Jacksonian Democracy: Myth or Reality?

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

ARTHUR M. SCHLESINGER, JR. ( 1917- ) has placed himself at the head of those historians who find significant differences between the Jacksonians and their political opponents. His book on Jackson as well as his later works on the Age of Roosevelt establishes him as the nation's leading historian of American liberalism. The Jacksonians, he believes, wrought a peaceable revolution that they might preserve the reality of democracy in a changing economic and social order. They were no band of frontier radicals storming the strongholds of Eastern capitalism, for their ranks contained both farmers and urban workers from all sections. They fought entrenched capitalistic groups wherever such groups existed, making the conflict one of classes rather than sections.*


Jacksonian Democracy as an Intellectual Movement

The Jacksonian revolution rested on premises which the struggles of the thirties hammered together into a kind of practical social philosophy. The outline of this way of thinking about society was clear. It was stated and restated, as we have seen, on every level of political discourse from presidential messages to stump speeches, from newspaper editorials to private letters. It provided the intellectual background without which the party battles of the day cannot be understood.


1

The Jacksonians believed that there was a deep-rooted conflict in society between the "producing" and "nonproducing" classes--the farmers and laborers, on the one hand, and the business community on the other. The business community was considered to hold high cards in this conflict through its network of banks and corporations, its control of education and the press, above all, its power over the state: it was therefore able to strip the working classes of the fruits of their labor. "Those who produce all wealth," said Amos Kendall, "are themselves left poor. They see principalities extending and palaces built around them, without being aware that the entire expense is a tax upon themselves."

If they wished to preserve their liberty,

____________________
*
From Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., The Age of Jackson. Boston: Little Brown & Co., 1946. First published in 1945. Reprinted without footnotes by permission of the author.

-72-

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