Andrew Jackson and His Tennessee Lieutenants: A Study in Political Culture

By Lorman A. Ratner | Go to book overview
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than to risk one's life as a soldier? Leading others in battle gave a man the chance to prove his right to lead in every respect. The concept of the leader who earned the right to lead through combat is still a key element in the collective fantasy that was and is American political culture. General Jackson was joined by Generals Carroll, Coffee, and Houston, Colonel Polk, and Majors Eaton, White, and Lewis as bearers of military titles that firmly established their rightful place as leaders, even if, as was the case with Polk and Lewis, they never fired a shot at an enemy or had a single shot fired at them. The Tennessee Jacksonians did not all agree on every important issue of public policy, but the litmus test for determining membership among the lieutenants was personal conduct in the affairs of the world, and most important of all, loyalty to the old general who stood as the thane, the real and symbolic leader of their clan. Their common goal was to preserve that which the Revolution had produced, the republic.

While they might disagree on such issues as the best way to handle economic depression and economic growth, banks, tariffs, and the like, none of these differences were so vital as to cause a man to desert his leader. Two men in the group did desert Jackson, but their desertion was caused not by disagreement over economic policy, but rather by what they perceived to be Jackson's failure of leadership, his loss of honor as a result of his behavior, which proved to them that a once pure knight had been corrupted by power. The defections grew out of the fear that Jackson really had become, as the Whig Party was to proclaim him, "King Andrew." At least in Tennessee, this image was more than just a political gimmick designed to unite his enemies; it reflected a very real belief on the part of some who knew the general well that, as the result of old age, unscrupulous compatriots, or simply his flawed character, he had become not the republic's savior but its nemesis.

Sydney Verba, ed., with Lucian Pye, Political Culture and Political Development ( Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965), 513. In his essay in this volume, Verba offered a description of political culture that I believe describes it well, and that I have kept in mind. He wrote, "The political culture of a society consists of the system of empirical beliefs, expressive symbols, and values, which defines the situation in which political action takes place."


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Andrew Jackson and His Tennessee Lieutenants: A Study in Political Culture


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