Amidst a spate of exciting scholarship on 19th-century America, Professor Welter's book seems to renew the dull trickle of overviews of the national ethos -- in this case, the antebellum period. Welter is not without ideas or material. He traces the Democratic Party's appeal from its early passion against unproductive economic speculation to its collapse on the slavery issue. He also suggests, more cryptically, that the westward expansion of slavery was no real threat to the North, and that Northern politicians should have waited it out to avert a war. In connection with the book's ""common man"" theme, Welter focuses on the proto-populist agitation among the Democratic following who hated banks but were, he says, willing to accept ""justified"" suffering for themselves. And Welter persuasively stressesthe genuine idealism about spreading progress which accompanied economic motives for the 19th-century frontier movement. But the book gives no memorable sense of these developments; its Americans ""reject"" or ""sympathize with"" or ""absorb"" any number of ideas, while the passion of the period gets lost. A reference work that could have been more.