Synopses & Reviews
This fascinating study examines the meteoric career of a vigorous intellectual movement rising out of the Age of Jackson. As Americans argued over their destiny in the decades preceding the Civil War, an outspoken new generation of "ultra-democratic" writers entered the fray, staking out positions on politics, literature, art, and any other territory they could annex. They called themselves Young America--and they proclaimed a "Manifest Destiny" to push back frontiers in every category of achievement. Their swagger found a natural home in New York City, already bursting at the seams and ready to take on the world.
Young America's mouthpiece was the Democratic Review, a highly influential magazine funded by the Democratic Party and edited by the brash and charismatic John O'Sullivan. The Review offered a fresh voice in political journalism, and sponsored young writers like Hawthorne and Whitman early in their careers. Melville, too, was influenced by Young America, and provided a running commentary on its many excesses. Despite brilliant promise, the movement fell apart in the 1850s, leaving its original leaders troubled over the darker destiny they had ushered in. Their ambitious generation had failed to rewrite history as promised. Instead, their perpetual agitation helped set the stage for the Civil War.
Young America: The Flowering of Democracy in New York City is without question the most complete examination of this captivating and original movement. It also provides the first published biography of its leader, John O'Sullivan, one of America's great rhetoricians. Edward L. Widmer enriches his unique volume by offering a new theory of Manifest Destiny as part of a broader movement of intellectual expansion in nineteenth-century America.
"Young America brings to life an unwritten chapter in post-Jacksonian America. Edward L. Widmer explores the fascinating area where politics, literature, and ideology conspire and collide, and he restores to their proper place a striking cast of writers, polemicists, and rogues. This is a book for all aficionados of American history."--Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
"Young America: The Flowering of Democracy in New York City is an indispensable, masterful new contribution to nineteenth-century US historiography. By detailing the controversial role the manic rhetorician John O'Sullivan played in both launching the incomparable Democratic Review and promulgating the gospel of Manifest Destiny, Edward L. Widmer has recaptured the halcyon days of the Jackson era with vivid precision."--Douglas Brinkley, Director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies and Professor of History, University of New Orleans
"Young America is an important, wide-ranging, and fascinating book. With wit, good sense, and lively prose, Edward L. Widmer recovers the social energy and cultural excitement of New York in the 1840s, when a generation of politico-literary intellectuals, as Emerson disdainfully called them, associated themselves with real politics and serious art. Held together by John O'Sullivan, the bigger-than-life editor of the United States Magazine and Democratic Review, Young America sustained a robust discussion of political and cultural democracy, at once nationalist and metropolitan, that gave intellectual significance to the Democratic Party even as it provided a sustaining and lively literary community for both canonical and forgotten writers. What Widmer describes is the first instance of a modern social type, the literary intellectual committed to democratic politics."--Thomas Bender, Dean for the Humanities and Professor of History, New York University
"Widmer's book offers the finest account to date of the culture and politics of New York in the explosive 1830s and 1840s. With literary grace and analytical gusto, he guides us through the writings and relationships of the most important intellectuals of the day. Along the way we are compelled to rethink the meanings of democracy, both in that time and our own."--Lou Masur, Professor of History, City College of New York
"Edward L. Widmer has written a winning and utterly invigorating book that rescues Young America from its own self-destruction, brilliantly restoring its standing amid the pre-eminent political and cultural developments of the ante-bellum period....it is a rare author whose skill as a stylist so complements the able orators and writers he brings to light."--Times Literary Supplement
About the Author
Edward L. Widmer
has taught at Harvard University and the Rhode Island School of Design, and received fellowships from the Mellon Foundation, the John Carter Brown Library, and the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research. He is currently a White House speechwriter and lives in Washington with his wife and son.
Table of Contents
1. The Politics of Culture: O'Sullivan and the Democratic Review
2. Democracy and Literature
3. Young America in Literature: Duyckink, Melville, and the Mutual Admiration Society
4. Representation Without Taxation: Art for the People
5. The Young American Lexicon: Field and Codification
6. Young America Redux
7. Epilogue: Forever Young