The State of American History

By Herbert J. Bass | Go to book overview

Jacksonian Quantification: On Asking the Right Questions

EDWARD PESSEN

Twenty years ago I joined several colleagues in Richard B. Morris' seminars in testing the validity of the labor thesis that had recently been put forward by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.1 Our approach to the problem was first to try to identify the working-class districts in such cities as Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Newark, and then to consult the electoral data in order to determine the voting preferences of the laboring poor. In showing that most workingmen appeared to have voted against Andrew Jackson in most elections, we believed we were refuting Mr. Schlesinger's labor thesis.2

His Age of Jackson had argued that Jacksonian Democracy owed its success to the electoral support it received from urban working classes as well as to its following among the nation's yeomanry. Other features of the labor thesis were being challenged at the time by studies that questioned the authenticity of several of the Democracy's self- styled "labor" champions, Jackson's alleged sympathy for labor, and the closeness of the ties between Jacksonian Democracy and organized workingmen's groups.3 Innocent as we were in the ways of statistical procedure, our conclusions as to how workers voted were less than definitive.4 Yet it appeared that we had either refuted the labor thesis in its entirety or at least addressed ourselves to answering every question it had raised. But we had overlooked one question. It happened to be the most interesting and important question Mr. Schlesinger had asked, and one which he had answered in the affirmative. The question was: "Should labor have supported Jackson?"

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