After three months a handful of stops and starts, I’ve finally finished Sean Wilentz’s The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln. It is a beast – a beast – of a book, and I’m quite proud of myself for getting through it, however well-written it is.
My dad always says that when you study something in enough detail, then you end up studying everything. That happened a bit in this book – now everywhere I look I see founding fathers and divisive aristorats and democratic rabble-rousers. two examples from today’s news. First, Congress’s refusal to pass the $700 billion Wall Street bailout (700,000,000,000? What does that number even mean?) harkens straight back to Andrew Jackson’s anti-banking instincts, and all the populist rhetoric that it rode on. Second, watching Ecuador fight over and pass its new constitution – a 444-article tome, and Ecuador’s twentieth in 200 years – makes me marvel at how sturdy our own little constitution has proven, despite the hardly guaranteed development of democracy in the first half of the 19th century. It was a rough ride, no doubt about it.