Jacksonian Democracy: Myth or Reality?

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

JOHN W. WARD ( 1922- ) approaches the problem of interpreting Andrew Jackson in a somewhat different manner. Employing the relatively new interdisciplinary methods embodied in the American Civilization curriculum, he incorporates the additional insights provided by the techniques of such disciplines as literary criticism and social psychology, thus broadening the dimensions of the more traditional political and economic interpretations. Jackson, the hero of the age, symbolized for Americans all those characteristics that made them a chosen people, set apart to convert and save the world. After his victory at New Orleans there were in reality two Jacksons, one the historical figure, and the other the symbol in the American myth.*


Andrew Jackson, Symbol for an Age

In the preceding sections three concepts--Nature, Providence, and Willhave been examined separately. These three ideas with their individual connotations do not exhaust the meaning that Andrew Jackson had for the imagination of his contemporaries, but they do provide the main structural elements about which his appeal took shape. They are, to use a violent metaphor, the ideational skeleton of the ideal Andrew Jackson.

Two things are to be observed about the total significance of the concepts, nature, providence, and will. First, they possess a dramatic unity; that is, all three achieve realization through one figure, Andrew Jackson, who was the age's hero in a wider sense than has commonly been recognized. Any student of American culture will quickly be able to point to other manifestations at the time of these three ideas, either singly or in conjunction with one another. This is necessarily so and is the best proof of the point I wish to make: that the symbolic Andrew Jackson is the creation of his time. Through the age's leading figure were projected the age's leading ideas. Of Andrew Jackson the people made a mirror for themselves. Now obviously Andrew Jackson, the man, offered more tractable material for the construction of a symbol that carried the meanings we have discovered in the ideal Jackson than (say) John Quincy

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From Andrew Jackson, Symbol for an Age, by John W. Ward. © 1955 by John William Ward and reprinted by permission of Oxford University Press, Inc.

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