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Vindicating Andrew Jackson

The 1828 Election and the Rise of the Two-Party System

Donald B. Cole

September 2009
280 pages, 14 photographs, 5-3⁄4 x 9-1⁄4
American Presidential Elections
Cloth ISBN 978-0-7006-1661-9, $34.95

book cover imageThe presidential election of 1828 is one of the most compelling stories in American history: Andrew Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans and man of the people, bounced back from his controversial loss four years earlier to unseat John Quincy Adams in a campaign notorious for its mudslinging. With his victory, the torch was effectively passed from the founding fathers to the people.

This study of Jackson’s election separates myth from reality to explain why it had such an impact on present-day American politics. Featuring parades and public participation to a greater degree than had previously been seen, the campaign itself first centered on two key policy issues: tariffs and republicanism. But as Donald Cole shows, the major theme turned out to be what Adams scornfully called “electioneering”: the rise of mass political parties and the origins of a two-party system, built from the top down, whose leaders were willing to spend unprecedented time and money to achieve victory.

Cole’s innovative study examines the election at the local and state, as well as the national, levels, focusing on New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia to provide a social, economic, and political cross section of 1828 America. He describes how the Jacksonians were better organized, paid more attention to detail, and recruited a broader range of workers—especially state-level party leaders and newspaper editors who were invaluable for raising funds, publicizing party dogma, and smearing the opposition. The Jacksonians also outdid the Adams supporters in zealotry, violence of language, and the overwhelming force of their campaigning and succeeded in painting their opponents as aristocratic, class conscious, and undemocratic.

Tracing interpretations of this election from James Parton’s classic 1860 biography of Jackson to recent revisionist accounts attacking Old Hickory for his undemocratic treatment of blacks, Indians, and women, Cole argues that this famous election did not really bring democracy to America as touted—because it was democracy that enabled Jackson to win. By offering a more charismatic candidate, a more vigorous campaign, a more acceptable recipe for preserving the past, and a more forthright acceptance of a new political system, Jackson’s Democrats dominated an election in which campaigning outweighed issues and presaged the presidential election of 2008.

“In a finely crafted, well-paced narrative, Cole provides an in-depth analysis of one of the most pivotal elections in U.S. history.”—New England Quarterly

“A splendid new book that gives us a vivid, engaging, and original account of one of the most important elections in American history. With his scholarly eye and narrative verve, Cole brings the past alive with grace and insight.”—Jon Meacham, author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

“Cole’s important study is particularly valuable for its emphasis on the work of party leaders and newspaper editors at the state level. He makes clear that it took more than simply Jackson’s personality and determination to inaugurate a new era in American politics.”—Mark R. Cheathem, author of Old Hickory’s Nephew: The Political and Private Struggles of Andrew Jackson Donelson

“Cole provides a marvelously concrete sense of how presidential elections were conducted in this period, while, at the same time, keeping the continuing significance and contemporary relevance of the 1828 election clearly in view.”—Jeffrey L. Pasley, author of The Tyranny of Printers: Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic

“Judicious, authoritative, and up-to-date, Vindicating Andrew Jackson is a splendid history of one of the most controversial elections in our nation’s history.”—Richard R. John, author of Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse

DONALD B. COLE professor emeritus at Phillips Exeter Academy, is author of five previous books, including The Presidency of Andrew Jackson.

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