Vindicating Andrew Jackson: The 1828 Election and the Rise of the Two-Party System by Donald B. Cole, The Birth of Modern Politics: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and the Election of 1828 by Lynn Hudson Parsons (review)
- Ohio Valley History
- The Filson Historical Society and Cincinnati Museum Center
- Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2010
- pp. 93-95
- Additional Information
BOOK REVIEWS SPRING 2010 93 J acksonian political history is suddenly riding high. Long dormant, the field has been revitalized by the appearance of two counterposing magisterial narratives, Daniel Walker Howe’s What Hath God Wrought (2007) and Sean Wilentz’s The Rise of American Democracy (2005), and by a slew of Andrew Jackson biographies by Wilentz (Andrew Jackson ), Andrew Burstein (The Passions of Andrew Jackson ), H. W. Brands (Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times ), and Jon Meacham (American Lion ). Howe and Meacham have garnered Pulitzers. Inevitably, attention turns again to the event that ushered in Andrew Jackson’s two-term presidency and, arguably, our modern political arena. The campaign of 1828 pitted Jackson, the challenger, against incumbent John Quincy Adams. Despite running second to Jackson in both popular and electoral vote in the confused multi-candidate race of 1824, Adams had been awarded the presidency in the second, and so far the last, presidential contest decided in the House of Representatives. The epic rematch of 1828 sorted politicians and voters across the country into two opposing camps, spurred both sides to pioneer new techniques of organization and publicity, and prompted a doubling of voter turnout. Jackson trounced Adams, with 178 electoral votes to eighty-three and the highest popular vote percentage (56 percent) of any candidate in the nineteenth century. In retrospect, Jackson’s victory seems all but foreordained. A minority president to begin with, Adams lugged the baggage of his Federalist past, his forbidding intellect, and Puritanical temperament. Never personally popular, he seemingly courted and perhaps privately relished defeat. Almost daring the country to support him, he deliberately overreached with a provocative legislative program, disdained to humanize his image, and deployed the presidential patronage only clumsily and unwillingly. Jackson, his antagonist, was a great popular hero, the victor of New Orleans and America’s most celebrated military man since George Washington. Though Jackson disclaimed any unseemly ambition for the presidency (as custom required), he was in fact eager for the fray. He had also gathered round him a band of ingenious political operatives, many of them newspapermen adroit in the arts of propaganda and slander. Vindicating Andrew Jackson: The 1828 Election and the Rise of the Two-Party System Donald B. Cole The Birth of Modern Politics: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and the Election of 1828 Lynn Hudson Parsons BOOK REVIEWS 94 OHIO VALLEY HISTORY Not since Robert V. Remini’s The Election of Andrew Jackson in 1963 has this story been told at book length. Now we have two accounts, both by veteran historians. Lynn Parsons is an Adams biographer, while Donald Cole has written previously on Jackson’s presidency and on state politics and politicians in New Hampshire, Kentucky, and New York. The two books are thematically similar though quite differently organized. Both Parsons and Cole stress the novelty of the campaign and its import for the future. Structural changes in the electoral system since the War of 1812 had made possible a democratized style of presidential politics . With a gripping two-man race in 1828 for the first time in many years, those possibilities were suddenly realized. Many standard features of later campaigns—publicity, ballyhoo, media events, image-making, mudslinging, careful canvassing, and behind all these furious organizing and networking by committed partisans —made sudden appearances in 1828. And in all of them the eager Jacksonians bested the more reluctant (or inept) Adamsites. Much spadework has been done since Remini wrote in 1963, and both these books benefit from it. Because 1828 as seen in retrospect clearly foretold much that was to come, historians find it easy to anticipate later developments and import anachronisms into the narrative : for instance, to call the Jackson and Adams men “Democrats” and “National Republicans,” labels not yet current, or to read Jackson’s later presidential opposition to the protective tariff and federal transportation projects into his stance as a candidate. Parsons and Cole carefully avoid such traps. Indeed, their signal contribution is to restore a sense of contingency to the campaign, to show that the famous result was not necessarily in the cards. It was not inevitable that Jackson would oppose Adams for the...