Summary Edit

This book argues that the Jacksonian America’s political parties (Democrats and Whigs) represented a serious policy debate about the future of the Republic and the nature of its society and economy. Watson writes: “Intensified involvement in politics and the formation of enduring political parties in the government and in the electorate were the two most fundamental elements in the political changes of the Jacksonian era.” (6) Faced with accusations of corruption and favoritism, a factory system that created a new classes of wage earners who found they did not share common interest in the promised republican theory, expansion of slavery and threat of slave revolt, and increased ethnic and cultural diversity, an eager generation of politicians – represented by Andrew Jackson – put together the structure of a second American party system. The two defining features of Jackson’s presidency was the relationship between the state and national power and the federal stance toward economic development (Federal government’s role in promoting the “Market Revolution.”) His Whig opponents found that the only way to challenge him was to replicate his tactics – party politics. Jacksonian democrats represented small producers who were threatened by the economic changes of their times and the Whigs were the champions of the emerging market order, who called for the expansion of markets, development of transportation systems, establishment of reliable networks of credit, and the concentration of capital for larger purposes. Watson writes: “The two great political parties, Democrats and Whigs, who dominated American antebellum politics thus grew out of a contest over the relationship between the emerging capitalist economy and the traditions of republican liberty and equality.” (171) By the 1850s, American politics took competing public interests for granted and accepted political parties as indispensable. The legacy of this new system of American politics brought Americans closer to a liberal view of society and government, as each party celebrated the rights of the common man, encouraged individual self-improvement, and a balance between liberty and power, though with differing views on how to do so.

Example: Jackson associated government assistance to the Market Revolution with long and short term forms of corruption. He challenged protective tariffs and opposed the national bank, circulation of paper money, and most federal aid it internal improvements. “Jackson hoped these policies would cripple the economic developments that tended to restrict the ‘liberty’ and ‘virtue’ of America’s small farmers and independent producers.” (133) These polices encouraged Americans who felt trapped or threated by economic change to join the Democratic party.

See also: Charles Sellers, Scott Sandage,