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The Concept of Jacksonian Democracy: New York as a Test Case

The Concept of Jacksonian Democracy: New York as a Test Case

LEE BENSON
Copyright Date: 1961
Pages: 361
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x0wzm
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    The Concept of Jacksonian Democracy: New York as a Test Case
    Book Description:

    Jacksonian Democracy has become almost a commonplace in American history. But in this penetrating analysis of one state-its voting cycles, party makeup, and social, ethnic, and religious patterns-Lee Benson shows that the concept bears little or no relation to New York history during the Jacksonian period.

    New York voters between 1816 and 1844 did not follow the traditional distinctions between Whigs and Democrats. Ethnic and religious ties were stronger social forces than income, occupation, and environment. Mr. Benson's examination suggests a new theory of American voting behavior and a reconsideration of other local studies during this period.

    Originally published in 1970.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6726-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-xii)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xiii-2)
  4. CHAPTER I FROM POPULISM TO EGALITARIANISM
    (pp. 3-20)

    After living a dozen years in New York,” wrote Oliver Wolcott, a veteran of early nineteenth century political wars, “I don’t pretend to comprehend their politics. It is a labyrinth of wheels within wheels, and it is understood only by the managers.” Variations on this theme by skilled readers of political signs, as well as the actual course of events, suggest that the “managers” were almost equally baffled when they contemplated that “vast deep,” that “most unfathomable of subjects, the politics of the State of New York.”¹

    Despite the complexity of its politics, New York is a good place to...

  5. CHAPTER II ANTIMASONRY GOES POLITICAL
    (pp. 21-46)

    Popular indignation erupted shortly after Morgan disappeared but failed to influence the 1826 election. Aside from coming late in the year, demands for “justice” seem at first to have been nonpolitical and bipartisan. Moreover, the highest state positions were the ones at issue, and Antimasons had not yet extended their charges of dereliction of duty beyond local officials. But as frustration spread and deepened among the moralistic, Bible-oriented Yankees who had swarmed into western New York, indignation began to transform itself into political action. If corruption existed in high places, and if an “infidel” secret society controlled the entire apparatus...

  6. CHAPTER III “BANK WAR” AND RESTORATION OF THE TWO-PARTY SYSTEM
    (pp. 47-63)

    The Jackson Party in New York was vulnerable to attack on an issue of much greater significance in American history than imprisonment for debt. That issue had long been agitated, but questions about the proper relationships among the state, banks, and the expanding economy were just beginning to find a prominent place on the political agenda. Logically enough, the Antimasons enthusiastically pressed those questions upon the Jackson Party.

    Abolition of licensed monopolies, it will be recalled, was a key Working Men’s demand. To contemporaries, the most noxious and harmful of these monopolies were probably the banks chartered by the State...

  7. CHAPTER IV NEW YORK PARTY LEADERSHIP, 1834-1844
    (pp. 64-85)

    During the decade 1834 to 1844, the two major parties in New York displayed striking similarities and profound differences. This chapter will analyze the social composition of their leadership; the next one will analyze their political doctrines; and the following one will analyze the minor parties in order to highlight certain characteristics of the major parties.

    If parties were characterized solely by the leaders they keep, it would be difficult to distinguish between the Democrats and Whigs. A composite account of their social and economic backgrounds reveals striking similarities. Perhaps their most significant difference is that several Democratic leaders claimed...

  8. CHAPTER V POSITIVE VERSUS NEGATIVE LIBERALISM
    (pp. 86-109)

    By 1834, the New York Whigs and Democrats had committed themselves irrevocably to a social order based on political equality (for white men). But the Whigs translated the post-1815 egalitarian impulse into a philosophy of thepositiveliberal state, the Democrats translated it into a philosophy of thenegativeliberal state. Thus when we focus upon political economy and social legislation, we find that the parties actually stood for competing concepts of liberalism. When we focus upon certain types of “moral legislation” (for example, Sunday laws, temperance), however, we find that the “conservative-liberal” dichotomy did tend to exist. (Party differences...

  9. CHAPTER VI TWO MINOR “PARTIES”
    (pp. 110-122)

    By hindsight we can see what contemporaries during the 1834 to 1844 decade could not see, namely, that two movements then emerged that were later to shape American society basically and disorder it drastically.

    The Liberty and American Republican movements, called political parties by contemporaries, can best be described as pressure groups. Both were organized around a relatively limited range of issues; in fact, we can say that both were essentially organized around one issue. Like the Locofocos, they did not establish permanent new parties: they influenced the course of action of the major parties. If they could secure the...

  10. CHAPTER VII CLASS VOTING IN NEW YORK
    (pp. 123-164)

    Leadership, principles and policies, mass support—these categories help us to organize a study of New York political parties in action.¹ Some aspects of the first two have been discussed in previous chapters and we can now direct attention to the group voting patterns that crystallized in the 1844 election. Although the introduction of some interpretative data cannot be avoided, the primary objective of this chapter and the two that follow is to identify who voted for whom.

    The 1844 campaign may rank as the most exciting and intensive ever fought in New York. Writing in 1848, Jabez Hammond, the...

  11. CHAPTER VIII ETHNOCULTURAL GROUPS AND POLITICAL PARTIES
    (pp. 165-185)

    The present study rejects the economic determinist interpretation that Frederick J. Turner and Charles A. Beard impressed upon American political historiography.¹ It also rejects the proposition that American political differences are random in character, that they reflect not group patterns, but the clashing ideas held by individual voters about the “community interest.” And it rejects the proposition that socioeconomic cleavages are the obvious place to begin a study of American voting behavior. A counterproposition is advanced here: that at least since the 1820’s, when manhood suffrage became widespread, ethnic and religious differences have tended to be relatively the most important...

  12. CHAPTER IX RELIGIOUS GROUPS AND POLITICAL PARTIES
    (pp. 186-207)

    Fortunately for the race, unfortunately for the historian aspiring to be “scientific,” refractory human beings frequently refuse to arrange themselves in neat, distinct categories. Thus the overlapping of religious and ethnocultural groups in 1844 complicates the task of identifying and classifying voting patterns. In which category, for example, should we place the voting patterns of the Protestant and Catholic Irish or the Huguenot (Protestant) and Catholic French? Any decision can be questioned, but the heavy stress placed upon defense of their “faith” during the 1844 campaign suggests that, for members of those groups, factors associated with religion operated asmore...

  13. CHAPTER X WHO VOTED FOR THE MINOR “PARTIES”?
    (pp. 208-215)

    Members of the Liberty and American Republican movements in New York shared at least one attribute: they felt passionately enough about “one idea” to break away from old political associates and old political associations. Moreover, they tended to share the same old associations.¹

    Analysis of the election statistics lends support to theTribune’s claim that the Democrats “fanned political abolition” to injure the Whigs: “Right well does theArgusunderstand that any third party based on convictions of moral duty must naturally draw ten recruits from the Whig ranks to every one taken from the other side. Thus the right...

  14. CHAPTER XI PARTY PROGRAMS, CHARACTERS, AND IMAGES
    (pp. 216-253)

    What a political party claims to stand for and what it actually represents are closely related but significantly different. Aside from the principles and policies it adopts and advocates, a party radiates an aura that influences the way the electorate appraises and responds to its principles and policies. A useful distinction can be made, therefore, between a party’sprogramand its aura, orcharacter. The program is concrete and refers to known actions or proposals; the character is intangible and connotes general qualities. Though the program of a party is more easily and reliably determined than is its character, historians...

  15. CHAPTER XII TEXAS ANNEXATION AND NEW YORK PUBLIC OPINION
    (pp. 254-269)

    The images that national and state parties attempted to project in 1844 undoubtedly differed from the images perceived by the electorate. For one thing, voters probably received more direct exposure to the images projected by local agents and agencies of the parties, and these varied throughout the state and among different groups. Similarly, semiofficial and unofficial agents and agencies more or less subtly altered the portraits, depending upon their own predilections, the social and political environment in which they operated, the groups they were attempting to influence, and day-today campaign developments.¹ Finally, the empirical findings of a classic twentieth century...

  16. CHAPTER XIII OUTLINE FOR A THEORY OF AMERICAN VOTING BEHAVIOR
    (pp. 270-287)

    There is occasions and causes why and wherefore in all things,” Shakespeare assures us. Historians find it easier to accept that proposition in general than to apply it in particular. Human motives are so complex that even when we are able to reconstruct human behavior, we are not necessarily able to reconstruct the “why and wherefore.” Specifically, to identify who in New York in 1844 voted for whom does not necessarily enable us to explain why they did. But it does give us valuable clues. Put another way, systematic classification of voters on the basis of attributes such as membership...

  17. CHAPTER XIV INTERPRETING NEW YORK VOTING BEHAVIOR
    (pp. 288-328)

    In recent decades, a “great debate” has raged, to an unprecedented extent, over historiographic theory. Oversimplifying, we can identify the two main schools of American contestants as “subjective relativists” and “objective reconstructionists.” They have engaged in sustained theoretical battles, but have been unable to reach even partial agreement. The former argue that assessing the significance and relevance of data must inevitably be left largely to subjective, personal judgment; the latter argue that if relevant source materials are available, historians can develop concepts and procedures that help them to minimize the role of subjective factors while they try to reconstruct past...

  18. CHAPTER XV JACKSONIAN DEMOCRACY—CONCEPT OR FICTION?
    (pp. 329-338)

    History never repeats itself, historians do. Commenting upon this phenomenon, Thomas C. Cochran estimates that “history probably suffers more than any other discipline from the tyranny of persuasive rhetoric.” To illustrate his point, he observes that “A. M. Schlesinger, Jr. and Joseph Dorfman … may argue about the interpretation of ‘Jacksonian Democracy,’ but they both accept the traditional concept as central to the synthesis of the period.”¹ Following his lead, I have focused upon two questions: What empirical phenomena can logically be designated by the concept Jacksonian Democracy? Does the traditional concept help us to understand the course of American...

  19. APPENDIX I Sources for Election Statistics
    (pp. 339-339)
  20. APPENDIX II Economic Classification of Political Units
    (pp. 340-341)
  21. APPENDIX III Ethnocultural Groups in New York, 1844, Estimated Percentages, 1845
    (pp. 342-344)
  22. INDEX
    (pp. 345-351)