Tuesday, September 16, 2014

1844: A Turning Point in American History

The presidential election of 1844 was a hard fought contest that solidified America as a nation stretching from coast to coast. The annexation of Texas was a major issue in the election. Henry Clay, the Whig nominee, worried that bringing Texas, a slave state, into the union would tip the balance of power and potentially lead to a breakup of the union. Polk, on the contrary, did not fear annexation and as president brought not only Texas, but Oregon and California into the union.

The presidential election was not the only momentous occurrence in 1844. It was a turbulent time for religion also. The Millerites believed the end of the world was upon them. The Mormons were facing persecution that resulted in the death of their leader Joseph Smith.

Families were heading west looking for better opportunities. This is also the story of wagon trains and John C. Fremont's exploration of vast tracts of the West.

If you enjoy history, this is an excellent book. It highlights an era that always seems to be glossed over in the history of America, but in fact it was an era that changed the character of America for all time. John Bicknell has done an excellent job of bringing the events of 1844 to life. I liked his presentation. Instead of concentrating on dry facts, he brought in some of the people in the era, like Fremont's wife, Jessica. The story of Fremont's campaign reads almost like fiction. Likewise the stories of the wagon train bring real people into the story. They faced hardships and tragedy, but also had fun. Moses, a teenage boy going West with his family, enjoyed the adventures, particularly hunting.

I recommend this book. It shows that many of the controversies, like immigration, that trouble the nation today were also an issue in 1844. The picture of our past can help us understand who we are today.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.