There is no punctuation mark in the title for the book. Author Daniel Walker Howe published it this way. It could be a question mark or an exclamation point. He left it to the reader to decide. Good, bad, or indifferent this 33 hour epic explores a defining period in American history. It either asks the question, or it makes the point, depending on the eye of the beholder. What hath God wrought.
What Hath God Wrought… The transformation of America. 1815-1848
“What hath God wrought” is clearly a reference to the invention of the telegraph. The author finds it to be the single most important invention of the period. And why not? The book starts of with Andrew Jackson fighting the Battle of New Orleans after the war of 1812 had already ended. Thereby quickly establishing the need for improvements in communication.
Transportation was another area needing improvements. This book leads you through the canals and railroads as they revolutionized shipping in young America. Moreover, it tells the story of the political battle over how these internal improvements would be funded.
Andrew Jackson was a key player in this era. Hence, he receives a lot of attention in the book. Having been written in 2007, there’s no reference to President Trump. However, one cannot escape the similarities between the two men.
- Jackson originally ran for President in 1824. He received the most votes. However, no candidate acquired enough electoral votes. Thus, the election went to the House. Jackson, although popular with the people, was hated by politicians, much like Trump. Therefore he lost.
- Like President Trump, Jackson’s morality was called into question. However, Andrew Jackson’s offense was relatively minor. He lived with his future wife before she was divorced and before they were married.
- Both Administrations were marred by infighting. Similar to the Conway family feud, Jackson had a cabinet member with a spouse that caused huge problems.
- Both Administrations had high turnover rates. Jackson once demanded the resignations of his entire cabinet.
- Andrew Jackson had his heart set on acquiring Texas. President Trump wants Greenland.
- Both Presidents feuded with the head of the national bank of their time.
The list is quite long, but I’ll stop there. If you really want to despise Andrew Jackson, buy the book. However, we have time for one quick note of irony. What Hath God Wrought observes how Jackson, who opposed paper money and central banks, wound up on the $20 Federal Reserve Note. For one last tie between the two Presidents, it was Trump who nixed the plan to remove him.
Jackson’s politics rested on the policy of majority rule. When a majority was at hand, Jackson used it. When a majority was not at hand, he endeavored to create it.
President Lincoln plays a lesser role in this book. However, there is some really interesting commentary on him. Particularly on his Spot Resolutions.
Since the time period stops short of his election, the book does also. However, it clearly lays out the roadmap this country followed to the Civil War.
It also addresses the question of why southerners who didn’t own slaves would fight to protect the peculiar institution.
“One southern white family in three owned at least one slave. One in eight owned at least twenty. This 1/8th owned well over half of all the slaves. Many whites who did not own slaves expected to acquire them later in life, and in the meantime might rent their services on a short term or long term basis.”
What Hath God Wrought addresses religion in young America.
The book goes well beyond the two Great Awakenings. It explores the different Protestant denominations. There’s even a section on Unitarian beliefs. Furthermore, it expounds on the roles each faith played in shaping society.
The Mexican American War.
This book takes a brutally honest look at the Mexican American war. The story isn’t kind to America, nor could it be. Trist, who negotiated the treaty to end the war, said the following.
In this I was governed by 2 considerations. One was the iniquity of the war as an abuse of power on our part. The other was that the more disadvantageous the treaty was made to Mexico, the stronger would be the grounds of opposition to it in the Mexican Congress.
Ulysses S. Grant was a Captain in the United States Army during the war. He said the following of his involvement.
Generally, the officers of the army were indifferent whether the annexation was consummated or not; but not so all of them. For myself, I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.
Following the war, Ralph Waldo Emmerson made this eerily accurate observation and prediction.
The United States will conquer Mexico, but it will be as the man swallows the arsenic, which brings him down in turn. Mexico will poison us.
What Hath God Wrought isn’t a romantic fairytale.
In fact, it is far from it. It tells the dirty truth of an imperialist time in our nation’s history. How our fight over slavery lead to an immoral war with Mexico, which in turn lead to brother fighting brother. If you can’t handle that, avoid the book.
If, however, you can handle that, I highly recommend it. It is a goldmine of information that will open your eyes not just to the political reality of that time, but how it shaped our politics today.
Note on the narration.
While the narrator does an excellent job, the editing leaves something to be desired. There are frequent edits where the quality doesn’t match up to the original recording. It’s a but annoying, but not a dealbreaker in my opinion.