Cover image for Young America : the flowering of democracy in New York City
Young America : the flowering of democracy in New York City
Widmer, Edward L.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
viii, 290 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1510 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
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F128.44 .W58 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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This fascinating study examines the meteoric career of a vigorous intellectual movement rising out of the Age of Jackson. As Americans argued over their destiny in the decades preceding the Civil War, an outspoken new generation of "ultra-democratic" writers entered the fray, staking outpositions on politics, literature, art, and any other territory they could annex. They called themselves Young America--and they proclaimed a "Manifest Destiny" to push back frontiers in every category of achievement. Their swagger found a natural home in New York City, already bursting at the seamsand ready to take on the world.Young America's mouthpiece was the Democratic Review, a highly influential magazine funded by the Democratic Party and edited by the brash and charismatic John O'Sullivan. The Review offered a fresh voice in political journalism, and sponsored young writers like Hawthorne and Whitman early in theircareers. Melville, too, was influenced by Young America, and provided a running commentary on its many excesses. Despite brilliant promise, the movement fell apart in the 1850s, leaving its original leaders troubled over the darker destiny they had ushered in. Their ambitious generation had failedto rewrite history as promised. Instead, their perpetual agitation helped set the stage for the Civil War.Young America: The Flowering of Democracy in New York City is without question the most complete examination of this captivating and original movement. It also provides the first published biography of its leader, John O'Sullivan, one of America's great rhetoricians. Edward L. Widmer enriches hisunique volume by offering a new theory of Manifest Destiny as part of a broader movement of intellectual expansion in nineteenth-century America.

Author Notes

Edward L. Widmer has taught at Harvard University and the Rhode Island School of Design, and received fellowships from the Mellon Foundation, the John Carter Brown Library, and the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research. He is currently a White House speechwriter and lives inWashington with his wife and son.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

"Young America" was an intellectual, literary, and political movement that became closely associated with American expansionism. Its key figure was the mercurial and enigmatic John L. O'Sullivan, known primarily as the originator of the portentous phrase "manifest destiny." Widmer's book, blending biography of O'Sullivan and a history of the movement, gives readers "the rest of the story." Young America developed around the journal Democratic Review, edited by O'Sullivan, and was a counterpart of similar European movements, e.g.,Young Italy, Young Ireland, the Young Hegelians. Widmer emphasizes Young America's radically democratic ideology, its close affiliation with the Democratic Party, and the importance of its locus in the unique milieu of New York City. He is especially strong on the literary and artistic elements of the movement. Hawthorne, Melville, and Whitman were intimately involved with O'Sullivan, his journal, and Young America, as were a group of genre painters including William Sidney Mount. The Mexican-American War and the slavery issue sharply divided the movement and led to a better-known but less attractive reincarnation in the 1850s as a blatantly expansionist and proslavery movement, with substantially different personnel involved. A solid and well-executed study. Upper-division undergraduates and above. K. Blaser Wayne State College

Table of Contents

1 The Politics of Culture: O'Sullivan and the Democratic Review
2 Democracy and Literature
3 Young America in Literature: Duyckink, Melville, and the Mutual Admiration Society
4 Representation Without Taxation: Art for the People
5 The Young American Lexicon: Field and Codification
6 Young America Redux
7 Epilogue: Forever Young