?Harry L. Watson, Liberty and Power; The Politics of Jacksonian America Hill and Wang, N. Y. Review written by Richard Foust Book Review Harry L. Watson’s book, “Liberty and Power, The Politics of Jacksonian America”, takes an analytical look at America and her politics during the Age of Jackson. Watson uses the economy and the ideological mindset of the people, to support a powerful argument about the beginning of American political parties and their importance in defining the political direction of the country.
Watson argues that economic inequalities caused by the “Market Revolution” and a threat to American liberty caused Americans to organize politically in support of a President that would put the interest of the majority first. The results would be pivotal in American politics and shape how elections were conducted to this day. The end of the War of 1812 brought an end to conflict in America and opened the door for change in the country.
Citizens took full advantage of new technology and advances in manufacturing, communication and transportation which made it more profitable to produce agricultural and manufactured goods that could be sold and transported to markets that were previously out of reach.
This boosted the economy beyond what had previously been seen in America and profoundly changed the lives of its citizens. Referred to by historians as the “Market Revolution” it injected capitalism into the lives of Americans.
Manufacturers replaced skilled workers in favor of the newest machine and farmers turned to commercial agriculture for great profit. However, capitalism did not benefit all. The smaller subsistence farmers who couldn’t compete with the commercial farmers suddenly risked the loss of their farms. Many men found themselves working menial labor jobs that promised no future. While some were getting rich, others were sinking lower. “As a result, competing pulls of relative self-sufficiency and wholesale commitment to the market remained a source of tension in rural life throughout the antebellum period. ( Watson,28) Ideologically, the American mindset perpetuated liberty with strength, virtue, and independence. The subsistence farmer, unable to compete, saw the Market Revolution as a threat to his liberty and acted on this threat. Watson surmises that with this threat, politically active citizens were ripe for a political party system that would protect their independence and liberty. Enter Andrew Jackson, who appealed to those voters who felt threatened by the changing economic picture.
Jackson and his supporters believed that the Republican/Whig political party represented an elitist, aristocratic government that would put the ever expanding economy and their own profit above the liberty and good of the majority and it was the good of the majority that Jackson would rely on with great success. He believed that the preservation of the Republic depended on the majority and the majority was represented by independent farmers, who were profiting the least from the Market Revolution.
Believing that any government based on aristocracy could become corrupt, he felt that that the best way was to treat all of the citizens alike and turn the rule of the country over to the majority. This majority, with the fiery General Andrew Jackson as their leader, would create the Democratic Party. Watson’s focus on political parties, chapter 6, is an important part of this book. Not only does it support his argument, but it also gives the reader perspective on the politics of today.
The importance of political parties in the Jacksonian era cannot be overstated. There had been political parties and party rivalry before. The Federal and Democratic-Republican parties had opposed each other before Jackson, but their rivalry paled in comparison to the Democrat-Whig political wars of the 1830s and 1840s. The political sophistication of these rivalries far outreached the previous ones and came to dominate nearly all aspects of the political makeup of the era.
More importantly it made the politicians realize then, as now, that they stood no chance of winning elections without the support and work of the parties. Party politics became just as important as the politician running for office. More importantly, it gave the vote to the citizens and made them more politically aware and involved in the selection of their leaders than ever before. The citizens realized that they could have a say in the direction of the country and took it.
Watson states that “The party combat that resulted was the single most important combat that resulted about government for decades to come. ” ( Watson, 6) While his statement is true, one could add that it was the single most important combat ever. It is a combat that is relived each election to this day. Watson’s book is an important contribution to the Era of Jackson for both historians and political scholars. It is historically accurate and presents a very compelling and solid argument.
However, the book misses the target on a major issue. The Democratic landscape that Watson writes about was Democratic in theory only. It was exclusive to white men and completely ignored the African-American and Native American. Andrew Jackson had to deal with slave state rights and Indian removal issues throughout his administration and much of his decisions were based on these issues. Watson virtually ignores how much racism contributed to Jacksonian era politics and the Democratic Party.
In his effort to give a positive view of Andrew Jackson he overlooks an important part of Jacksonian America. The book is an easy read and almost resembles a novel more than a scholarly historical book. This book should be recommended to any scholar interested in history and politics or anyone with an interest in learning how the country’s political playing field was created. Richard Foust Works Cited Watson, Harry L. Liberty and Power; The Politics of Jacksonian America. New York: Hill and Wang, 2006.
Cite this Book Review of Liberty and Power
Book Review of Liberty and Power. (2018, Jan 29). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/book-review-of-liberty-and-power/