America from Tom to Abe; A Hip Historian's Take on How Democracy Took Root

By Jones, Malcolm | Newsweek, October 31, 2005 | Go to article overview

America from Tom to Abe; A Hip Historian's Take on How Democracy Took Root


Jones, Malcolm, Newsweek


Byline: Malcolm Jones

Sean Wilentz ends his massive history, "The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln," with a description of a photograph taken in 1865: 13 men, six white, seven black, the jury empaneled to try Jefferson Davis, ex-president of the Confederacy, on charges of treason. To Wilentz, the picture is an apt emblem of "the hopes of the Civil War era as to how a post-slavery United States might look." Sitting in his office at Princeton, Wilentz shakes his head in admiration. "All these white guys and black guys together. And you realize, this is unthinkable five years earlier. And it's a step toward democracy." Another shake of the head, this one more rueful. "But it all came undone. By 1900 it looks blasphemous." He leans forward to drive the point home. "Democracy can come undone. It's not something that's necessarily going to last forever once it's been established."

As Wilentz tells it in his book, the story of how democracy took root in this country prior to the Civil War is an epic worthy of Homer. Some of the actors are familiar--all of those dead white guys on our currency are there. But joining them is a cast of thousands: ward heelers, abolitionists, novelists, minstrels and terrorists. Notables and nobodies jostle for a place on the stage, and Wilentz runs as fast as he can to keep up with the action. The result is a magnificent chronicle, the life of an idea that, although it is mentioned nowhere in the Constitution, nevertheless slowly elbowed its way into the heart of American life.

Wilentz, 54, is gregarious, curious and eclectic: on the walls of his book-lined office, portraits of Andrew Jackson and Bob Dylan stare at each other from opposite walls (in his spare time, Wilentz is the "historian in residence" at BobDylan. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

America from Tom to Abe; A Hip Historian's Take on How Democracy Took Root
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.