Jacksonian Democracy: Myth or Reality?

By James L. Bugg Jr. | Go to book overview

JAMES PARTON ( 1822-1891), the nation's first professional biographer, achieved a reputation during the post-Civil War years as one of the more prolific and best-paid authors in the United States. His three-volume life of Jackson illustrates the philosophy of a liberal whose admiration for the man of action is tempered by his disgust with the crudeness and opportunism that characterized popular government. Jefferson and Herbert Spencer were Parton's heroes, rather than Jackson, whom he believed to be a well-intentioned but uneducated leader who erroneously emphasized popular rather than good government, equalitarianism rather than libertarianism. Parton's biography, in spite of its shortcomings, remains an important source for the study of Jackson.*


An Evaluation of Andrew Jackson

Respecting the character of Andrew Jackson and his influence, there will still be differences of opinion. One fact, however, has been established: during the last thirty years of his life, he was the idol of the American people. His faults, whatever they were, were such as a majority of the American citizens of the last generation could easily forgive. His virtues, whatever they were, were such as a majority of American citizens of the last generation could warmly admire. It is this fact which renders him historically interesting. Columbus had sailed; Raleigh and the Puritans had planted; Franklin had lived; Washington fought; Jefferson written; fifty years of democratic government had passed; free schools, a free press, a voluntary church had done what they could to instruct the people; the population of the country had been quadrupled and its resources increased ten fold; and the result of all was, that the people of the United States had arrived at the capacity of honoring Andrew Jackson before all other living men.

People may hold what opinions they will respecting the merits or importance of this man; but no one can deny that his invincible popularity is worthy of consideration; for what we lovingly admire, that, in some degree, we are. It is chiefly as the representative man of the Fourth-of-July, or combative-rebellious period of American history, that he is interesting to the student of human nature.

Those who have read "Wanderings in

____________________
*
From James Parton, Life of Andrew Jackson, III. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1888. The first edition was published in 1860.

-8-

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