Jacksonian Democracy Essay

Jacksonian Democracy Essay-67
Not since Arthur Schlesinger Jr.'s "Age of Jackson," now 60 years old, have major political histories of the era considered literature at all relevant to an understanding of the Democrats and Whigs.And our novelists, too, seem unaware of -- or uninterested in -- this aspect of our early literary history, and indeed in the Jacksonian period itself.Tocqueville thought democracy would some day produce "vehement and bold" novelists, and poets who explored "some of the obscurer recesses of the human heart." But when that distant day arrived, he supposed it would have little to do with the frenzied moneymaking and party politics that dominated the New World. By the late 1830's, a formidable, self-consciously American literature blossomed, sponsored in part, oddly enough, by the country's political parties, especially the Democrats.

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(Former President Andrew Jackson took out the first subscription himself.) Alongside articles on partisan machinations, the first issue presented poems by John Greenleaf Whittier and William Cullen Bryant, and a fictional sketch by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Over the ensuing decade, The Democratic Review flourished as an excellent, up-to-date literary magazine as well as a political organ of the more radical currents within the Jacksonian coalition.

And the Jacksonian Democrats, whose leader suffered ritualistic abuse from the opposition (as he has from later historians) as a backwoods barbarian, took pride in their writers.

"It is a fact well known," one party newspaper bragged in 1838, "that with few exceptions, our first literary men belong to the democratic party."Until recently, this partisan world of letters had been forgotten.

Originating with the seventh president, Andrew Jackson, and his supporters, it became the nation's dominant political worldview for a generation. This era, called the Jacksonian Era (or Second Party System) by historians and political scientists, lasted roughly from Jackson's 1828 election as president until slavery became the dominant issue in 1854 and the political repercussions of the American Civil War dramatically reshaped American politics.

It emerged when the long-dominant Democratic-Republican Party became factionalized around the 1824 United States presidential election.

The separation of church and state is hotly contested; the separation of literature and state seems to have become absolute.

It was very different during the formative era of American democratic politics before the Civil War.

It came as a revelation to reviewers of Brenda Wineapple's 2003 biography of Hawthorne that her subject truly was as implicated in Democratic Party politics as he himself had said he was in the preface to "The Scarlet Letter," where he described his chagrin at losing a patronage job at the Salem custom house after the Whigs captured the White House in 1848.

A few excellent books over the last several years, including David Reynolds's "cultural biography" of Whitman, Edward L.


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