Jacksonian Democracy: Myth or Reality?

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

EDWARD PESSEN ( 1920- ) belongs to a group of historians, generally identified with Columbia University, who criticize Schlesinger's interpretation of Jacksonian Democracy, especially his views on the crucial role played by labor in the movement. Joseph Dorfman, a leader of this group, denies that the labor spokesmen cited by Schlesinger were antibusiness, nor does he consider them representatives of a genuine labor movement. Richard Morris, also a Schlesinger critic, maintains that Jackson was antilabor. Pessen, in the selection below, does not support either of these interpretations completely, but he does deny that the labor movement was anticapitalist and that it was associated closely with the Democratic party.*


The Workingmen's Movement of the Jacksonian Era

In the eleven years since the publication of The Age of Jackson, by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., as the interest of students of the Jacksonian era has been turned to a closer examination of the social complexion and ideology of the reform movement which allegedly coalesced around the person and the program of President Jackson, important questions have been raised about the labor movement of that period. On the one hand, Joseph Dorfman, challenging what he calls the Jackson wage-earner thesis, has questioned both the authenticity of the movement and the radicalism and anticapitalism attributed to its leaders.1 On the other hand, the long- popular thesis that eastern workingmen constituted an important part of the Jacksonian coalition and that their votes were instrumental in Jackson's political victories has also come under serious criticism. Recent studies have shown that urban workers, organized and unorganized, often voted against Jackson and candidates supporting him.2 This conclusion, when complemented by

____________________
*
Edward Pessen, "The Workingmen's Movement of the Jacksonian Era," The Mississippi Valley Historial Review, XLIII ( December 1956). Most of the footnotes that accompanied the article as originally published have been omitted by permission.
1
Joseph Dorfman, "The Jackson Wage-Earner Thesis," American Historical Review ( New York), LIV ( January, 1949), 296-306.
2
William A. Sullivan, "Did Labor Support Andrew Jackson?" Political Science Quarterly ( New York), LXII ( December, 1947), 569-80; Edward Pessen, "Did Labor Support Jackson? The Boston Story," ibid., LXIV ( June, 1949), 262-74; Milton J. Nadworny, "Jersey Labor and Jackson" ( M.A. thesis, Columbia University, 1948).

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