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America 1844
America 1844

America 1844

Religious Fervor, Westward Expansion, and the Presidential Election That Transformed a Nation


320 Pages, 6 x 9

Formats: PDF, Mobipocket, EPUB, Trade Paper

Trade Paper, $16.99 (US $16.99) (CA $22.99)

Publication Date: November 2017

ISBN 9781613738818

Rights: WOR

Chicago Review Press (Nov 2017)


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The presidential election of 1844 was one of the two or three most momentous elections in American history. Had Henry Clay won instead of James K. Polk, we'd be living in a very different country today. Polk's victory cemented the westward expansion that brought Texas, California, and Oregon into the union. It also took place amid religious turmoil that included anti-Mormon and anti-Catholic violence, and the "Great Disappointment," in which thousands of followers of an obscure preacher named William Miller believed Christ would return to earth in October 1844.            Author and journalist John Bicknell details even more compelling, interwoven events that occurred during this momentous year: the murder of Joseph Smith, the religious fermentation of the Second Great Awakening, John C. Frémont's exploration of the West, Charles Goodyear's patenting of vulcanized rubber, the near-death of President John Tyler in a freak naval explosion, and much more. All of these elements illustrate the competing visions of the American future—Democrats versus Whigs, Mormons versus Millerites, nativists versus Catholics, those who risked the venture westward versus those who stayed safely behind—and how Polk's election cemented the vision of a continental nation.


"A historical treasure trove recorded with verve and insight.  Fascinating tales of an era and personalities you thought you knew—but didn't until now." —David Pietrusza, historian and author of 1920: The Year of Six Presidents

"A thrilling chronicle of America in a critical year.  In an ambitious young republic, some saw a limitless future while others believed the world was coming to an end.  In Bicknell's skilled hands this incredible cast of characters, presidents and prophets alike, come to life in all of their glory. Don't miss this riveting story of political warfare and westward expansion." —Chris DeRose, award winning author of The Presidents' War, Congressman Lincoln, and Founding Rivals  

"In this elegantly researched and lively narrative, John Bicknell tells the story of 1844, a pivotal year for a muscular young nation pressing forward on multiple fronts even as the struggle over slavery looms larger. Giants like Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun share the spotlight with a spectrum of colorful and captivating personalities, among them President John Tyler, presidential aspirant James K. Polk, firearms expert Samuel Colt, explorer John C. Fremont and religious leaders Joseph Smith and William Miller." —Guy Gugliotta, author of Freedom's Cap: The United States Capitol and the Coming of the Civil War

"The year 1844 stands as a hinge moment in U.S. history, when powerful developments converged upon the country in politics, in diplomacy, in religion, in exploration, and in technology. In sprightly and robust prose, John Bicknell narrates this pivotal year by capturing the virtues, foibles and remarkable endeavors of giant figures—Henry Clay, James Polk, Thomas Benton, Samuel Morse, Charles Goodyear, John Fremont, Joseph Smith, and many more. This book is as enjoyable as it is enlightening." —Robert W. Merry, author of A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War, and the Conquest of the American Continent

"Politics, religion, slavery, diplomacy and the annexation of Texas. John Bicknell's woven together the forces that drove American expansion into a thoroughly engaging narrative that wraps the reader into his abiding fascination with our history and reminds us of how much is at stake in our political fights." — Jonathan Allen, co-author of HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton

"Bicknell's consideration of this watershed in American history is solid…Bicknell's brisk work is still an accessible and informative take on antebellum American politics." —Publishers  Weekly

"An entertaining account of a single year of unexceptional significance." —Kirkus Reviews

"A fast-moving, easily digestible account of that year, and Bicknell does a fine job of explaining the issues, the personalities, and the shifting political trends that made the period tumultuous. Bicknell offers interesting vignettes with insights… [and] provide[s] a useful portrait of the antebellum nation that is aimed at general readers." —Booklist

Author Biography

John Bicknell has written and edited for FCW, Congressional Quarterly, Roll Call, and was coeditor of the 2012 edition of Politics in America, CQ's twelve-hundred-page guide to the US Congress.