Toward a More Perfect Union, 1815-1877

Matthew N. Vosmeier

Winter 2003


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Course description and required texts:

This course offers an overview of society, culture, politics, and religion in the United States from 1815 to 1877 and introduces students to some of the historiographical treatments of the period's major themes and events. With the end of the War of 1812, America entered an age of national growth and economic expansion. There was widespread national pride in the young republic and its democratic political culture, and many Americans looked optimistically to the future. Despite America's national ideals, social and racial inequality remained, and slavery and sectional strife resulted in disunion and civil war. We will explore topics such as national expansion, the Market Revolution, the development of mass political parties, American Victorian middle-class culture, reform movements, slavery, sectionalism, Civil War, and Reconstruction.

The required texts are:

David Brion Davis, Antebellum American Culture: An Interpretive Anthology
Karen Halttunen, Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-Class Culture in America, 1830-1870
James M. McPherson, For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War
Michael Perman, ed., Major Problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction: Documents and Essays
Brenda E. Stevenson, Life in Black and White: Family and Community in the Slave South
Harry L. Watson, Liberty and Power : The Politics of Jacksonian America

Some required readings are on reserve at Duggan Library or online.

The final course grade will be calculated from the following:

Three exams. One is a take-home essay exam (5%). Two are in-class exams: a midterm (25%) and a final (30%). Students are expected to take the exams on the days scheduled. In cases of necessity, requests for make-ups should be made before the day of the exam.

A two-page book review (10%). Each student will choose one of three of the required monographs (Halttunen, Stevenson, or McPherson) and write a review of it, due on the first day of discussion of the book. (An alternate book may be chosen in consultation with the instructor). The review should state the book's argument, the sources and methods employed, briefly summarize the text, and assess the strength of the interpretation.

A paper (five to seven pages) (15%). This paper will treat more narrowly a topic discussed in class. (Ideally it will be an elaboration of the book review.) Students should support their arguments with significant analysis of one or two primary sources.

Class participation (10%) includes collegial involvement in class discussions.

Topics and Reading Assignments:


Jan. 6: Introduction

American Nationalism and the Age of Jackson

Jan. 8: America in 1815
Watson, 3-41

Jan. 10: The "Era of Good Feelings"
Watson, 42-72 First Inaugural Address of James Monroe


The Jackson Administration
Watson, 73-95
Documents on the 1824 presidential campaign (handout)

Jan. 15: The Nullification Crisis
Watson, 96-131

Jan. 17: Jackson and the Bank War
Watson, 132-171
Documents on the Bank War (handout)


Jan. 20: The Market Revolution and Local Politics
Watson, 172-197
Davis, 129-136

Jan. 22: "The Anxious Spirit of Gain"
Davis, 105-114, 121-122

Jan. 24: The Second American Party System
Watson, 198-253
Davis, 195-198


Middle-Class Culture

Jan. 27: Evangelical Revival and Social Reform
Davis, 370-379, 393-399

Jan. 28: Take-Home Exam due by 5:00 p.m.

Jan. 29: The Quest for Perfection
Thomas and Sarah Pears, letters in New Harmony, An Adventure in Happiness, Thomas Clinton Pears, Jr., ed., 7-11, 12-15, 35-40, 70-74 (on reserve)
Davis, 444-452

Jan. 31: Middle-Class Culture and the Confidence Man
Halttunen, xiii-xviii, 1-55
Davis, 118-120


Feb. 3: Sentimental Culture; True Womanhood
Halttunen, 56-91
Davis, 13-20

Feb. 5: Sentimental Culture: Etiquette and Self-Improvement
Halttunen, 92-123, 191-197
Davis, 67-72

Feb. 7: Woman's Rights
Davis, 85-97


Feb. 10: Midterm Exam

The West

Feb. 12: Indian Removal
Davis, 231-251

Feb. 14: Manifest Destiny and the War with Mexico
Davis, 453-457
Abraham Lincoln, "Speech in United States House of Representatives: The War with Mexico" in Collected Works, I:431-442 (excerpts)


The South and Slavery

Feb. 17: The Antebellum South
Stevenson, vii-xiii, 25-36

Feb. 19: White Society in the Antebellum South
Stevenson, 37-94

Feb. 21: Antebellum American Slavery
Stevenson, 159-165, 175-205
Davis, 318-323

(Winter Break begins at close of class day: class resumes Monday, Mar 3.)


Mar. 3: Slave Family Life
206-213, 221-225, 226-257
Davis, 324-325

Mar. 5: Free African Americans, North and South
Stevenson, 258-285, 320-327
Davis, 283-295

Sectional Conflict

Mar. 7: Abolitionism and the Proslavery Argument
Davis, 411-412, 422-426, 332-339


Mar. 10: Crises of the 1850s
Perman, 31-39
William W. Gienapp, "The Caning of Charles Sumner and the Rise of the Republican Party" in Perman, 41- 52

Mar. 12: The Lincoln-Douglas Debates
Excerpts from the Seventh Joint Debate, Alton, Illinois, October 15, 1858

Civil War

Mar. 14: The Civil War
Papers Due by 5:00 p.m.


Mar. 17: Secession Crisis
First Inaugural Address
Perman, 64-71
Kenneth M. Stampp, "Lincoln and the Secession Crisis" in Perman, 72-80
Bertram Wyatt-Brown, "Honor and Secession" in Perman, 80-88

Mar. 19: Lincoln the War President
Perman, 156-159, 164-165
Phillip Shaw Paludan, "Emancipating the Republic: Lincoln and the Means and Ends of Antislavery" in Perman, 166-175
James M. McPherson, "Tried by War: Lincoln as Self-Taught Strategist" in Perman, 176-185

Mar. 21: Fighting the War
James M. McPherson, For Cause and Comrades


Mar. 24: Fighting the War
James M. McPherson, For Cause and Comrades

Mar. 26: The Destructive War
Mark E. Neely, Jr. "Was the Civil War a Total War?" Civil War History 37 (1991)

Mar. 28: Emancipation
Perman, 278-287
Ira Berlin, "Who Freed the Slaves? Emancipation and Its Meaning" in Perman, 288-297
Joseph T. Glatthaar, "Black Glory: The African American Role in Union Victory" in Perman, 297-310


Mar. 31: The Home Fronts
Perman, 187-195, 216-223, 246-257
Phillip Shaw Paludan, "Industrial Workers and the War" in Perman, 203-214
Drew Gilpin Faust, "Patriotism, Sacrifice, and Self-Interest" in Perman, 265-276
J. William Harris, "Strains of War" in Perman, 234-245

Apr. 2: Lincoln Interprets the War
The Gettysburg Address, in Perman, 159-160
Second Inaugural Address


Apr. 4: Reconstruction
Perman, 311-316
Michael Les Benedict, "The Conservative basis of Radical Reconstruction" in Perman, 322-331
Eric Foner, "Thaddeus Stevens, Confiscation, and Reconstruction" in Perman, 331-341


Apr. 7: The Reconstruction South
Perman, 342-351
Jacqueline Jones, "The Political Economy of the Black Family During Reconstruction" in Perman, 359-366
Harold D. Woodman, "The Reconstruction of the Cotton Plantation in the New South," in Perman, 367-375

Apr. 9: Retreat from Reconstruction
Perman, 401-409
Richard H. Abbott, "Reconstruction Winds Down: The Grant Years, 1869-1877" in Perman, 409-420

Apr. 11: Conclusion and Final Review
James M. McPherson, "The Second American Revolution" in Perman, 433-442

Dec. 9-13 Final Exam Week