Lynn Hudson Parsons, “The Birth of Modern Politics”

In The Birth of Modern Politics: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and the Election of 1828, Lynn Hudson Parsons explores the features of the 1828 election campaign that differentiated it from previous presidential elections, and ushered in a new age of politics in the United States.  While Parsons does not seem to see Jackson’s election as president as the defining factor of a “golden age” of democratic politics, she does see the election of 1828 as the marker of a decisive shift in national politics.  Parsons argues that this shift in the tenor and character of elections shifted in 1828 in a wide variety of ways: increased voter participation, the expansion of the electorate, a more sharply defined two-party system.  Perhaps more importantly, Parsons sees the proliferation of party newspapers across the country, an increase in campaign coordination on a national level, the role of organized nominating conventions and the increase in the importance of fund-raising, an rise in direct campaigning by the candidate, and the role of shaping a defined image for a candidate all played new, crucial roles in the election on 1828, and would continue to do so well into the future.

Importantly though, Parsons contends that few of these developments were well planned prior to the beginning of the 1828 election campaign.  Rather, most of these new approaches to politics stemmed from the events of the 1824 election, in which Jacksonians (and many Americans) felt the presidency had been decided by corruption, intrigue, and the dealings of “Washington insiders,” to borrow a modern phrase.  As a consequence, the Jackson campaign in 1828 adopted the aforementioned measures as a way to capitalize on the feeling of disfranchisement within the newly expanded American electorate and defeat Adams, who Jackson supporters painted as an ineffective leader, out of touch with the majority of Americans.  Parsons argues that “President Adams continued to insist that the office he held was and should continue to be above politics.  He was the last president to so believe” (141)

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