Andrew Jackson-Symbol for an Age, John William Ward, Oxford University Press, London, 1962
American democratic politics, as can be easily seen in this year's presidential nominating processes, has always been encumbered with symbols. That fact is hardly new or news. What is news is that today's seemingly modern notion of proper electoral technique has a fairly ancient pedigree. Although Parson Weems did more than his share to establish the iconic figure of George Washington, arguably the subject of this work, Andrew Jackson, really was the first president to get the full public relations `spin' treatment that we take as a matter of course in today's politics.
The present volume builds the case for Jackson symbolic virtues at a time when America, after a series of nasty encounters with the British, notably the War of 1812, developed an inward look westward and away from the `degeneracy' of the seaboard. If Jackson did not fit the bill to a tee then his agents, paid or otherwise, filled in the blanks. First place in those efforts goes to highlighting his military prowess and soldierly concerns in defeating (to what real purpose no one knows since the war was over by this time) against the British at the tail end of the War of 1812 at the Battle of New Orleans.
From there it was fairly simple to make him a man of the' people'. In this case the people being empathically not the residents of the eastern seaboard but the `fresh' yeomanry of the Westward trek. You know- the ones who exhibited all the plebian virtues as solid tillers of the soil, holders of folk wisdom against the effete nabobs of the cities and the true patriots of rising American agricultural capitalism. The author builds his case by using a series of fairly common references beginning his work with an analysis of a Jackson poetic tribute `The Hunters of Kentucky' and dissects that bit of work to see how it fit into the scheme of making Jackson the first "people's" president. All the other tributes and, at the end eulogies, then fall into place.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then his Whig opponents do that by learning from his handlers by the time of the `Tippecanoe' Harrison campaign of 1840. And from there we are off to the races. Note this- as if to reinforce the argument presented by the book- can anyone today deny that that myth around Jackson built so long ago still, with the exception of a dent caused by his savagery against the Native Americans, stands as the way he is thought of in the American pantheon? The Democrats continue their traditional Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinners without blushing. Enough said.