Andrew Jackson, Bank War, Politics, Elections
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The past few years have witnessed a resurgence of interest in Andrew Jackson, from Jon Meacham’s popular biography to Daniel Walker Howe’s and Sean Wilentz’s tomes covering what has commonly been referred to as the Age of Jackson. Editor Sean Patrick Adams and the contributors to this new volume demonstrate conclusively that scholars have much more to say about the seventh president and his times.
A Companion to the Era of Andrew Jackson comprises an introduction and twenty-seven chapters, which are divided into four sections. The first section, “Young Andrew Jackson’s America,” focuses on the frontier/borderlands and U.S.–Indian relations during the late 1700s and early 1800s, as well as Jackson’s participation in the Battle of New Orleans and the consequences of his actions in that city after the battle. The second section, “The Era of the ‘Common Man,’ ” examines economic development, class identity, and racial attitudes during the period. The third section, “Politics in the Age of Jackson,” examines significant events and movements, starting with the origins of the Jacksonian Democrats and ending with a look at the more radical political expressions of the period. The final section, “Jacksonian Legacies,” addresses some of the broader themes of the Jacksonian era, such as immigration, gender, political participation, and Manifest Destiny.
Limited space prohibits an assessment of each chapter, so I will address only a few as examples of the volume’s high-quality scholarship. One area that receives significant attention is the Bank War, which Daniel Feller once called in the pages of this journal, “the pivotal issue of the second party system.” Stephen Mihm and Jose R. Torre provide overviews of the national panics of the period and the Bank War itself, highlighting the important recent work undertaken by scholars such as Jane Knodell and Jessica Lepler. Because, as Mihm points out, “the scholarship on the Bank War is inseparable from the larger historiographical debates about the Jacksonian era,” and because of the importance of this period for realizing the benefits and drawbacks of the market revolution, these chapters are essential reading (364).1
The chapters on Jacksonian politics reveal that even in that area, which has been written about extensively, there are still topics that have been understudied. Tom Coens outlines the early Jacksonian movement, [End Page 801] while Sharon Ann Murphy and John M. Sacher ably explore the significance of the 1824 and 1828 presidential elections. While recent books by Donald B. Cole and Lynn Hudson Parsons have added to our understanding of the 1828 election, the mechanics of the political transformation of Jeffersonian Republicans into Jacksonian Democrats (and specifically the role of the 1824 election) is a subject that deserves more attention. One deficiency, Sacher observes, is historians’ failure to connect the actions of John Quincy Adams’s administration to the campaign (295). Jackson’s election was not inevitable, and the “corrupt bargain,” while important, was not the only issue that prompted voters to choose the Tennessean over the incumbent. In his essay, Robert J. Cook notes that no recent treatments of the 1832, 1836, and 1840 elections exist, the study of which would help uncover the actual process of political participation that took place during the 1830s and 1840s, much as Alan Taylor’s work helped explain New York politics in the 1790s (546).2
In a multi-author book this large, factual errors are bound to creep in. Lynn Hudson Parsons is a male historian, not female (263), James K. Polk was commonly known as “Young Hickory,” not “Little Hickory” (321), and the Bank War heated up in 1832, not 1828 (361). Readers might also disagree with some authors’ interpretations. For example, one would be hard pressed to prove that Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., did much of anything to elucidate “the long-term significance” of Jackson’s presidential decisions on the lives of Native Americans, who warrant barely a mention in his Pulitzer Prize-winning The...