The Birth of Modern Politics: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and the Election of 1828

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The 1828 presidential election, which pitted Major General Andrew Jackson against incumbent John Quincy Adams, has long been hailed as a watershed moment in American political history. It was the contest in which an unlettered, hot-tempered southwestern frontiersman, trumpeted by his supporters as a genuine man of the people, soundly defeated a New England "aristocrat" whose education and political résumé were as impressive as any ever seen in American public life. It was, many historians have argued, the country's first truly democratic presidential election. It was also the election that opened a Pandora's box of campaign tactics, including coordinated media, get-out-the-vote efforts, fund-raising, organized rallies, opinion polling, campaign paraphernalia, ethnic voting blocs, "opposition research," and smear tactics.

In The Birth of Modern Politics, Parsons shows that the Adams-Jackson contest also began a national debate that is eerily contemporary, pitting those whose cultural, social, and economic values were rooted in community action for the common good against those who believed the common good was best served by giving individuals as much freedom as possible to promote their own interests. The book offers fresh and illuminating portraits of both Adams and Jackson and reveals how, despite their vastly different backgrounds, they had started out with many of the same values, admired one another, and had often been allies in common causes. But by 1828, caught up in a shifting political landscape, they were plunged into a competition that separated them decisively from the Founding Fathers' era and ushered in a style of politics that is still with us today.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"'The Birth of Modern Politics'" is short, smart, well-written and well-researched. Lynn Hudson Parsons is clearly a fair- minded and scrupulous historian. So it feels a bit churlish to point out that his fine new book is not about the birth of modern politics."—Washington Post

"The author pulls no punches as he tells the real story of the fighting man's world that was the 1820s, an unheralded decade in textbooks that well deserves the full treatment it gets here... When you can read crisply written history from a trained historian with something profound on his mind, why go with popularizers and pundits? The Birth of Modern Politics is both the anatomy of a campaign and a clever dissection of partisanship. It engages with competing interpretations and ably recovers the spirit of a usable past."—Baton Rouge Advocate

"Sharply focused introduction to an election that fundamentally changed the landscape of American politics."—Kirkus Reviews

"Engaging and accessible account... This worthy addition to the excellent Pivotal Moments in American History series will appeal to general readers in public libraries and to historians who might want to consider it for courses."—ForeWord magazine

"The election of 1828 modernized American politics. A two-party mass democracy replaced the patrician republic created by the Founders. In 1828, the Jacksonians skillfully burnished their candidate's image, while the followers of Adams emphasized their program for nationwide economic development. Lynn Hudson Parsons respects Adams, but Jackson engages his sympathies."—Daniel Walker Howe, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848

"The Birth of Modern Politics will become the indispensable work on the formation of the antebellum political system. Scholars of early America have long awaited a modern study of the election of 1828, and this volume will delight and inform specialists and general readers alike. Each page contains deft assessments, crisp writing, and provocative analysis. Together with John Quincy Adams, this elegantly crafted study establishes Parsons as the leading authority on the 1820s."—Douglas R. Egerton, author of Death or Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America

"Lynn Parsons' Birth of Modern Politics is much more than a marvelously entertaining and balanced account of the modernity of the 1828 election between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. In brilliantly contrasting the divergent paths the two political leaders took to that contest, he offers valuable insights into major issues in United States political history from the Revolution to the 1830s. He deftly highlights both change and continuity. In showing that 1828 was a 'tectonic shift' in the bedrock that underlay the nation's social, economic, and political landscape, Parsons also points in timely fashion—highlighted by recent presidential outcomes and candidates—to the birth of the long tradition of anti-intellectualism in American politics."—Ron Formisano, Professor of History, University of Kentucky

"...[A] valuable resource...few other accounts present the story as thoughtfully." —Journal of Southern History

"A lively, deeply-informed and fast paced look at a presidential election that changed America and American politics." — Karl Rove

Library Journal

Parsons (history, SUNY at Brockport: John Quincy Adams) has written a well-crafted and -researched survey of the 1828 election skillfully tying some elements to the present. The author brings up important arguments such as the perception that Adams was too intellectual and out of touch, while Jackson was a self-made man, a political "outsider." Parsons also notes that the increased number of white male voters who did not own property looked for candidates with similar experience and education-and this helped Jackson. With the 1828 election, political parties for the first time used cartoons, parades, coordinated national meetings, and campaign paraphernalia on a much larger scale. All of these components of the election were pretty radical in 1828, but not so afterward. Equally important, Parsons highlights themes that have been overlooked, such as how the newly formed Democratic Party would help focus partisanship and get Jackson elected while setting up the "big government" vs. "small government" dialog still evident today. Highly recommended for all academic libraries and for public libraries with a strong political history readership.
—Bryan Craig

Kirkus Reviews
Historian Parsons (John Quincy Adams, 1998, etc.) examines a watershed in American campaign history. .The 1828 presidential election pitted frontiersman and war hero Andrew Jackson against incumbent John Quincy Adams, a highly educated aristocrat, accomplished politician and the son of a previous president. The word "campaign" is a military term, Parsons points out, and this particular one was more like an all-out war. It introduced many innovations that persist to this day in American politics, including coordinated media efforts, get-out-the-vote campaigns and other touchstones of organized political party strategy. Most notably, the campaign showcased the use of smear tactics. The notorious "Coffin Handbills," distributed by Adams advocates, branded Jackson's wife an adulteress—her divorce, unknown to her, was legally shaky—and attacked the candidate for executing military deserters and for his brutal military actions against Native American villages. Meanwhile, Jackson partisans charged Adams with procuring a young woman for Russian Czar Alexander I while in the foreign diplomatic service. Ironically, Parsons reveals that Jackson and Adams had previously worked in common cause for shared political goals and expressed genuine mutual admiration and respect. Though the campaign highlighted their differences, the two men actually had much in common. In particular, both intensely disliked organized electioneering by their political parties. After the 1828 election, however, the party polarization they loathed emerged triumphant—and effectively persists today..Sharply focused introduction to an election that fundamentally changed the landscape of American politics.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Lynn Hudson Parsons is Professor of History Emeritus at the State University of New York College at Brockport. He is the author of John Quincy Adams and coeditor, with Kenneth Paul O'Brien, of The Home-Front War: World War II and American Society.

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Table of Contents

Editor's Note
Preface to the Paperback
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6

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