003083X

     Remini doesn’t get everything right, but this is a good short biography of Smith. I would love to assign Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling, but I suspect students would storm the dean’s office.

Robert V. Remini, The Life of Andrew Jackson (Perennial, 2001) ISBN 0060937351

     Students liked this standard biography of Jackson. I would like to use something else, maybe one that emphasizes his southern identity. Someone should write that biography . . .

Joshua Rothman, Reforming America, 1815-1860 (W.W. Norton, 2009) ISBN 978-0393932263

     Again, an underutilized book. I didn’t spend enough time evaluating how I was going to use it, to the detriment of the students.

Joel H. Silbey, Storm Over Texas: The Annexation Controversy and the Road to the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2005) ISBN 0195139445

     Good reviews from students. I didn’t learn anything new from the book, but it seemed perfect for undergraduates.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (Hackett Publishing, 2000) ISBN 0872204944

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Abridged, with an Introduction by Michael Kammen (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008) ISBN 978-0312463304

     I’ve used two different editions of Tocqueville’s analysis of Jacksonian America. I’ve found it to be too much for most students, so in the future, I’ll probably just use excerpts.

Sean Wilentz, Major Problems in the Early Republic, 1787-1848: Documents and Essays (D.C. Heath, 1992) ISBN 0669243329

Sean Wilentz and Jonathan Earle, Major Problems in the Early Republic, 1787-1848: Documents and Essays, 2d. ed. (Houghton Mifflin) ISBN 0618522581

     Both editions of this text are great. I didn’t use it one semester and regretted it.

Some other books that I would like to use but haven’t, for various reasons:

Patricia Cline Cohen, The Murder of Helen Jewett

     I’m always looking for something on gender history, and the true-crime aspect of this book seems like it would be a good hook for the students.

Paul E. Johnson, Sam Patch, The Famous Jumper

     The story of a famous daredevil in the Jacksonian period.

Louis P. Masur, 1831: Year of Eclipse

     I enjoyed this book immensely and almost used it this past semester.

C. Edward Skeen, 1816: America Rising

     Like Masur’s book, this one focuses on a single year. I’ve never read it, but the description of it has made me think it might be a good choice.

Harry Watson, Liberty and Power

     This is still the best survey of Jacksonian politics, but since I focus so much on politics in my lectures, I’ve never used it.

Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy

     The one-volume college edition, of course. If I were the sadist some of my students think I am, I would assign the complete edition, Daniel Walker Howe’s What Hath God Wrought, and, for good measure, Michael Holt’s The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party.

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2 Replies to “Books I’ve Used in My Jacksonian Course”

  1. Thank you for your list of books. It gave me much needed direction for understanding the development of democracy in America as background for my dissertation.

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