Jacksonian Democracy: Myth or Reality?

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

JOHN SPENCER BASSETT ( 1867-1928), a leading American historian during the early decades of the twentieth century, was probably best known as the biographer of Jackson and the editor of his correspondence. Thoroughly familiar with the sources available to him, Bassett's scholarly life of Old Hickory remains a highly reliable guide, and his chapter on Jackson's personal characteristics, reproduced below, is one of the most revealing portraits in print. A comparison of Bassett and Parton reveals the influence of the Progressive movement upon American historians. To Bassett, Jackson was, in spite of his limitations, a great leader of the democratic movement.*


Personal Characteristics of Andrew Jackson

At this point we turn from Jackson's conflicts and problems and consider the man himself. His enemies hated him and rarely saw his good qualities; his friends loved him and reluctantly admitted his failings; and in a sense each was right. Some of the good things he did are excellent and some of the bad things are wretched. His puzzling personality defies clear analysis, but we must admit that he was a remarkable man. He lacked much through the want of an education, and he acquired much through apparent accident, but it was only his strong character which turned deficiency and opportunity alike to his purpose and made his will the strongest influence in his country in his time.

The secret of his power was his adjustment to the period in which he lived. Other men excelled him in experience, wisdom, and balanced judgment; but the American democrats of the day admired neither of these qualities. They honored courage, strength, and directness. They could tolerate ignorance but not hesitancy. Jackson was the best embodiment of their desires from the beginning of the national government to his own day.

Jackson accepted democracy with relentless logic. Some others believed that wise leaders could best determine the policies of government, but he more than any one else of his day threw the task of judging upon the common man. And this he did without cant and in entire sincerity. No passionate dreamer of the past was more willing than he to

____________________
*
John Spencer Bassett, The Life of Andrew Jackson, II. Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, Page and Co., 1911. Reprinted without footnotes by permission of Mr. Richard Bassett.

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