Edward L. Ayers Soderlund, Lewis L. Gould, David M. Oshinsky, Jean R. American Passages: A History of the United States. Fort Worth, Texas and London: Harcourt Brace, 2000. xxxi + 1,147 pp. $71.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-03-072573-9; $90.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-03-072479-4.
Reviewed by Michael Chesson (Department of History, University of Massachusetts-Boston )
Published on H-Survey (August, 2000)
Roads Not Taken
Roads Not Taken
One of the latest full-service entries in the history survey sweepstakes, American Passages is a beautiful text that is well-designed. It is written in an engaging style. The volumes have a friendly tone that is warm without being suffocating. Most students and faculty should find them appealing. The multitude of carefully chosen illustrations of various kinds are nicely reproduced. The maps are also good, with some exceptions. Each paper volume has the same set of appendices, including the Declaration of Independence; the Constitution; the nation's population, 1790-1998; the admission of states to the Union; presidential elections and administrations; and the justices of the Supreme Court. The volumes split in an unusual way, which is an improvement on the traditional arrangement, especially for Reconstruction specialists. There are two overlap chapters rather than one, and the second volume begins in mid-war, with early Union occupations and the first stirrings of emancipation, rather than in 1865, reflecting an interpretative trend pioneered by Eric Foner. This novel approach owes much to the breadth and vision of lead author Edward L. Ayers, whose interest in and knowledge of Southern history and Civil War culture is well known. Volume one takes the story to 1877, ending with chapter sixteen, while volume two begins with chapter fifteen, "Blood and Freedom, 1863-1867." Two maps start each volume: the first shows the states and their capitals, with important places in the text highlighted; the second is topographical. Each section (two to four chapters) of the narrative has time lines with key dates for politics and diplomacy; social and cultural events; and economics and technology.
As a teacher whose research fields are pre-1900, I devote most of my review to the first volume, focusing on the following topics and eras: Jamestown, the origins of American slavery, Salem witchcraft, the Boston "massacre," the Yorktown campaign, the Constitution, slave insurrections, the Age of Jackson, American Indians, the antebellum North, women from the colonial to the reform era, slavery and the Old South, the Compromise of 1850, John Brown, Fort Sumter and the Civil War, and Reconstruction to the Compromise of 1877. I examined the coverage of many of these subjects in a lengthy 1988 review essay, "The Selling of Clio: American History College Survey Textbooks," about nineteen widely-used survey texts. This review serves in part as an update on an aspect of the publishing industry, as reflected in a new, full dress text by four distinguished members of our craft. The last part of the review is a riff of volume two, in a more random and episodic fashion, with observations on statements and illustrations that caught my attention.
It is unclear why the period before 1763 is "prehistory," since the main narrative begins with Columbus. Jamestown's location is wrong in the end papers map and two "prehistory" maps (pp. 1-2). The correct location comes at last on a larger-scale, more detailed map (p. 54). Software exists for publishers to pinpoint such a historic site consistently, even on small maps. To have a subheading like "The English Invade Virginia" (p. 45) implies a large military force, rather than barely one hundred men and boys, most of whom soon died. It would be years before the colony's success was certain. "Invasion" is a loaded term in this context. I once asked a class about the thesis of an assigned book with a similar title. A big white male in the back of the room, who had never spoken up before, and never did again, said: "Red man good, white man bad." There are details on the probable background of Powhatan's younger brother, Opechancanough, which are significant given his leadership of wars with the whites.
The treatment of Captain John Smith (p. 48) is not well done, with criticism of his strictness, given as the reason for his removal in 1609 by Virginia Company officials in London. Actually, Smith had been badly burned when gunpowder exploded in his small boat (perhaps set off deliberately by a rival), and he was sent back to England to recover. After Smith left, the settlement almost died in the Starving Time, but recovered under the military regime of Thomas Dale, which suggests that a little rigor was good for the settlers. The man who murdered his pregnant wife and salted her for later consumption appears. His ripping out of the fetus is omitted, perhaps to avoid offending delicate student sensibilities, or to help us avoid potentially divisive classroom arguments over abortion. "The English seemed irrational in their dealings with the Native Americans" (p. 48) is a troubling statement, which may both confuse students and contradict coverage elsewhere in the text. British behavior may seem irrational to us, for we are a nation whose treatment of Indians has advanced far enough to encompass both swank gambling casinos and staggering rates of alcoholism and infant mortality. It is more likely that the seemingly inconsistent behavior stemmed from two contradictory views of Amerindians, causing a troubling ambivalence in the white mind that resulted in spasmodic and unpredictable violence. Nor do the authors make clear how we know that Powhatan was disappointed at the marriage of Pocahontas to John Rolfe. Some authors suggest that he was pleased at this dynastic, albeit forced, alliance. The Old Dominion's history might have been different if FFVs (e.g., Presidents William Henry and Benjamin Harrison) a century or two later had claimed descent not from one Indian princess, but from countless natives; but there were only two other such marriages in the seventeenth-century.
Spanish history has long suffered at the hands of Protestants pushing the "Black Legend." This text turns that myth upside down. "In contrast to Spain, the English crown failed to take responsibility for protecting any rights of Native Americans" (p. 49). Although in many Spanish colonies the local agents of Christianity reached out to the heathen, it would be difficult to find any direct descendants, particularly of unmixed ancestry, in many countries of South and Central America and the Caribbean today. One would have thought that the extermination of native peoples in the Spanish Empire, starting in 1492, was common knowledge. The discussion of land ownership concepts is excellent, and the text features a good if somewhat challenging vocabulary, with words like "mercantilist" (49). Certainly it is better to drive college students to a dictionary, than to dumb down a text as was done with D. C. Heath's The Great Republic, where the "sedentary historians" in the first edition became "armchair historians" in the third. Readers get the entire text of a letter written in 1623 by Richard Frethorne, from Martin's Hundred, to his parents in England, with details on the 1622 Indian uprising (a "massacre" [p. 52]). The text omits the "red letter year" of 1619 as such, mentioning an assembly of elected delegates, without specifying that it was the first legislature in the New World, behind Parliament and the Icelandic Althing; and the direct ancestor of Virginia's legislature. Neither the first two women in the colony (Mrs. Thomas Forest and her maid Anne Burrass in 1608) nor the first large group of unmarried women appear. Women are in a long paragraph about the colony's expansion after 1619, apparently the only mention of Southern white women in the text until they reappear as Civil War nurses.
Of the trinity of 1619 events, only slavery's origins are covered in any detail, with a balanced treatment of half a page. Evidence suggests that the mysterious vessel that brought the first group of Africans may have belonged to Robert Rich, the Earl of Warwick, being in effect a pirate ship, rather than a Dutch vessel, a nation often at war with England. It is questionable that "Virginians adopted the practice [of slavery] by example from the Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch" (p. 51), three groups hundreds of miles away, and with whom they had little contact, and that usually hostile. The Chesapeake colonies were quite isolated, even from other English settlements, including those in New England and later South Carolina. The origins of American slavery may have been intertwined with the roots of American racism, as Winthrop Jordan suggested, though his seminal work is not listed in the recommended reading, while Edmund Morgan's wonderful study is. Later developments are covered with several pages on the entrenchment of slavery, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, systems of slavery, and early abolitionists, including a balanced discussion of the Quakers that reflects the expertise of Jean R. Soderlund.
Moving on to New England, students will learn about "the witchcraft hysteria," a typical misuse of a clinical term by historians. "The Salem witch mania was a tragic holdover from a passing culture" (pp. 93-94), yet belief in witchcraft was almost universal in the 1690s, even in Western Europe, where those accused of it would continue to be burned on the Continent until the French Revolution. The text has over a full page on the subject (two columns), with a picture of a seventeenth-century English witch-hanging, and Cotton Mather's report of Bridget Bishop's trial. In general the authors follow the popular family feud thesis to explain the event. Those convicted were hanged on "Witches' Hill" (p. 94; also called Gallows Hill) but we do not know its location. There are a number of other explanations for what happened at Salem, and an undergraduate text cannot be expected to explore all of them. But it might well summarize a few of the key points from one or two other interpretations, suggesting to students that there is often no easy answer to an historical question. Some of the women tried had long been suspected of witchcraft, and even previously accused. Rebecca Nurse's mother was executed in England for witchcraft. Elizabeth Proctor was pregnant, and cheated death only because of her baby. Physical evidence (dolls, charms) was found in the homes of a few of those who were executed. They were convicted on the basis of tangible proof, not just spectral, or invisible, evidence, or the malicious gossip of allegedly delusional girls. Under the law of the time such people were guilty of practicing witchcraft, clearly intending to harm others.
In contrast to this somewhat mixed account, the coverage of the Boston "massacre" is crisp, balanced, and detailed within the limits of the half page devoted to it. Crispus Attucks, the pasteboard icon of so many ideologues, is missing. The end of the Revolutionary War is not handled nearly as well. The map of the Yorktown campaign fails to put the Comte de Grasse inside the Virginia Capes, a crucial omission. Nor will students learn how "French fleets ... played a decisive role ... placing the seal on American independence" (p. 184). Reaching the Chesapeake before the British, the French admiral denied the Royal Navy access to the Bay, and cut Lord Cornwallis off from possible relief by sea. In less than half a page there are few details, and no mention of the Battle of the Capes, one of the most decisive sea battles in world history, for its very indecisiveness, until Jutland more than a century later. [12 ] The war continued another year. Men were still dying in South Carolina at the end of August 1782, when Francis Marion fought his last battle, and lost.
The coverage of the Constitutional Convention in chapter six is detailed, lengthy (over nine pages), carefully written, comprehensive, and balanced. The only quibble one could make is that the authors do not succeed in humanizing George Washington. Few of us have. They are correct that he presided over but participated little in the debates. They omit his nights of socializing with fellow delegates. No Cliometrician has yet tallied the rounds of drinks that this seemingly wooden (or marble) figure bought, the very real charm that he could exert, or the arms that he was certainly capable of twisting; all in good fun, of course. Since this title is not a dissertation, a scholarly monograph, or a magnum opus, would a few more anecdotes (with solid documentation) be out of order? I think not, and suspect most students would agree.
Treatment of slave insurrections is scattered throughout the text, which is appropriate given its organizing thesis. The authors mean what they say in "It's About Time" (p. xi): "This book follows a different strategy. Rather than isolating people and topics it integrates them into the flow of time. Rather than sorting topics into tidily organized chapters, we show the complicated and subtle ways that strands of history interact. Each chapter is devoted to a particular sequence of years, carefully following the contour of events...." Slave resistance is found in chapters three, four, eight, and nine, but coverage varies markedly in quality. The New York conspiracy of 1712 is well-described in half a page, but that of 1741 is omitted. Stono gets equal coverage, with some nice details, but Pointe Coupee, Louisiana (1795) does not appear. Gabriel's intent was to launch "an armed march" (p. 259) on Richmond, but it never really began, and the "two informers" who gave the plot away are not identified. They were fellow slaves, Pharaoh and Tom.
There are more details on Denmark Vesey's plot, and a strong conclusion: "White southerners drew a clear lesson from the events between 1820 and 1822: Northern agitation against slavery invited disaster" (p. 314). The text also mentions an 1829 revolt in the South Carolina low country, with more detail on resistance at sea aboard the Amistad. Coverage of Nat Turner's insurrection, one of the few other than Stono to result in white deaths, is lengthy, but the authors fail to mention that some whites were spared by Turner's force, either because they treated their slaves well, or were poor and owned none. The authenticity of Turner's "confession" has also been questioned. Reproduced here is a quote from David Walker's Appeal that runs across four pages, attacking Jefferson. It is easy to understand why a former slave, who would soon die because of his pamphlet, would view Jefferson with bitterness. But as historians how can we justify such one-sided views of complex people? Even presidents should get a fair hearing. Jefferson was neither the demigod portrayed by earlier biographers (who were hardly unanimous in their verdicts, especially the admirers of John Adams, Aaron Burr, and Alexander Hamilton), nor was he the Great Satan that one encounters on internet discussion lists, or the sexual predator portrayed by some current Monticello tour guides.
Chapter ten, "The Age of Jackson, 1827-1836," begins awkwardly: "Neither [John Q.] Adams's talents and devotion to the Union had faded, but the public mood seemed little interested in either" (p. 325-26). The reason for Jackson's popularity, his stunning victory at the Battle of New Orleans, gets a curious treatment. It comes not at the end of chapter eight, which covers the War of 1812, ending with the Hartford Convention and the Treaty of Ghent, but near the start of chapter nine, "Expanded Boundaries," in a section oddly titled "The Aftermath of War" (easy to miss) followed by a subheading "War's End." After a page on the battle, the text skips to the Era of Good Feelings. The Jacksonian chapter proves to be much better than its opening. There is excellent coverage of the Anti-Masons, important as an early example of a third party, whose 1831 Baltimore event was our first national political convention. Social, cultural, intellectual, and religious history also fills the chapter, with coverage of the struggles over slavery; the nullification crisis; free blacks and black abolitionists; and revivals and reforms, including abolitionism and the birth of Mormonism. Students will learn that "Garrison was the key person in the emergence of the new antislavery movement" (p. 340), though some experts might suggest that the Tappan brothers, or Theodore Dwight Weld and other westerners, had greater influence.
Given the frequent criticism of Jackson's treatment of the Indians, both as general and president, the coverage of this aspect of his career is remarkably restrained. The text mentions his adopted Indian son, Lyncoya, giving his death as a teenager as a reason for Rachel Jackson's decline. The army's role, led by Winfield Scott, in forcing Cherokees to leave their land on the Trail of Tears is covered, as are those of Congress and the Supreme Court. There is good detail on the Black Hawk War, showing that not all wars against the natives were waged by Southern whites. There is extensive Indian coverage in the first three chapters, with the Pequot War in Connecticut; Metacom's in Massachusetts, including a photograph of his war club, labeled as stolen (it has been returned); and an excerpt from Mary Rowlandson's captivity narrative. Indians appear as a factor in Bacon's Rebellion. Pope's 1680 rebellion in New Mexico gets several pages. A map shows some of the many native groups in southeastern North America.
Chapter eleven, "Panic and Boom, 1837-45," describes the antebellum North. There is an excerpt from Horace Mann on education, and five pages on Transcendentalism, with Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Peabody, and Bronson Alcott as "important figures in the revolt against Unitarianism" (p. 363). The text fails to explain why the loquacious Bronson was more important than his gifted daughter Louisa May, who supported the family with her writing. Thoreau's Walden, predictably, was "beautiful and affecting," especially one presumes when he railed against the shanty Irish on the other side of the Pond, or perhaps when he burned down the woods that he was occasionally in overnight. Brook Farm gets a mention (as does Oneida in chapter twelve) but Fruitlands does not make the cut. There are nice details on Edgar Allan Poe, but the cause of his death continues to be debated. The Washingtonians appear in coverage of the Temperance movement. Abolitionism gets another three pages, perhaps unneeded given the previous chapter. Elijah Lovejoy becomes a martyr, without any mention of his virulent anti-Catholicism, which was characteristic of many abolitionists, including the Beecher dynasty.
The coverage of American women is fairly extensive for a textbook, with mention of them in chapter two, on the colonial to reform era; a page in a larger section on "Massachusetts society"; and discussion of Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer. They appear in chapter five on the wars for independence, 1764-1785, with women helping soldiers, and the ubiquitous Abigail Adams; and in chapter six, "Toward a More Perfect Union, 1783-1788," with excellent coverage on Judith Sargent Murray, as well as fine pictures of her, and another of a young woman. Chapter nine, "Exploded Boundaries, 1815-1826," has almost two pages, with a beautiful portrait of a mother and daughter. The Jacksonian chapter has an image of Rachel Jackson, and another of the scandalous Mrs. Eaton, Peggy O'Neal Timberlake. Chapter twelve on "Expansion and Reaction, 1846-1854" has three pages on women's rights, including what purports to be a quotation from Sojourner Truth's most famous speech (pp. 400-01), which she neither wrote nor delivered. The book that exploded this myth is listed in the chapter's recommended reading. Women are portrayed as opponents of Indian removals, and some were, like Catharine Beecher, who no longer had them in her back yard thanks to her efficient Puritan ancestors. Students may be curious how frontier women felt, especially if they had lost family members fighting with the natives, but there is no speculation on that subject. As in most texts, there is virtually no mention of southern women except for slaves. The region's population apparently grew from boys popping out of their father's heads. The New Englandization of women's history in survey texts proceeds apace, an unfortunate trend given the number of recent, excellent monographs on Southern women, both colonial and antebellum.
Slavery and the Old South are in chapter eleven, with sections on the region's peculiar institution, plantations and farms, and politics. A map shows the internal slave trade. Students are told that "Slave women suffered sexual abuse by overseers, neighboring whites, or the owner himself" (p. 377), without mention of rapes by male slaves. Chapter twelve has a good though brief discussion of fugitive slaves, made better by the lack of any mention of the largely mythical Underground Railroad and the usual National Geographic map. This chapter covers the Compromise of 1850. The text refers to the "omnibus bill" without explaining what it was, or the vehicle for which it was named; and is unclear on how the agreement was reached. "The majority of northern and southern senators and representatives tenaciously voted against one another ... a small group of conciliatory congressmen from each side worked together" (pp. 407-08). The same space could have explained that Stephen Douglas encouraged men from both sections to absent themselves on votes about compromise bills that they could not support, appearing only for items they could back. Secondly, as was (and is) usual in such cases, deals were made that have never been completely explained. The discussion of John Brown in "Broken Bonds, 1855-1861" fails to mention that a free black man was the first to be killed by his band of angels, or that a Marine died in the assault on the armory at Harpers Ferry. Nor will students find that Brown was a bankrupt and a horse thief who had failed at various jobs and absconded on debts in several different states before ascending to martyrdom. Instead they will learn that "even pacifist abolitionists began to think that the time for a more direct attack on slavery had come" (p. 448). No examples of this militant thinking in action are given. Unlike Brown, most liberals are people who leave the room when a fight begins. Neither Garrison nor Wendell Phillips at first supported a war, instead preferring New England's secession from the corrupt Union, and then allowing the South to go and good riddance.
In the Sumter crisis, "some urged that war be declared against another country to pull the United States together again" (p. 453). Students may think this a ludicrous idea unless we tell them that its most prominent advocate was the new Secretary of State, former abolitionist William H. Seward. Still, this is a good, accurate account, as far as it goes in two pages, with pictures of the fort's bombardment and of Lincoln. The Civil War pages show how hard it is to write a really good textbook and preserve its virtues through the editorial blender of a large conglomerate. It must be somewhat like doing a series for PBS. The chronology in chapter fourteen, "Descent Into War, 1861-1862," errs on the dates of secession for the upper South. Only Virginia seceded on 17 April; Arkansas and Tennessee did not follow until 6 May; and North Carolina lingered until 20 May. Even where it is not factually wrong, the narrative has errors of omission and questionable interpretation. Truly the devil is in the details.
Winfield Scott's Anaconda Plan was mocked and ostensibly abandoned, and he soon retired, but eventually Union strategy resembled it closely. The advantage of the Confederacy's long border with Mexico as a way around the Union blockade was largely negated because Texas was so far from population centers and the main theaters of war. While there were many country roads to befuddle Yankee invaders, often even the locals did not know where they went, having never been as much as ten miles from home. On the Peninsula in 1862 Union officers had better maps than the Confederates. The picture caption for Lincoln's cabinet scrambles Seward and others; and fails to name General Scott. The greater age and experience of Rebel generals was an apparent advantage, though some scholars now argue that it proved to be a detriment overall. Most of the best Union generals were significantly younger than their Confederate counterparts. It may well be true that northern generals had more business experience, but that such "expertise proved useful in the modern warfare then emerging" (p. 465) is doubtful if one examines the stellar prewar careers of Grant, or Sherman, or Sheridan. McClellan succeeded as a railroad executive, for reasons that may have impeded his generalship.
"Confederates had to create a government from scratch" (p. 465), but they modeled both it and their constitution on the old forms. The Rebels took over that part of the U.S. Post Office in the South, and southern railroads carried the mail with no break in service, honoring contracts that they had signed with Washington. While the military focus on capturing enemy capitals may seem strange, that is how war was waged in the western world in the nineteenth and part of the twentieth century, against Paris, Madrid, Rome, Berlin, Moscow, and even London (when Napoleon and Hitler were dreaming). It is easy to miss the significance of the small battle of First Manassas, which may have misled Southerners into believing their own propaganda, while Northerners began to prepare for a long, bitter war.
While there was some class conflict in the Rebel armies, and more on the homefront, the text claims (p. 466) four-fifths of the white men of military age served, against only half of Northern men. There was probably far more Northern class conflict, as suggested by a detailed treatment of the New York City draft riot (pp. 505-06), the worst in American history until the 1960s. It is misleading to say that the Union blockade sealed off every city on the North Carolina coast except Wilmington (p. 479). A southern urban historian should have been consulted as to how many "cities" coastal Tar Heels had in the 1860s. How many had unobstructed deepwater channels suitable for ocean shipping? Only one, Wilmington, which became the most important port for blockade runners and was not captured until 1865. After carefully explaining that the USS Merrimack's (the "k" is dropped in Civil War usage) name changed, which most texts fail to do, it is confusing to read that the crew of the Monitor heard the cannon of the CSS Virginia in Hampton Roads while heading "to a Virginia port thirty miles away" (p. 480) While called "Fortress Monroe" both by Yankees and locals, because the word makes it bigger, it was officially designated a fort by the Secretary of War in 1832; both terms appear. Some specialists believe that Stuart's ride around McClellan was one of the main reasons that Lee's offensive failed in the Seven Days'. It put the Union army on guard, alerted McClellan to his vulnerable northern flank, and caused him to change his base to the James River, which offered deepwater closer to Richmond for the gunboats protecting his army and aiding his win at Malvern Hill.
At Antietam, Lee's lost order enabled McClellan to seize the advantage and attack the Confederate army while it was divided, with a major portion still at Harpers Ferry. McClellan made mistakes here and elsewhere, but it is misleading to state that "despite his numerical advantage, [he] had been unable to destroy the enemy" (p. 489). With the exception of John B. Hood's unfortunate army at Nashville, there are few cases where one army actually destroyed the other, i.e., killing, wounding, or capturing most of the enemy; or shattering it, causing panic. For example, the Army of Northern Virginia was never "destroyed." At Appomattox Grant caught and surrounded it, and Lee had the wisdom and humanity to surrender; but thousands of his men were still ready to kill and be killed.
Chapter fifteen tells students about carpetbaggers, a difficult assignment given the negative connotation of the term. We have never found a more neutral shorthand phrase for them, or the equally maligned scalawags. "The majority of white Northerners who became Republican leaders in the South ... had moved to the region long before Reconstruction began. Many were former Union soldiers...." (pp. 529-30). The sentences need explaining, as the second contradicts the first, unless the soldiers deserted just after Fort Sumter. The ungrateful freedmen refused to work for low wages for Northern whites, and truculent Southern whites had little to do with the Yankees. As a result, "a considerable number of Northerners took up the Republican cause as a way to remake the South and find a place for themselves in the new order" (pp. 529-30). How convenient! This image is at odds with much of the post-revisionist literature, which has found many carpetbaggers to be racists, sexual misfits, and guilty of various crimes, though often possessed of charming personalities. Perhaps there was a kernel of truth to the old Dunning stereotype.
Chapter sixteen finds "Reconstruction Abandoned, 1867-1877," in "a period of unrest.... The waning of Reconstruction left African Americans and Indians further removed from the mainspring of society" (p. 535). While this will not surprise savvy liberal professors, it would be a good place to remind students that slavery was a factor causing the Civil War, but that the conflict had little to do with racial equality. Reconstruction "failed ... because it challenged long-standing racist arrangements in both the North and South" (pp. 559-60). We should interrupt our lectures here for class discussions on current affirmative action "arrangements," including admissions quotas, racial set asides, reserved tenure track slots, and other preferential policies for various groups. Do it now, before federal courts do away with them. The Panic of 1873, scandals in the Grant administration, "and waning interest in black rights caused white Americans to back away from expansion of racial justice" (p. 560). Or perhaps it was the hundreds of thousands of soldiers' graves, and the aging of the old reform generation in the North. The next paragraph is better, and more realistic, explaining that to combat racism would have required an expansion of the government's power beyond the political beliefs of the nineteenth century. This era also marked "The End of Native American Resistance" (pp. 560-61), brought about by the same army, and many of the same officers and men, who conquered the Old South, but with the healthy addition of the buffalo soldiers (missing) who proved to be just as good at killing Indians as their white comrades. At least Indians finally achieved with Custer what Confederates did not, in the centennial year of 1876. Unfortunately, all of his men died.
As president, Grant was less charmed than as a general, for he "presided over what became known as one of the most corrupt administrations in the nation's history, but his personal honesty remained unquestioned and his popularity high." Students will have just read that "The episode [whiskey ring scandal] further damaged Grant's credibility" (p. 562). Given most of our presidents since Eisenhower this judgment might be softened. At least some of the same benefit of the doubt given Grant should be allowed for Reagan and Bush, and even Nixon, who was more liberal on civil rights in the 1950s than the Kennedys. Reconstruction in this text comes to a traditional close with the deal that decided the winner of the presidential election of 1876. Although many black Republicans had been intimidated at the polls by Southern Democrats, some whites had also been threatened in heavily Republican and black districts in the deep South. Florida's Republican party had split into rival factions, and in that state whites were a majority of the registered voters. Sam Tilden probably carried Florida's electoral votes and "won" the election, beyond the violence, fraud, and corruption on both sides, in all sections. Republican power brokers allied with Southern Democrats stole his victory, the latter remembering that their party brethren in the North were "invincible in peace, and invisible in war," a popular remark at the time. Talks began soon after the election, not just before the March 1877 inauguration. There is no mention of the Wormley House conference in Washington at the end of February, or the black entrepreneur who ran the posh hotel. The rest of the discussion of the bargain is balanced and accurate, as far as space allows.
But remnants of Reconstruction continued for a decade or longer in many parts of the South. Large numbers of blacks persisted in voting, despite numerous obstacles, as well as physical violence. Election day frauds continued, as did corruption on both sides. It all ended around the turn of the century with new state constitutions, a variety of disfranchising laws, and de jure segregation. The coverage of American labor in this period is curiously slight. Both the Railway Strike of 1877, a major wave of violence from Baltimore to the Midwest lasting several months, and the Haymarket Riot are covered only briefly, but the more conventional Knights of Labor get almost a page. A paragraph on Western women concludes that "the burdens of farm work fell hardest on women.... Some women achieved a degree of independence in the male-dominated West. They operated farms, taught school, ran boardinghouses, and participated in politics and cultural life" (p. 595). Apart from the inherent contradictions in the quotation, what is really meant by the sentences, these women seem to have accomplished the impossible, having their cake and eating it too, more so than their sisters back East, perhaps male-dominated as well. Given the large numbers of female Populists, including leaders like Mary Elizabeth Lease (pictured on p. 636), one might ask how many major women orators and leaders Republicans and Democrats had in liberated Massachusetts?
Dodging the Civil War draft by hiring a substitute, Grover Cleveland set a presidential precedent. Another came when a woman almost tripped up the Democratic nominee and confirmed bachelor. "His campaign suffered a setback when it was revealed that some years earlier he had accepted responsibility for an illegitimate child in Buffalo. Cleveland acknowledged his part in the episode, however, and his candor defused the issue" (p. 606). He was probably the last honest Democrat about his sexual transgressions, until Jimmy Carter confessed in a Playboy interview to "lusting in the flesh." Certainly Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson were less candid, and their peccadillos were overlooked by a more sophisticated and sympathetic (or male-dominated) media. The current Chief Executive has been less fortunate.
A colleague who claims to be a Tudor-Stuart historian once argued that the twentieth century is (was?) the most important in world history because more people were alive then. By the same logic we should all be historians of China, presumably the modern People's Republic. This ahistorical thinking appears in virtually all survey texts. The disproportionate coverage given to the last century struck me again as I read volume two, often with pleasure, and nearly always learning something new on each page. The first volume of American Passages devotes 560 pages to the period from 1492 to 1877, almost four centuries. Volume two (excluding the two overlap chapters, fifteen and sixteen) allots about 580 pages from 1877 to March 1999 (123 years), and the Bosnian war, when "the possibility of introducing American ... ground troops became more of a possibility" (pp. 1143, 1146). Despite the awkward prose, all will agree that this text is up to date. Doubtless instructors who adopt it will get to the very last page, and test their students accordingly. In the same spirit of relevance and presentism, I found the second volume of American Passages to be a good read, and it got better the closer it came to our own advanced age. There are many references to Sacco and Vanzetti, "anarchists and Italian aliens" arrested "for their alleged complicity in a robbery and murder" (p. 784; also pp. 791, 809, 818-19). There were actually two robberies (the first unsuccessful) and two murders (paymaster Frederick Parmenter and guard Allesandro Beradelli). One of the men executed was probably guilty (Sacco), and the other innocent, but these matters are overlooked.
There is a generally balanced treatment of Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover that owes much to the seasoned analysis of the political and presidential historian Lewis L. Gould. But after reading of Cleveland's youthful indiscretion, students may expect to find similar details on the pious Woodrow Wilson, or virile Warren G. Harding. There are none. Pictures of Hollywood stars once considered sexy will have to suffice. Eleanor Roosevelt is prominently featured, and her husband's affair in 1918-19 is mentioned (though Lucy Mercer, who was also with him when he died, is not identified); nor are other damsels like Missy LeHand. John F. Kennedy, a notorious sexual athlete before and during his presidency, took a breather to sign a law banning sexual discrimination in federal employment. His escapades get a sentence. The coverup by admiring reporters and fawning historians does not. His successor, an elegant Texan, once boasted that the late president was an amateur, comparatively speaking.
Coverage of McCarthyism and the Cold War reflects David M. Oshinsky's vast knowledge. The Wisconsin senator's abuses of power and the lives that he ruined are sketched, but the rest of the story is left untold. Three sections in postwar chapters (27 and 28; pp. 944-45, 953-56, 966-67) fail to mention the many Communists who were in the American government, some of them in key positions, as revealed by the mass of documents released from the former Soviet Union, and the NSA's decoding and declassification of the Venona cables. Some of them can now be viewed on the internet. There is little doubt about the guilt of American Communists and atomic spies Julius and Ethyl Rosenberg, David and Ruth Greenglass, Klaus Fuchs, Harry Gold, Judith Coplon, and Morton Sobell, but they are not even mentioned, though espionage is hinted at (p. 949). Curiously, a major book on the case is listed in the recommended reading for chapter twenty-seven. Serious scholars, not all of them right-wing, have been naming names found in Soviet documents for several years, but those of about three hundred-fifty traitors, like Harry Dexter White, number two in FDR's Treasury Department; or Max Elitcher, in the WW II Bureau of Standards and head of the fire control section for Navy ships, are not here. The code names "Robert," "Mlad," and "Pers," were found, but not tied to anyone. Many other spies have never been identified and brought to justice.
Alger Hiss's treason has now been proven to the satisfaction of most. His case is prominently featured, with a picture of the handsome State Department official who chaired the first session of the United Nations, but the text merely has him going to prison for perjury, and a major book on the subject is not listed in the recommended reading. Instead, Truman and Eisenhower are criticized for their policies, the former for establishing a Federal Loyalty-Security Program, the latter for thinking that J. Robert Oppenheimer might be a security risk. Nixon is cited for his prosecutorial zeal in the Hiss case, and for accusing a Democratic opponent of being "'soft on Communism'" (p. 990). There is no mention of Adlai E. Stevenson, the liberal's liberal, urging FBI head J. Edgar Hoover to establish a national loyalty oath program for teachers. Perhaps the omission of the more recent disclosures was because of the publisher's deadline, but the treatment of Hiss, and absence of the Rosenbergs, suggests otherwise.
Current events are perhaps best described by journalists and photographers, rather than by those trying to write history before the dust has settled, without access to archival collections that are still closed to researchers, like most of those at the John F. Kennedy Library next to my campus. The last chopper out of Saigon appears (p. 1068) but the picture caption (as usual) calls the building the American embassy. It was a CIA office. Rosalyn Carter walks the Populist walk with Jimmy down Pennsylvania Avenue (p. 1071), but there is no photo of her talking the talk in the White House receiving line, shoeless because her feet hurt. The chapter could be called "From Camelot to Tobacco Road." We learn of economic troubles and a "'misery index'" but it "was not all Carter's fault, of course" (p. 1073). Unlike Gerald Ford, who looked "clownish and inept" (p. 1070), Jimmy showed courage when he fought off a killer rabbit in a Georgia swamp, and leadership when he blamed Americans for the great malaise. Ronald Reagan is introduced in a movie photo, holding a large revolver and defending a small child. The caption portrays him as a buffoon: "By 1980, many Americans looked for someone to rescue the nation and restore its damaged prestige" (p. 1076). Who could blame them after the Iran hostage affair, presided over by an engineer who never learned to pronounce "nuclear," but who did not endure the jokes directed at Dan Quayle? Assessing the Reagan years, "after the glow of the performance faded, there remained the question of whether he had done more than walk through the presidency" (p. 1083). Perhaps his part of the American passage was safer than the ones with JFK and LBJ (Bay of Pigs, Cuban missile crisis, Vietnam), or more recent leaders. (Full disclosure: as a liberal Democrat, I never voted for Reagan, but truth in history is more important to me than loyalty to the party.)
Mrs. Reagan was "a very controversial first lady because of her opulent lifestyle" (p. 1084). (More so than Jackie with her redecorated White House and French couture?) The narrative reminds readers that Nancy arranged Ronnie's schedule with an astrologer's help. There is a page on the cable generation, and Michael Jackson and Madonna. This is history? Is it as important as slavery, or the Civil War, or woman suffrage, or the Depression, or World War II? "One major area of concern for families [in the 1980s] was the state of the public schools. A series of high-profile national studies suggested that American education was 'a disaster area'" (p. 1092). This text is hardly the cause of a similar state of affairs in the new millennium, but it is not the solution to the problem either. Most elite four-year liberal arts colleges and research universities do not even require a year of basic American history, and this text, or similar ones, are unlikely to be read by the best and the brightest destined to be our future leaders. Moving on to the Challenger mishap, students learn about the New Hampshire teacher "chosen to experience the excitement of a shuttle mission" (p. 1096). Those who get this far will hope their profs are chosen to experience the excitement of a Utah firing squad. George Bush's Willie Horton ads against Michael Dukakis appear, but not Al Gore's use of them earlier in the Democratic primaries. AIDS strikes "Magic" Johnson a few pages later, with no explanation of how or why he got the disease. (Perhaps it was a CIA plot against African-Americans.)
Given the political positions taken in the last half of this volume, it would be a perfect spot to advocate sexual abstinence, reinforcing Mrs. Reagan's "just say no" pitch against drugs. But that would be futile, because a few pages later we meet "Slick Willie" and women, who twice voted for him overwhelmingly. After all, he had the right position on the only issue that matters--and they weren't married to him. Paula Corbin Jones appears next, with Haiti and Somalia, which made Clinton look like he was "out of his depth" (p. 1122). But "the aftermath of the [Oklahoma City] bombing enabled President Clinton to regain a position of trust and confidence with the American people" (p. 1127), which may come as a surprise to a few readers.
This incisive analysis is sandwiched between discussions of the O. J. Simpson "Trial of the Century" (p. 1124-25, 1128), apparently as important as Sacco and Vanzetti's, not to mention the Rosenbergs'. There is more than half a page on political correctness and multiculturalism, pro and con. Students may be shocked to find that anyone is against these trends. Even if appropriate for a text, are they essential topics? Students experience both forces every day on most campuses. Could not this space be better used for a discussion of the importance of the Federal Reserve chairman in the modern economy; or the growing number of disaffected, independent voters, or any one of a number of other, more important subjects? The women's rights movement merits three sections (pp. 1029-30, 1049-51, 1071-72) in three successive chapters (29-31), and a time line (p. 1001) marks the 1996 admission of women to the Virginia Military Institute, symbolic of a woman's right to pursue a career in the armed forces, if that is her dream. There is no discussion of a boy's legal mandate to register for the draft at eighteen so that he can be blown apart by an enemy at some future date, or poisoned by his own country's chemicals.
Gay rights, including "'same-sex' marriages" (p. 1129), quite timely with Vermont's recent action, are discussed, but not the right to pay the marriage penalty at tax time, or the right to go through a nasty process when you split. The text fails to out Walt Whitman (vol. 1, p. 405), a possible gay role model. Homosexuals do not appear until the 1950s when they are listed among other security risks. Fortunately, Bill holds up the other end of the spectrum in "an extramarital sexual relationship," a "dalliance that included sexual encounters in or near the oval office," a "sordid mess" (p. 1130). We know that Clinton did not experience or define it as sex, a useful defense for the next professor accused by a student. To his credit, the President stood by at least one of his many women; after William Safire called the First Lady "a congenital liar" (p. 1130), Bill said he would have punched him in the nose if he hadn't been President. But the leader of the Free World is a lover, not a fighter. On the boring, Republican side, we have this: "An even less gifted speaker than [Bob] Dole, [Phil] Gramm looked like the stereotype of the college professor he had once been" (pp. 1131-32), which Gramm (and most faculty) will no doubt find offensive. Bill's nominated for a second term, while campaign guru and old friend Dick Morris resigned after his longterm affair with a prostitute was revealed. Princess Diana's death was "an overseas event that riveted the nation" (pp. 1137-38).
In Monica redux, Bill says "he had not had sex with Lewinsky" (pp. 1139-40). The text features two of our finest political artists. Jules Feiffer's strip has a white woman concluding, "I don't think he should be impeached. I think he should be grounded" (p. 1142). A caption for Gary Trudeau's "Doonesbury" panels explains to students who will already have forgotten that the "love dress" was "evidence of Clinton's sexual passion for Lewinsky" (p. 1143). Why such reticence and decorum here, of all places? Would not "semen-stained dress" get it across better, for those fond of Mailer and Updike; or perhaps "a frock bearing the seal of presidential jism" for Doctorow devotees? The phrases resonate, like those of Du Bois, and Alice Paul. The articles of impeachment are the last documents to be reproduced in the narrative, appearing on the next to last page, a fitting coda to the past forty years of our history.
Despite my reservations, American Passages is an above average text. It is much better than many of the nineteen that I reviewed in 1988, and may be about as good as any now available. All texts have strengths and weaknesses, which reflect the research interests and viewpoints of the authors, the marketing strategy of the publisher, and the varying amounts of attention to detail by editors. Given the accomplishments and talents of the authors, the collection of strengths that they brought to this project, I am disappointed that their textbook is not even better. I believe that the second edition will improve upon the first. But huge multinational publishing firms with gigantic production and advertising budgets, and expectations of even larger profits, drive this particular racket, which is little different from others. With the exception of online forums, textbooks are rarely reviewed. We do not think less of colleagues lucky enough to be asked to write one, though we are a little envious when they make a ton of money with a text. Surely there is no harm done to our profession? No sophisticated member of academe confuses texts with real scholarship, let alone good history, much less great history, elegantly written. We expect recommended reading, but no notes, end or foot. A single competent scholar, or even four very able ones, can hardly hope to do more than steer the narrative along a well-trodden path already defined by the perceived market and the spoor of texts from other leading publishers, while avoiding as many obvious errors and flagrant distortions as possible. The experience is much like Faulkner's in Hollywood.
As for the students forced to buy the assigned texts, that is their problem, or perhaps their parents'. How could this state of affairs possibly affect our country? Students won't learn much careful, analytical, critical, and dispassionate history from textbooks, but survey courses are really intended for blue collar types at lesser schools. The deserving students at the top schools, and all the others, will get excellent instruction in the subject from professional historians. Of course, if that is so, why assign a text at all? I chose volume one of American Passages for my two fall survey sections at a red brick commuter university, but will hesitate before adopting volume two for the spring. Its focus on popular history and culture in the past half-century, to the detriment of more substantive matters; and what strikes me as a tendency to give only one part of the social, political, and ideological battles of post-World War II America, are not my cup of tea. On the other hand, readers irritated by this review will probably love the second volume. Different strokes for different folks. I still believe, as I did in 1988, that "Clio has been sold to Madison Avenue."
NOTES . Michael B. Chesson, "The Selling of Clio: American History College Survey Textbooks," International Journal of Social Education 2 (Winter 1987-88): 78-140. . Francis Jennings, The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest (N.Y.: Norton, 1976). . Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr., The White Man's Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present (N.Y.: Knopf, 1978), 1-31. . Helen C. Rountree, Pocahontas's People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia Through Four Centuries (Norman: Oklahoma, 1990), pp. 59-60. . See the relevant passages of David E. Stannard, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (N.Y.: Oxford, 1992). . Chesson, "Selling of Clio," 78, 133 n. 2. . Charles M. Andrews, The Colonial Period of American History: The Settlements, vol. 1 (New Haven: Yale, 1934), 47, 136-37 n. 4. . Winthrop D. Jordan, White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812 (Chapel Hill: Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1968); Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (N.Y.: Norton, 1975). . Chadwick Hansen, Witchcraft at Salem (N.Y.: Braziller, 1969), pp. ix-xiii, 1-29, 220-21. . Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft (Cambridge: Harvard, 1974). We do not yet have a truly satisfactory thesis that explains the Salem event, one that encompasses a variety of complex and often contradictory historical evidence. Carol F. Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England (N.Y.: Norton, 1987) is one of the most convincing alternatives on witchcraft in general, but her focus is all of colonial New England. . Hiller B. Zobel, The Boston Massacre (N.Y.: Norton, 1970). Judge Zobel's account has held up well, despite criticism from various "radical" historians, now comfortably tenured and promoted. . Harold A. Larrabee, Decision at the Chesapeake (London: Kimber, 1965). . Clinton Rossiter, 1787: The Grand Convention (N.Y.: Macmillan, 1966), 152-53; Catherine Drinker Bowen, Miracle at Philadelphia (Boston: Little, Brown, 1966), p 98. . T. J. Davis, A Rumor of Revolt: The 'Great Negro Plot' in Colonial New York (Amherst: Massachusetts, 1985). . Thomas F. Gossett, Uncle Tom's Cabin and American Culture (Dallas: Southern Methodist, 1985), 52, 55-57. . Nell Irvin Painter, Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol (N.Y.:Norton, 1996), 164-78. . See Victoria E. Bynum, Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South (Chapel Hill: North Carolina, 1992); Catherine Clinton and Michele Gillespie, eds., The Devil's Lane: Sex and Race in the Early South (N.Y.: Oxford, 1997); Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South (Chapel Hill: North Carolina, 1988); and Elizabeth R. Varon, We Mean To Be Counted: White Women and Politics in Antebellum Virginia (Chapel Hill: North Carolina, 1998), among other titles. . Deborah Gray White, "Ar'n't I a Woman?": Female Slaves in the Plantation South (N.Y.: Norton, 1985), 142-53. . Some examples are discussed by Stanley Harrold, The Abolitionists and the South, 1831-1861 (Lexington: Kentucky, 1995). . Michael B. Chesson, "Harlots or Heroines?: A New Look at the Richmond Bread Riot, April 1863," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 92 (April 1984): 131-175. . David A. Clary, Fortress America: The Corps of Engineers, Hampton Roads, and United States Coastal Defense (Charlottesville: Virginia, 1990), p. 58. . See Richard N. Current, Those Terrible Carpetbaggers: A Reinterpretation (N.Y.: Oxford, 1988), for some representative examples. The pioneering work of Willie Lee Rose, Rehearsal for Reconstruction: The Port Royal Experiment (1964; N.Y., Oxford, 1976), showed that carpetbaggers included some idealistic individuals, and a healthy share of hypocrites, self-righteous reformers, racists, and scoundrels. Lawrence N. Powell, New Masters: Northern Planters During the Civil War and Reconstruction (New Haven: Yale, 1980) is a particularly valuable post-revisionist study. . Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Cycles of American History (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1986), argues for a recurring pattern of reform tides that surge and ebb, followed by more conservative eras often linked to wars. Paul Buck's The Road to Reunion, 1865-1900 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1938), is still a good guide on the currents leading toward white reconciliation. . C. Vann Woodward, Reunion and Reaction: The Compromise of 1877 and the End of Reconstruction (1951: N.Y.: Oxford, 1991), 19 . J. Morgan Kousser, The Shaping of Southern Politics: Suffrage Restriction and the Establishment of the One-Party South, 1880-1910 (New Haven: Yale, 1974); Howard N. Rabinowitz, Race Relations in the Urban South, 1865-1890 (N.Y.: Oxford, 1978). . Robert V. Bruce, 1877: Year of Violence (1959; Chicago: Quadrangle, 1970); David O. Stowell, Streets, Railroads, and the Great Strike of 1877 (Chicago: Chicago, 1999). . Francis Russell, Tragedy in Dedham: The Story of the Sacco-Vanzetti Case (1962; N.Y.: McGraw-Hill, 1971), 466-67. . Stephen Pizzo, "Web Review: Secrets--Uncovering the Rosenbergs," <http://www.webreview.com/news/natl/rosenberg/uncover.html>. . Ronald Radosh and Joyce Milton, The Rosenberg File: A Search for the Truth (N.Y.: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1983) . Allen Weinstein, Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case (N.Y.: Random, 1997). See John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America (New Haven: Yale, 1999); and Richard Gid Powers, Not Without Honor: The History of American Anticommunism (New Haven: Yale, 1998), among many other titles. . "The Elite College History Survey," done for The American Council of Trustees and Alumni by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut, polled 556 graduating seniors at the top twenty-five "national universities" and top twenty-five "national liberal arts colleges" as defined by U.S. News and World Report. Most of the students had difficulty with thirty-four demanding questions, such as the identity of the American general at Yorktown (U. S. Grant, William T. Sherman, George Washington), the president during the Korean War, and the war tied to the Battle of the Bulge. None of the fifty schools required a basic course in American history. For an explanation of the survey, polling methods, the questions, and other details go to <http://www.csra.uconn.edu/>. . E. L. Doctorow, Ragtime_ (1975; N.Y.: Bantam, 1976), p. 71.
Copyright 2000 by H-Net, all rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact email@example.com.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the list discussion logs at: http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl.
Michael Chesson. Review of Soderlund, Edward L. Ayers; Gould, Lewis L.; Oshinsky, David M.; R., Jean, American Passages: A History of the United States.
H-Survey, H-Net Reviews.
Copyright © 2000 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.