- The Rise of Andrew Jackson: Myth, Manipulation, and the Making of Modern Politics by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, and: Preserving the White Man's Republic: Jacksonian Democracy, Race, and the Transformation of American Conservatism. by Joshua A. Lynn
Read together, David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler's The Rise of Andrew Jackson: Myth, Manipulation, and the Making of Modern Politics and Joshua A. Lynn's Preserving the White Man's Republic: Jacksonian Democracy, Race, and the Transformation of American Conservatism offer fascinating bookends to the Age of Jackson. The Heidlers write about the origins of Jacksonian politics, while Lynn focuses on the meaning of Jacksonian Democracy as the Second American Party System unraveled. Both books expertly place Jacksonian politics in fascinating and often troubling context.
That no historian has done what the Heidlers undertake in The Rise of Andrew Jackson is amazing given Andrew Jackson's looming presence over the history of the early republic. Yet the authors have accomplished something truly original by uncovering the political coalition that propelled Jackson to power and the means by which it succeeded. The Heidlers carefully distinguish between the Jacksonians and those who they call the "Jacksonites." "Jacksonians supported universal white manhood suffrage, territorial expansion, and the elimination of the Second Bank of the United States," the authors argue, while "Jacksonites were [End Page 591] those willing to use Jackson's popularity to achieve political power" (5). The authors are not merely splitting hairs; in distinguishing between the ideological purists and the political operatives, they have explained how the Democrats evolved into a big-tent party of disparate coalitions by the late 1820s. The Jacksonites, as the Heidlers call the political operatives who built Jackson's political career, sought to exploit the military hero's story to secure their political aspirations in the 1820s. With the end of the Era of Good Feelings, amid intense jockeying for office among a variety of political factions, certain politicians such as Martin Van Buren, John Eaton, Thomas Ritchie, and a host of other Jacksonites realized that a new form of politics that accepted political parties and partisan competition could win elections. Accordingly, they embraced the idea of active campaigning and built a public persona around Andrew Jackson to win the presidency.
The Jacksonites had one problem, however. Their chief asset—Jackson himself—had a way of also becoming their chief liability. The Rise of Andrew Jackson does a marvelous job of showing how Jackson's handlers struggled to rein in their candidate and suppress the potentially damaging elements of his past as well as his volatile personality. In the 1824 and the 1828 elections, the Jacksonites worked to moderate, or even suppress, the stories about Jackson's past, including his dueling, his questionable military exploits, and the details of his marriage to his wife, Rachel. Jackson's temper, his questionable ethics, and his penchant for writing and speaking before measuring his words caused trouble for his campaign managers, who had to recast the candidate's words in more moderate language. Historians will be familiar with many of the details, but the Heidlers have placed the stories in a thoughtful narrative that shows how the politicians behind the Jackson campaigns crafted his image and created a sanitized public persona that would propel him to office.
How did the Jacksonites pull off their plan to catapult their man into the presidency? With fascinating detail, the Heidlers explain how the Jacksonites created the media networks that broadcast their message to the public and how they developed the patronage network that secured loyalty to Jackson and then, by extension, the Democratic Party. Without a network of friendly newspapers and correspondents across the nation, the Jacksonites could not have disseminated the carefully crafted image of Andrew Jackson to the public, and...