The First New Nation: The United States in Historical States in Historical and Comparative Perspective

By Seymour Martin Lipset | Go to book overview

3
A Changing
American
Character?

Two themes, equality and achievement, emerged from the interplay between the Puritan tradition and the Revolutionary ethos in the early formation of America's institutions. In this section the thesis is advanced that the dynamic interaction of these two predominant values has been a constant element in determining American institutions and behavior. As we have seen, equalitarianism was an explicit part of the revolt against the traditions of the Old World, while an emphasis upon success and hard work had long been a part of the Protestant ethic. In addition, the need to maximize talent in the new nation's search to "overtake" the Old World placed an added premium on an individual's achievement, regardless of his social station. The relatively few changes that Andrew Jackson made in the civil service, despite his aggressive equalitarian ethos, and the fact that his appointments were well-trained, highly educated men, show that ability was valued along with equality in the young republic. 1

____________________
1
See Erik M. Erikkson, "The Federal Civil Service Under President Jackson," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 13 (1927), pp. 517-540. Erikkson demonstrates convincingly that Jackson did not inaugurate a spoils system, that relatively few civil servants were fired after he took office. His conclusions have been reiterated recently in a detailed analysis of the backgrounds of the upper echelons of government under Jackson. Sidney Aronson agrees with Erikkson that there was little turnover when Jackson took office. Both men point to the fact that the changes introduced by Jefferson were about as great

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