This collection of original chapters centers on the theme of the "historical moment" in the lives of several representative nineteenth-century, and one family of twentieth-century, Americans, each of whom experienced a "moment of decision" (or a series of such moments) that directed the courses and identities of those individuals in important ways thereafter. The authors identify critical moments when individuals were converted to action by an idea, an event, or an experience, but their concerns are not solely biographical. All the chapters examine moments of decision within regional and social contexts, suggesting that the range of individual decision was constrained by the particular historical world in which those people lived.
The book principally focuses on decisions related to nineteenth- century social reform, political, or intellectual issues, though it also offers some observations on the significance of moments of decision generally. As such, it presents an extended discussion of the relationship between personal decision and public action. The authors in no way claim to have canvassed the subject of historical moments in any comprehensive way, and, indeed, some of the moments described in this volume are subtle and disguised, even denied, by the biographical subjects. However limited in focus, the authors' attention to moments of decision reminds us that history did not just happen. Neither personal lives nor American development was predestined. People made choices within the particular historical contexts in which they lived -- choices that in some instances altered or redirected those contexts thereafter. Understanding the dynamics of decision promises to reveal the range of choices available to Americans at any given time. It also invites further consideration of the ways in