Political Ideology and Voting Behavior in the Age of Jackson

By Joel H. Silbey | Go to book overview

3
traditional sources and traditional interpretations

A wealth of literary evidence--the letters of political leaders, personal memoirs of politicians, accounts by contemporary observers of the political scene, reports of legislative debates, official government documents, newspapers, partisan pamphlets, platforms, and campaign biographies-- survives for the Jacksonian era. As we have noted, historians from Frederick Jackson Turner in the 1890s, to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., in the 1940s have drawn upon these materials to portray the political culture of the era in terms of an epic struggle between an encrusted aristocracy of wealth and power and the emerging mass political movement behind Andrew Jackson. Certainly, much of the rhetoric contained in these sources supported such an interpretation. Shrill denunciations of the "House of Have" by the "House of Want" (as George Bancroft, Jacksonian politician and historian, put it), permeated Democratic party literature in such crises as the Bank War and in multitudes of election campaigns. Contemporary newspapers often analyzed election results in terms of class voting, and upper class sources expressed discomfort at the raging sociopolitical revolution they perceived going on around them.

But, whatever the rhetoric, the vital problem of linking these descriptions, written by a relatively few men, to actual patterns of mass behavior and ideology could not be done by literary evidence alone. A number

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