The three decades before the Civil War have long been recognized as a time of crucial change in American society. In this comprehensive and insightful reinterpretation of antebellum culture, Anne C. Rose analyzes the major shifts in intellectual life that occurred between 1830 and 1860 while exploring three sets of concepts that provided common languages--Christianity, democracy, capitalism. Whereas many interpretations of American culture in this period have emphasized a single theme or have been preoccupied with the ensuing Civil War, Rose considers sharply divergent tendencies in religion and politics and a wide range of reformers, authors, and other public figures. She contends that although the key characteristic of the society in which Americans explored their ideas was openness, the freedom and creativity of antebellum thought depended on conditions of cultural security. Including works by African Americans, Irish Americans, Native Americans, and Jewish Americans that have seldom been seen in relation to the era's more famous masterpieces, Voices of the Marketplace provides a clearer portrait of antebellum America.
The breadth and interpretive skills displayed by the author are impressive. Rose's analytic sophistication and unsparing confrontation with complex disciplinary issues will make her book an important work for graduate students and faculty.