Jacksonian Democracy: Myth or Reality?

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

VERNON L. PARRINGTON ( 1871-1929), Kansas-born Populist and Harvard Ph.D. in English, wrote one of the most provocative books in American intellectual history, Main Currents in American Thought. A Jeffersonian liberal, he found a fundamental ideological conflict in American history between the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the one devoted to the rights of man and the other to the rights of property, the one looking to Jefferson and the other to Hamilton. Writing as a disillusioned Progressive in the 1920s, Parrington viewed the end result of Jacksonianism as a rejection of Jeffersonian liberalism, which for him constituted one of the central tragedies of American history.*


Andrew Jackson, Agrarian Liberal

The dramatic career of Andrew Jackson, so unlike that of Jefferson, which was determined by a speculative temperament and founded on a critical examination of diverse systems of society and politics, was shaped in large measure by prejudice and circumstance. A man of iron will and inflexible purpose, he was almost wholly lacking in political and social philosophy. His conclusions were the reactions of a simple nature of complete integrity, in contact with plain fact. Fundamentally realistic, he cherished few romanticisms. There was no subtlety in his mental processes and this lack kept him free from the temptation to follow devious paths beloved of politicians. He must take the shortest way to his objective, crashing through such obstacles as lay in his path. He was never a bookish man. He was surprisingly ill read, and his grammar and spelling were those of the plain people. He loved horse racing and was a master of profanity; yet in spite of characteristics that link him with Davy Crockett, he possessed an innate dignity and chivalry that set him far above the wag of the canebrakes. He was a born leader whose headlong onslaughts and rash mistakes might imperil the cause but could not shake the confidence of his followers. All who knew a man when they saw one respected Andrew Jackson. Imperious and dictatorial, he knew how to command but not to obey: he took orders

____________________
*
From The Romantic Revolution in America by Vernon L. Parrington, copyright 1927, by Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.; renewed, 1954, by Vernon L. Parrington Jr., Louise P. Tucker , and Elizabeth P. Thomas. Reprinted by permission of the publishers.

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