Books, Maps, and Politics: A Cultural History of the Library of Congress, 1783-1861

By Carl Ostrowski | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Jacksonian Democracy
and the Library,
1829–1843

T he election of AndrewJackson to the presidency in 1828 marked a shift in American political culture that is evident in the history of the Library of Congress, most visibly in the dismissal of George Watterston and the appointment of John Silva Meehan to the post of Librarian. The change in stewardship from a novelist with culturally nationalistic impulses to a self-effacing bureaucrat meant that the cultural authority of the position of Librarian of Congress declined precipitously. But Meehan was part of a larger trend in American politics that devalued high culture, championed the unlettered common person, and looked skeptically at federal agencies, an atmosphere that contributed to lost opportunities at the Library as Congress continued to developcollections on a narrow acquisitions model. While the press lobbied for a national library, Congress refused to acknowledge responsibility for providingone or for doing much else to promote the cause of American literature— such as legislating on behalf of international copyright.

The expanding print culture of the era came to include women, who participated in the literary culture of the nation both as readers and as writers. The national political culture, on the other hand, officially remained off-limits to them. When women in the 1830s mounted controversial challenges to this ideology, resistance was registered in subtleways

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