The Leaven of Democracy: The Growth of the Democratic Spirit in the Time of Jackson

The Leaven of Democracy: The Growth of the Democratic Spirit in the Time of Jackson

The Leaven of Democracy: The Growth of the Democratic Spirit in the Time of Jackson

The Leaven of Democracy: The Growth of the Democratic Spirit in the Time of Jackson

Excerpt

Andrew Jackson gave his name to the era between the 1820's and 1850's in part because he dominated it, but even more because he was its prime symbol. Born on the frontier of Scotch-Irish parentage, Jackson became the most famous of the first generation that made its fortunes across the Appalachians. He was a gentleman-planter, entrepreneur, military hero, and above all, political leader. Yet he was the product more than the molder of the national dynamisms that came to the forefront in Jacksonian America.

Small wonder that European visitors in increasing numbers came to tour the adolescent United States, this display case of democracy, taking in all of its sights from Niagara Falls to the old General in the White House, and returning home to write books in which they might gibe at the country's crudities or exclaim with awe at its natural phenomena and institutional achievements. Whatever their reactions, favorable or unfavorable, they were impressed with the scale and activity of life in America. It was a nation of ambitious people, a nation on the march, and a nation which, as it rapidly filled in the great Mississippi Valley, was developing many of the distinct characteristics that have marked it ever since.

It was the age of the common man, or at least of the recognition that he should enjoy equality of opportunity. It was the generation, therefore, in which an energetic few advanced rapidly to wealth and power. This was the heyday of the skilled artisan and the small entrepreneur, but it was also seedtime for the industrial system, with all its blessings and flaws. This was the agrarian era, when most Americans were still engaged in the tilling of family farms, yet the agrarians who exerted most influence were a handful of slave-owning southern planters.

These were democratic years when modern parties and political techniques were receiving their testing, but politics locally was often dominated by machines, and national parties held themselves together most often by obscuring issues rather than elucidating them. These were the years of star-spangled nationalism, when orators proclaimed the mani-

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