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“They could there write the fates of nations": The Ideology of George Bancroft’s History of the United States during the Age of Jackson


During the 1820s, 30s, and 40s, national politics operated under the influence of Andrew Jackson’s political rise and enduring influence. The Jacksonian Era saw dramatic changes occur in the United States. Most importantly, the United States’s national borders expanded to reach the Pacific Coast of North America, encompassing an area that Mexico, Great Britain, Russia, and numerous Native American groups claimed. At the same time, American letters burgeoned into a vibrant and unique national literature, one that practitioners believed rivaled any European discourses of nationalism in passion and erudition.

George Bancroft operated at the nexus of these developments. He wrote the first popularly acclaimed and professional history of the United States, while simultaneously participating in Democratic Party politics. Ultimately, Bancroft served in the Presidential administration of James Knox Polk, influencing national policy and international diplomacy. This dissertation articulates the ideological assumptions and functions of the first three volumes of Bancroft’s History of the United States, which covered the Colonial Era of American history, during the Age of Jackson, a period in which the United States ceased to operate on the periphery of European colonialism and became a colonial power in its own right.

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