Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What this is all about

Pulverized Concepts is an affirmation of belief in the wonders of the free market economy, bicycle transportation, horse racing, history, good food, and whatever else seems pertinent at the moment.

Today, we'd like to dwell for a moment on two primary sources of information for historical analysis and recommend them for several reasons. The first is "Of Men & Manners in America" by Thomas Hamilton. Hamilton was Scots writer that made a sea voyage to the U.S. during the Andrew Jackson administration, traveling from NYC to Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, and to New Orleans and back. If you're near a decent library, you might be able to get this well-written and very informative picture of life in the U.S. during a very interesting time in American history. Like De Toqueville, Hamilton is an outsider with the observational skills to enlighten his readers on subjects that Americans themselves might not notice. While we can recognize some American traits that endure to this day, on the other hand there are aspects of U.S. life and culture that have, thankfully, disappeared. For instance, like many Europeans, Hamilton was aghast at the tobacco chewing of most American men. It had to have been disgusting. But little items like that aren't the gist of the book. He made the acquaintance of the leading political figures of the day and gives his opinion of Jackson, Van Buren, Webster, Clay and others.

A similar work of the same era is Harriet Martineau's "Retrospect of Western Travel", published in 1838. Martineau herself was a unique figure and would have been in any era. A Unitarian, feminist, abolitionist, she sailed to the U.S. in 1834 to see for herself American society and, in particular, the operation of slavery. While she explains the philosophical arguments against the "peculiar institution", her description of ordinary life in southern society and slavery's part in it is most valuable. Like Hamilton, she describes the day to day vicissitudes of life and travel in a country much larger and less developed than her own. She also met the individuals we might refer to as statesmen today. She first wrote "Society in America", which was so popular that "Retrospect" followed soon after. If you can find it, it's worth the read.

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