Jacksonian Democracy: Myth or Reality?

By James L. Bugg Jr. | Go to book overview

THOMAS P. ABERNETHY ( 1890- ), a leading historian of the Revolutionary and early national periods of American history, examines in the book from which this selection is taken, the important state of Tennessee, believing that this type of investigation will deepen our knowledge of the growth of American democracy. In contrast to Frederick Jackson Turner, he discovered the "first offspring" of the West to be not democracy, but "arrant opportunism." His book challenges those who see in Andrew Jackson the ideal leader of frontier democracy.*


Andrew Jackson and the New Democracy

Deep in the consciousness of the submerged masses is ever the desire for self-assertion, for "equality," while just as firmly planted in the minds of the fortunate few is the desire to control. The developments of the Revolutionary period had gone far toward liberating the masses from political and economic oppression, but it had by no means put them in control of the government. The period immediately following the Revolutionary era was not favorable to any further developments along this line. Indians and foreign powers gave trouble; the population was engaged in the occupation of new frontiers, and strong leadership was vital to the very life of the new nation. The man who could furnish this leadership was looked up to as a public benefactor. He regarded himself in that light when he accepted public office, and if he could contrive to make his official position contribute to his private fortune, it was only a just reward for his services. The small group of leaders in any community were closely connected, and offices were passed around among friends and kinsmen as a matter of course.

It was the panic of 1819 which first disturbed this peaceful order of society. A situation similar to that which prevailed in Tennessee following the sudden collapse of the price of cotton in

____________________
*
From Thomas P. Abernethy, From Frontier to Plantation in Tennessee: A Study in Frontier Democracy. Memphis: Memphis State College Press, 1955. First published in 1932. Reprinted without footnotes by permission of the author.

-51-

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