The Age of Jackson Author:Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. This is a hardcover in very good condition, but without a dust jacket, and the book is old enough that it does not have an ISBN. It was bought at a library book sale. Publishing details on inside indicate last reprint as January 1946, and that it is a Book Find Club Edition, by arrangement with Little, Brown & Company. That is a reference to ... more »J.J. Little & Ives Company, New York.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. won the Pulitzer Prize for "The Age of Jackson". It is a worthy read for today's political times, highlighting the turmoil between the South and West against the propertied, conservative East. However, the book goes well beyond this conventional interpretation of Jacksonian times, and reinterprets Jacksonian democracy in the light of an immense body of facts which had previously been ignored. Schlesinger successfully brings the debates of the era to life, and it makes for an incredibly interesting read. Reference what the New York Times had to say, for more detail:
When American democracy is most kinetic, when its transitions are most abrupt, and when its ideas take on their most revolutionary hue, then it is best worth studying. The so-called Jacksonian revolution has always made a deep appeal to the American imagination. The tremendous bouleversement which dislodged the old ruling class typified by John Quincy Adams and brought to power an untried aggressive set leaders with a new backing, was mightily dramatic. Jackson's imperious personality was the most ruggedly picturesque that public life had yet known, and his election opened a series of political battles which shook the country. But the chief reason for out interest in the Jacksonian overturn lies deeper than these considerations. It lies in the fact that it brought up from the depths of American life a set of powerful new forces; it revitalized our politics by the impact of profound impulses from below.
Behind such political forces always lie ideas, and it is remarkable that the ideas of the Jacksonian revolution have waited until now for adequate analysis. Those of the Revolution and Constitution-making periods, for example, have long ago been sifted and examined. One reason for the delay is that the rough and tumble of Jacksonian days has tended to obscure the role of ideas. Another is that the energies behind the overturn came from a rough Western population and an inarticulate body of Eastern workingmen, both long supposed to be strong in emotions but weak in reasons.
In due time, however, the whole range of Jacksonian doctrine, and its relationship with antecedent Jeffersonian theories and subsequent Wilsonian and Rooseveltian thought, was certain to receive attention. A long list of recent writer - Parrington, Van Wyck Brooks, Abernethy, Curti, Gilbert H. Barnes, Carl Swisher, Turner, Charles Warren - have dealt with various facets of the thought of the time, and they have proved that it was much more important than old style historians' supposed.
The old conventional explanation of Jackson's rise to power was simple. "A mob of malcontents," as John W. Burgess put it, got together, gave a strong pull, and brought the old order toppling in ruins. This mob represented a combination of South and West against the propertied, conservative East; but the group also held control of two Eastern States - New York, where the wily Van Buren had gained power, and Pennsylvania, where Jackson's martial feats had given him immense popularity.
The revolution, according to stock explanations, emphasized frontier "individualism" and Western "egalitarianism." In its inception it was purely political, a revolt against the old monopoly of office holding by the rich, the well-born, and the well-educated.
When the mob filled Washington in 1829 to roar applause of the old hero and romp through the White House, there was little indication that the change would sharply modify economic policies and social structures. The fact that it did, according to the old view, was largely an accident. It resulted from the personal conflicts, Jackson vs. Clay and Biddle, which precipitated the war against the Bank of the United States.
Mr. Schlesinger's service, performed not merely adequately but brilliantly, is to reinterpret Jacksonian democracy in the light of an immense body of facts which had previously been ignored. Examining the politics of the era not in terms of "party battles" but of animated ideas, he makes the period far more richly instructive. The whole force of the Jacksonian movement takes a new orientation. Mr. Schlesinger argues that it stemmed more largely from the Eastern working man than the Western settler: that it was more intimately connected with the Industrial Revolution than with the trans-Appalachian frontier. Jackson, as he puts it, struck fire with the working classes because he seemed to them the embodiment of political democracy. There was plenty of radicalism in the West, but it was the spasmodic and opportunistic radicalism of an unstable society, where men might enjoy prosperity one year and wilt under hand times the next. The discontented Eastern workers, however, developed a stable and permanently fruitful body of radical doctrine.
The West, according to this interpretation, furnished the old hero, Jackson himself, a man of far broader vision, acuter judgment, and better education than the Whig' historians had ever dreamed of. It furnished some subordinate leaders of importance: Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri. Polk of Tennessee, Robert Dale Owen of Indiana and Benjamin Tappan of Ohio. It and the South furnished the great initial agitation in a revolt against the "Tariff of Abominations," against monetary stringency, and against Eastern snobbery and privilege; but when the time came to transmute agitation into a reform program, asserts Mr. Schlesinger, Eastern leaders and ideas rose to control. It was in the East alone, among the embittered working men who, toiling for a few shillings a day, saw their union movement snuffed out by employers, courts and police while corporate wealth grew arrogant, that the spirit of revolt had perdurable power. The East "had the consistent and harsh experience which alone could serve as a crucible of radicalism." As the Jacksonian program developed Mr. Schlesinger admits, it actually tended to estrange the old hero's original supporters. Jackson's opposition to the use of Federal money for local improvements, written into his Maysville Road veto, displeased Michigan and Illinois, where Democrats no less than Whigs like to spend national money on roads and canals. Jackson's ultimate financial policy was equally repugnant to the West, and was accepted there only because its real intent was well cloaked. The West wanted paper money, and plenty of it; as a debtor area it liked inflation. Jackson's advisers wanted hard money, and his "old bullion's" war on the bank culminated in deflationary measures. But the Eastern workers and shopkeepers, hating corporate monopoly, demanding the right to organize, and wishing the government to vindicate its powers as against business and banking, were satisfied with the trend of the Jacksonian Administration. The new spirit, with its emphasis on the rights of the masses, and the practical reforms, with the crushing of the Bank and promotion of general incorporation laws, delighted the toiling millions. Such spokesmen as the fiery William Leggett and the class-conscious George H. Evens geared the Jacksonian movement to a new social conscience. And Jacksonianism in the East shot up as a vital force in politics, political theory and literature. Mr. Schlesinger's most interesting section treats the movement in relation to intellectual trends, religion, the law and letters. In polemics it produced a striking figure in William M. Gouge, Philadelphia editor and economist, who wrote the classic indictment of paper currency, formulated a set oh hard-money theories, applied then to the new finance capitalism, and devised means to give them practical effect. In political theory the movement brought forth a galaxy of controversialists - Orestes Brownson, C. C. Cambreleng, Theodore Sedgwick Jr. and Thomas Brothers - who sharply revised the old Jeffersonian gospel. They wrote of the economic element in government where Jefferson had written of political equality; they dilated upon the worker's needs and the control of industrialism instead of the virtues of rural independence. In law, Roger Taney and David Dudley Field shook out the banner of reform and codification.
Most striking of all was the way in which the Jacksonian crusade, thus oriented toward the new economic problems, the town worker and a novel concept of governmental control, captured a broad segment of literatur4e. It flowered out into new magazines, notable the Democratic Review and Boston Quarterly. It found a brave voice in Fenimore Cooper, hater of Whig editors and the commercial oligarchy, until he became worried lest the radicals go too far. It gave fire to the editorials of William Cullen Bryant and Walt Whitman, and sang in their verse.
Emerson refused to commit himself between Democracy and Whiggism, thinking the former had the best principles and the latter the best men; so did Thoreau. But Hawthorne had more nerve and decision. Most notable of all in some ways was the work of George Bancroft. Most critics have been content to quote J. Franklin Jameson's remark that Bancroft's "History" voted for Jackson and let it go at that, supposing that he offered some rhetorical generalities about democracy and the common man. But Bancroft, as Mr. Nye's recent life showed, and as Mr. Schlesinge points out, had true philosophy, and several of his chapters embodied no little profundity of thought on modern democratic trends.
All in all, this is a book which gives the Jacksonian movement new meaning. Treating it primarily as the outgrowth, not of frontier development but of new economic strains and torsions, and describing it as pivoted upon the relations between the state and the business corporation, it links the Jacksonian doctrine with ideas of our own day. Before Jackson's aides and successors could codify their philosophy of state interference with economic life in the interest of the common man, the slavery struggle supervened and national attention was riveted on the sectional clash.
But in due time the Wilsonian and Rooseveltian democracy, intent upon the general welfare suspicious of corporate power, and hostile to Jefferson's doctrine of the weak state, revived the philosophy of Jacksonian radicals. That philosophy, Mr. Schlesinger believes, holds high promise for the future. It is not a philosophy of regimentation, but it holds that no one group or class shall dominate the Government in such a fashion as to sacrifice liberty to its own interests. It holds that there is a perpetual tension in society, a doubtful equilibrium which breeds problems that demand constant vigilance and effort.
Crisply written, full of pungent comment and quotation and abounding in vivid thumbnail sketches of important figures, Mr Schlesinger's book possesses unflagging interest. Parts of it will excite dissent. It perhaps overemphasizes the East as against the West; equal attention to Western utterances and opinions would furnish a different view. It is excessively hostile to Whig leaders and Whig ideas, the caustic treatment of Daniel Webster and Horace Greeley seeming especially unfair. It sometimes rides its thesis a bit too hard. But it is a remarkable piece of analytical history, full of vitality, rich in insights and new facts, and casting a broad shaft of illumination over one of the most interesting periods of our national life.« less