Book Review: America 1844: Religious Fervor, Westward Expansion, and the Presidential Election That Transformed the Nation


by John Bicknell

Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2014. Pp. xii, 306. Illus., chron., notes, biblio, index. $26.95. ISBN: 1613730101

The Dawn of Manifest Destiny

A journalist and executive editor of, Bicknell, recently the author of Lincoln's Pathfinder, a life of John C. Frémont, offers a lively look at one of the more contentious years in U.S. history, the events of which are today largely overlooked.

Bicknell touches on the many forces at work in America at the time. So we get to learn something about the religious trends, including new movements such as the Millerites and Mormons, and also about religious bigotry, including anti-Mormonism and anti-Catholicism), immigrant and Nativists, the Westward Movement, Manifest Destiny, the rising tension over slavery, and more.

The main thread that runs through the work, however, is the Presidential election, in which the mildly anti-slavery Whig Henry Clay lost to Democrat James K. Polk, leading to the annexation of Texas, which not only expanded the number of slave states, but set the stage for the war with Mexico, adding further territory to the Union, exacerbating the slavery question, arguably insuring the coming of the Civil War, with resonations down to the present.

The book has a great cast, including several past or future presidents (Van Buren, Tyler, Fillmore, Buchanan), and many others, some still well known – John C. Calhoun, Joseph Smith, John C. Frémont, Sam Houston – and some once household names and now long forgotten – Thomas Hart Benton, Lewis Cass, Theodore Freylinhausen, George Cadwalader, and many more.

American 1844 is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in ante bellum America.

Note: America 1844, is also available in several e-editions

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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