Vindicating Andrew Jackson

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

Donald B. Cole

The 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.

“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

“Cole’s analysis of the campaign is truly masterful. . . . An insightful depiction of the men who were behind the Democratic Party’s genesis and propelled Andrew Jackson to the presidency.

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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.

About the Author

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

Additional Titles in the American Presidential Elections Series