Social Theories of Jacksonian Democracy: Representative Writings of the Period 1825-1850


The party of the Jacksonian Democrats was, in many respects, the first of the modern American political parties. In Jacksonian democracy, for the first time in our party history, the Washington "dynasty" lost its power to direct the Presidential nomination to one of their own group. John Adams and Jefferson had both served in the cabinet of George Washington; Madison was trained for the Presidency by acting as Jefferson's Secretary of State; Monroe held the same position under Madison; John Quincy Adams occupied this training ground under Monroe. A tradition was well on its way to being established. The President was to be a man who had learned what was demanded of him in his new position by being at the center of affairs in the cabinet of his predecessor. He was to be a man of national vision who had made a career of national affairs. Jacksonianism broke sharply with this tradition by entering for the Presidency men like Van Buren and Polk whose reputations and support were local or sectional. They were partisans as well as party men. Jackson himself, though he drew his support from all over the country, had never cut much of a figure on the national political stage prior to his election to the highest office within the gift of the people of the United States.

Yet it was his ability to gain popular support in all sections of the country which was Jackson's strong point. The rivalry between the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the old Dominion of Virginia, each with its allies, had enlivened the politics of the early years of the American nation. To this open rivalry there succeeded an "era of good feeling," which was not so much the abandonment of sectional rivalry as its subordination to the mutual interests of northern industrialists and southern planters. There was a sentiment abroad for a movement which stood above sections, which united the North, the South, and the developing West. Of this unity the Jacksonian movement was the exponent, and Jackson himself was the symbol. The sense of national unity which the Jacksonians bequeathed to the United States . . .

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