History 233 Reading Guide

American Society in Transition:  Changing Systems of Hierarchy and Association

Henry Adams, the author of a multi-volume History of the United States of American during the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison, proposed a theory of history in 1883: “My own conclusion is that history is simply social development along the lines of weakest resistance, and that in most cases the line of weakest resistance is found as unconsciously by society as by water.”
Henry Adams, letter to Samuel Tilden (1883), reprinted in H.D. Cater, Henry Adams and His Friends (Boston, 1947), 126.

  • Daniel Vickers, “Competency and Competition:  Economic Culture in Early America,” William and Mary Quarterly 47.1 (1990), 3-29.   JSTOR
  • Kathleen Smith Kutolowski, “Freemasonry and Community in the Early Republic:  The Case for Antimasonic Anxieties,” American Quarterly 34.5 (1982), 543-561.   JSTOR
  • Further reading:  David Jaffee, “The Village Enlightenment in New England, 1760-1820,” William and Mary Quarterly 3d. Ser., 47.3 (1990), 327-346.   JSTOR


  • According to Daniel Vickers, what do Caleb Jackson’s experiences, as he farmed with his father in Rowley, Massachusetts, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, suggest about the goals of farming families and the culture of rural society?
  • To what extent were farming practices and expectations a continuation of traditional English rural practices?
  • To what extent had conditions in America already altered rural opportunities and expectations?
  • To what extent was Caleb Jackson aware of the continuing and changing influence of the market in his life? How did his family view and respond to these changes?
  • What arguments does Vickers make about the previous and changing influence of commercial markets on families and communities in rural New England?
  • Kathleen Kutolowski describes the role of Freemasonry in early national communities and the rise of its counter phenomenon, Antimasonry.  What drew thousands of men to Masonic lodges in early National America?  Who were the Masons?  Who gained admittance to the secret, closed fraternity?  What benefits did the fraternity offer to its members?
  • Why did non-Masons become Antimasons?  To what did they object, and how did they articulate their objections?  How did their efforts influence early national society and politics?