the change brought by andrew jackson -- 3/28/22

Today's selection -- from A Wicked War by Amy S. Greenberg. Andrew Jackson brought a radical change to American politics:
"The Democratic Party had been created by Andrew Jackson in his own image. He was the first common-man president, or rather the first president who represented himself as a common man, since his plantation, slaves, and vast wealth were decidedly uncommon. His public persona was the back­woods general, a man who had risen from nothing, who had led a group of volunteers to an astounding victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans, and whose interests were those of average people. It was the 'virtu­ous yeomanry' who, Jackson maintained, 'of their own mere will brought my name before the nation for the office of President of these U. States' and 'sustained me against all the torrents of slander that corruption & wicked­ness could invent, circulated thro subsidized presses and every other way supported by the patronage of the government.' Jackson believed that his victory was the victory of the people over entrenched interests and corrupt politicians, including Henry Clay, who ruled Washington.

Andrew Jackson -- Portrait by Ralph Eleaser Whiteside Earl, c. 1835

"Jackson's election marked the death of a certain deferential politics that ruled during the era of Washington, Jefferson, and John Adams. Voters chose the first generation of American statesmen on the basis of their supe­rior education and experience. But that began to change after 1815, when states eased their requirements for voting, enabling scores of white men to exercise the franchise for the first time. Jackson's inferior education and shocking inability to spell led the East Coast elite to snicker about his lit­eracy, or lack thereof, but bothered 'the people' not a bit. In 1824, 1828, and again in 1832 'the people' turned out for Andrew Jackson. His image would cast a long shadow over the Democratic Party, as countless politicians, including James Polk, attempted to emulate the hero of New Orleans.

"Jackson's Democratic Party both expressed and embraced this ideal of popular democracy, and posed the thesis that political outsiders made ideal politicians. Any candidate saddled with inherited wealth and a good educa­tion suddenly found them heavy weights to bear. Americans were look­ing for the common touch. If a man could connect with his constituency, deliver a heartfelt speech about opportunity and equality, and convince the voters that he felt their pain, that he was one of them, then no office in the land was out of reach. If said candidate had proven his martial valor on the battlefield against Native Americans or the British, all the better. A remarkable number of Democratic politicians in the 1830s, particularly in the South and West, rode Indian killing to elected office.

"James K. Polk was just one member of the cadre of Tennessee politicians whose fortunes rose precipitously after Jackson's election. They were true believers in the principles of Jacksonian democracy, affirming territorial expansion, upholding the rights of the common man, and opposing the urban elite and their sources of power -- their banks, factories, and social institutions. The young Tennessee Democrats, including Polk, Sam Hous­ton, and David Crockett, hoped to turn the former liability of a backwoods southwestern upbringing to their advantage, and perhaps emulate Jackson's
remarkable ascent." 



Amy S. Greenberg


A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico


Vintage Books a division of Random House


Copyright 2012 by Amy Greenberg


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