The Many-Faceted Jacksonian Era: New Interpretations

The Many-Faceted Jacksonian Era: New Interpretations

The Many-Faceted Jacksonian Era: New Interpretations

The Many-Faceted Jacksonian Era: New Interpretations

Synopsis

"(Pessen) rightly recognizes the need to comprehend the era's economic, social, and humanitarian developments. This is a good collection that should stimulate student interest in a fascinating era." Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

Excerpt

Until recently many scholars treated history as though its chief, if not its only, theme was past politics. in dealing with the second quarter of the nineteenth century they focused above all on the administrations of Andrew Jackson and on the dramatic warfare waged by Jacksonian Democracy against its great political rivals, the National Republicans and the Whigs. That historians called the period the "Jacksonian Era" only reflected their preoccupation with its political issues and their conviction that the seventh president was the dominant figure of his time.

Another popular rubric for the period, "the Era of the Common Man," is yet another sign of historians' fixation on its political themes. the common man supposedly came into his own during the era, first by winning the right to vote, then by taking over the process of nominating candidates for office, and finally by rewarding at the polls the parties and candidates that ostensibly best represented his interests. Both labels, the Jacksonian Era and the Era of the Common Man, attest to the scholarly belief in the centrality of politics.

Who can deny the importance of politics, particularly the dramatic politics of the age of Jackson? the point of this book is not that Jacksonian politics were insignificant but rather that they shared center stage with other themes. To understand Jacksonian America it is necessary to be familiar with its social and economic as well as its political developments. For that matter the recent unearthing of great quantities of new social and economic evidence has thrown important new light on the politics of the period. Political issues do not after all develop in a social vacuum. It matters a great deal, for example, whether a procedural reform that democratizes politics occurs against a backdrop of social inequality and rigid class barriers or in a happier social setting. What would be dismissed as a superficial improvement in the one context might be applauded as a meaningful change in the other. the recent research on social reform and economic and social developments not only highlights previously neglected aspects of the Jacksonian era but it also enriches our understanding of the politics of the period.

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