A Shopkeeper's Millennium is in response to new interest in the Great Awakening. But while previous studies have explained the growth of multiple cities during this time period, Johnson's book focuses entirely on Rochester, arguing that it was "America's fist inland boom town" (33). A combination of factors, including improvements in inland transportation and prime geographical location, made Rochester an ideal place for opportunity and social mobility, according to Johnson. His book utilizes many rags to riches stories that effectively demonstrate how farmers started to become businessmen, which increased their revenues (16). One example is Johnson's illustration of how two of the ten richest men in 1827 Rochester grew up in poverty (28). The promise of rags to riches experiences led to an increase in migration from those seeking to advance their economic status, and Johnson discusses how this increased influenced and changed people's relationships, especially as citizens were constantly moving. With all of this social upheaval, Johnson argues, many turned to the churches for stability. With this milieu of social forces came the emergence of distinct social classes and pronounced party politics. Ultimately, Rochester offers a rich account of how these classes and party politics operated in early 19th century New York.
This book effectively explains how party politics emerged in response to the newly distinct social classes. According to Johnson, social classes started to become distinct after 1825. Johnson believes this happened because some of the middle class started to move away from their businesses and into side streets while the working class started to live in their own residential areas. Although some middle and working class peoples started to live in their own areas, there were some who decided to live in a mixed class area (48). Because of these distinct neighborhoods, political parties started to emerge to serve their interests. In particular, the book discusses how Whigs drew their support from church members and the middle class while Democrats drew their support from the working class (129). This created class conflict because each political party had its own class interest. For example, the Whigs cracked down on drinking by limiting four grocery licenses at forty and fifty dollars each (131). Workingmen were most affected by this policy because they became heavy drinkers during the revivals (58). This forced every drinking establishment in working class neighborhoods to either go out of business or operate illegally (131). Johnson successfully demonstrated the emergence of party politics through an effective use of methodology.
Johnson uses an effective use of methodology in this book. The author uses first hand accounts to provide a better description. For example, the author used a first hand account to effectively describe theatre crowds as being "rowdy" (54). The author uses statistical analysis to demonstrate change. He used statistics to show the changes of householders headed by proprietors from 1827 to 1830, which showed a decrease in percent change (107). Another effective use of statistical analysis was "In 1826 an editor estimated that 120 persons left Rochester every day, while 130 more arrived to take their place" (36). This shows the difficulties of lower class peoples to settle in. A Shopkeeper's Millennium uses first hand accounts and statistical analysis to achieve the goals of this book.
Although this book is a detailed account of Rochester, it does have some weaknesses. One of the main weaknesses of the book is that it does not provide enough background information about the Great Awakening. Also, it provides little information about the women's reaction to the changes. Women's reactions to this economic and social change are as important as other groups because women belong to the same social structure. Another weakness of this book is that it could have been longer. As mentioned earlier, the book could have added much needed background information as well as women's reaction to make this book longer and more effective. Even though A Shopkeeper's Millennium has many strengths, the weaknesses make this book fall short of being great.
Overall, A Shopkeeper's Millennium is a good book that is well written. This well-written book is also well organized. Each chapter's goal is clearly defined and has an effective introduction, body, and conclusion. Unlike other books in this genre, A Shopkeeper's Millennium focuses on the transformation of one city instead of multiple cities. This allows the author to show effects on different social groups more effectively by their responses to policies that directly affected them. This book is also well written and easily understood by anyone who is interested in Rochester, New York during 1815-1830. A Shopkeeper's Millennium is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the economic, political, religious, and social transformation in early America.