This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse this site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. For more information, see our privacy statement

New Left Review 42, November-December 2006


Tom Mertes on Sean Wilentz, Andrew Jackson. A retouched portrait of the Democrat founding father—minus Indian massacres, slave exploitation and financial bubble.

TOM MERTES

WHITEWASHING JACKSON

Reviewing the wave of political upheavals around 1830 that overthrew the Bourbons in France, detached Belgium from the Netherlands, secured Catholic emancipation to Ireland, brought the Reform Bill to England and unleashed civil wars in Spain and Portugal, in his Age of Revolution Eric Hobsbawm saw the most radical popular advance of the time in the election of Andrew Jackson as President of the United States. Viewed comparatively, two landmarks of his presidency stand out. The electorate of 1828 that put Jackson into power, with a record 56 per cent of the vote, was by far the largest in history: over a million strong, it was three times the size of the American turnout in 1824. The mobilization that produced this majority, moreover, was the work of the first modern mass political party. The second development was more original than the first, but together they spelt a lasting transformation of American democracy, of whose importance posterity has never doubted. The reputation of the man personifying this change remains far more contested. In his own day, Jackson was hailed by many as a heroic democrat, the beau ideal of a self-made man who rose to the nation’s highest post as a foe of social privilege and slayer of the ‘monster bank’, saviour of the nation and fearless champion of the people. Others saw him as ‘King Andrew’, a divisive tyrant driven by petty personal prejudices, contemptuous of the law of the land and merciless to the weak, who debauched government with a spoils system and destroyed the nation’s prosperity with a fixation on hard money.

Subscribe for just £45 and get free access to the archive
Please login on the left to read more or buy the article for £3

Username:

Tom Mertes, ‘Whitewashing Jackson’, NLR 42: £3
Password:
 



If you want to create a new NLR account please register here

’My institution subscribes to NLR, why can't I access this article?’