To the Halls of the Montezumas

To the Halls of the Montezumas : Mexican War in the American Imagination

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"Our country has entered on a new epoch of its history," wrote a Whig Party journal in 1849, just after America's triumph in the Mexican War. Indeed, for that romantic generation of Americans in the mid-nineteenth century, the Mexican War was a grand exercise in self-identity: it legitimized the young republic's convictions of mission and destiny to a doubting world. It was easily one of the most popular wars the United States has ever fought. This rich cultural history examines the war's place in the popular imagination of the era. As Robert Johannsen notes, the Mexican War was the first American conflict to be widely reported in the press, as well as the first to be waged against an alien foe in a distant, strange, and exotic land. For mid-century Americans, Johannsen shows, the war provided a window onto the outside world, promoting an awareness--if not an understanding--of a people and a land unlike any they had known before. The war helped to dispel some of the mystery of Mexico, as it generated a huge flood of popular literature, poetry, songs, art, and stage plays. Would-be historians began chronicling the war almost as soon as the first shots were fired, and the war provoked myriad questions about the true nature and purposes of the republic. Drawing on military and travel accounts, newspaper dispatches, and a host of other sources, Johannsen vividly recreates the mood and feeling of the period--its unbounded optimism and patriotic pride. The book's unique perspective not only adds a new dimension to our understanding of the Mexican War; it offers new insights into American itself. About the Author Robert W. Johannsen is J.G. Randall Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and author of Stephen A. Douglas, which received the Parkman Prize of the Society of American Historians.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 368 pages
  • 160.02 x 233.68 x 35.56mm | 1,088.62g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • frontispiece, halftones, drawings
  • 0195035186
  • 9780195035186

Review Text

The Mexican War (1846-48) as a cultural phenomenon - smoothly handled despite occasional lapses and fits of academic high seriousness. Drawing largely on popular books and periodicals rather than on the more-familiar official sources, U. of Illinois historian Johannsen (prize-winning biographer of Stephen A. Douglas) neatly tags the different components of the country's almost hysterical enthusiasm for the war - among them millenial republicanism, unabashed Anglo-Saxon racism, plain old national chauvinism, and heavy doses of romantic claptrap about the revival of medieval chivalry. Better still are his descriptions of the conflict's impact on American patriotic symbols and music (Old Glory, the bald eagle, Yankee Doodle), on West Point (this was the Academy's first war), on public interest in the careers of Washington and Napoleon, on the creation of new national heroes (some familiar, like Zachary Taylor, others more obscure, like Alexander W. Doniphan), on public taste (it launched a fad for moustaches and "cigarritos"), and even on public speech (witness the popularity of the expression, "to see the elephant") - not to mention the war's implications for travel literature, sightseeing, popular verse and fiction, theater, and music. The bad news is that Johannsen does not give a satisfactory account of opposition to the war - his impatience with the abolitionists is particularly unfortunate - and his occasional attempts at analytical rigor are far from impressive ("one indicator of its importance was the depth to which it penetrated the national psyche"). These defects are far from fatal, however, and what remains is richly informative. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

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25 ratings
3.2 out of 5 stars
5 12% (3)
4 32% (8)
3 32% (8)
2 12% (3)
1 12% (3)
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