A Cultural Encyclopedia of the 1850s in America

A Cultural Encyclopedia of the 1850s in America

A Cultural Encyclopedia of the 1850s in America

A Cultural Encyclopedia of the 1850s in America

Synopsis

The 1850s were a particularly fruitful and eventful period in American history, a time of unrest and preparation for change. This reference work provides a thorough record of the cultural happenings in America during that period. The volume is divided into several sections. It begins with a chronology that presents the events of the 1850s in capsule form year by year. A list of entries follows. The encyclopedia that comes after the list of entries contains brief, alphabetically arranged articles for performers, military personnel, theologians, composers, critics, educators, explorers, historians, industrialists, inventors, authors, artists, physicians, scientists, sculptors, and numerous events and creative works. A bibliography, divided into topical sections, directs the reader to the best sources of additional information. An appendix lists the biographical entries according to professional categories, and a detailed index adds to the usefulness of the volume.

Excerpt

The decade of the 1850s in America was a time of unrest and preparation for change. Victory in the Mexican War enabled the United States to expand its territory. the possibility of extending slavery into parts of new states excited some people and troubled others. the Gold Rush increased everyone's awareness of opportunities in the Far West. the White House was occupied by four presidents in a row--Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan--who lacked either the vision or the power to unify a nation heading toward the holocaust of civil war. Meanwhile, too many politicians at lower levels vacillated or--worse--thought mainly of party maneuvering or self-enrichment. Abolitionists and Free-Soilers on the one hand and reactionary Southem slave and plantation owners on the other debated to a standstill in various media. William Lloyd Garrison and Hinton Rowan Helper, for two representative examples, were equally inflexible. Those who, like Daniel Webster, sought to straddle the fence were shaken off. It seems that no compromise, whether the notorious one of 1850 or later, could have been effective. Some religious leaders were making abundant sense, according to their differing lights; but, in the glare of the fratricidal conflict that followed, the idealism of Unitarians and Transcendentalists, among others, all but disappeared, and some of the tenets of Calvinism seemed to make more sense.

A variety of literature held up mirrors to the era. the five major authors of the "American Renaissance"--Ralph Waldo Emerson,Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau,Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman--are important for anyone seeking to understand America's 1850s. But Emerson was beginning to age by then, and Hawthorne was often too aloof. Whitman's democratic optimism was more than balanced by Melville's "power of blackness," and Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" ought perhaps to have been the challenge of the 1850s. By comparison, the most popular works, though not the best ones, of the "schoolmarm poets"--Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell . . .

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