Birth of Modern Politics by Lynn Parsons Book Review

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Birth of Modern Politics by Lynn Parsons

In the Birth of Modern Politics, Lynn Parsons examines the role that Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and the election of 1828 played in the creation of today's modern two-party political system. Parsons points out that the founding fathers were adamantly against the establishment of political parties and a two-party system. However, within a very short period of time, political parties had become an integral part of the American landscape. In fact, by the 1820s, political parties were entrenched in American politics, though the two-party system had yet to develop. The election of 1828 played a prominent role in the establishment of a two-party system, and Parsons explains the social changes leading up to that election, the impact of that election, and how it helped change the face of the American political scene.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Parsons begins by explaining the significance of Andrew Jackson. What is interesting is that Jackson, a figure who does not necessarily resonate with modern Americans, has a prominence in American political history that few can rival. However, this prominence cannot be seen by Jackson's treatment by historians and political scientists, who do not rate him among the top few influential presidents. Parsons begins by explaining Jackson's role as a war hero who defeated the Indians, the Spanish, and the British. However, Parsons also explains some of Jackson's shortcomings. First, Jackson was uniquely unqualified to run for the office of the presidency. While he was in office, he was hated by a significant number of Americans. Jackson even killed a civilian man prior to becoming president. However, Parsons points out that by the end of the nineteenth century historians, particularly Frederick Jackson Turner, began to lionize Jackson's role in American political history. Jackson maintained a prominent role until the 1960s, when historians began to take a broader view of American history. Jackson's status as a slave-owner and killer of Native Americans reminded people that, while Jackson may have epitomized his age, there were significant drawbacks to that supposedly golden era in American history.

Parsons begins to contrast Jackson and John Quincy Adams in chapter one. Of the two, Jackson was clearly the more charismatic and memorable leader. Jackson was largely responsible for the creation of the modern Democratic party, though there have been significant changes in party affiliation since its creation. Jackson was also a product of the American frontier, a prisoner of war during the Revolutionary war, which helped shape his political life, and his treatment in history. Adams was one of the original members of the Republican Party, a party established to fight Jackson's newly emerging Democrats. As a young boy, Adams accompanied his father to Europe, where the elder Adams helped negotiate the terms of America's freedom from Great Britain. However, the era was not named for Adams, nor is Adams remembered for the same types of feats as Jackson. Adams was a descendant of Puritans, and more like the founding fathers than Jackson. Parsons examples, in chapter one and throughout the rest of the book, do a good job of demonstrating the differences between Jackson and Adams. She gives concrete examples to support her belief that people would find Jackson to be the more personally compelling of the two candidates, including Jackson's attractive physical appearance, Adams' own personal notes that people might find him misanthropic, Jackson's wartime exploits, Adam's lack of personal involvement in the war, and even Jackson's role as a slave-owner, which certainly played a role in his election.

According to Parsons, 1817 was a critical year in the formation of the American two-party system, and he does a good job of explaining why she views 1817 as a period of change in American history. It was in 1817 that the last of the first generation of American political leaders, James Monroe, took office as the president. Simply because of old age, the men who had helped win freedom and create the union were no longer able to govern it. 1817 also marked the beginning of an isolationist period in American history. Tired of wars with Europe, Americans were beginning a greater exploration of the American frontier, and seemed intent on the concept of manifest destiny. Americans spread to the south and the west. Americans were also able to disperse more throughout the northeast because of improvements in transportation. All of these changes made American society become more compartmentalized, as Americans in different areas came to rely upon different lifestyles for a their sustenance, which made them have opposing political ideals. While these differences did not come to their dramatic conclusion until the Civil War, they began to significantly influence American politics during Monroe's presidency. Another significant develop during Monroe's presidency was the vast expansion of the union, not simply the spread of American's over the land. During Monroe's first term, six new states became part of the union. Monroe also embarked on a good-will tour that was aimed at ending the party divisions that had already begun in American political life, and his efforts were considered successful at that time. Furthermore, during Monroe's presidency, states began to reconsider voter qualifications, so that property ownership was no longer a mandatory prerequisite for the right to vote. This opened up the electorate in a way that was virtually guaranteed to signal change in the American political landscape. What this meant was that by the 1824 election, voters had changed significantly, and almost all adult white males in the United States had the right to vote.

In chapter three, Parsons discusses how this change in the electorate was significant. No candidate carried a majority of voters in the 1824 election. Instead, the House of Representatives, in accordance with the Constitution, selected the president. They chose Adams instead of Jackson, which helped deepen an already significant divide between the two men. Leading up to the election, it seemed that Henry Clay, John Calhoun, and William Crawford would be vying for the presidency in 1824. Initially, Jackson and Adams were not among the people being considered as candidates. However, Parsons seems to feel that a fifth man, one who was not running for office, actually played the pivotal role in that election. Van Buren felt that the divisions in the Republican Party were damaging to the concept of republicanism and to the Republican Party. He wanted to reawaken the old federalist/anti-federalist disputes. Van Buren believed that William Crawford was the candidate that could revive that debate. However, Jackson, as well as many other westerners, was opposed to Crawford as president. Because Crawford was a Tennessee native, the Tennessee legislature decided to nominate Jackson so that Tennessee natives could support someone from Tennessee without having to support Crawford. Adams was also reluctant to get into the presidential race, though, like Jackson, he agreed that he would perform the duty if called to do so. However, as the press became a more essential part of the election process, passively seeking the presidency became a losing strategy. Furthermore, as the voting population grew, people became increasingly dissatisfied with the caucus system, which gave congressmen the power to pick presidential candidates from their parties without any input from regular voters. The contest came down to Jackson and Adams, and Adams was named President, not because he received the most votes, but because the decision came down to the House of Representatives.

In chapter four, Parsons discusses the election of 1828, and Jackson's charges that Adams had improperly colluded with Clay to obtain the presidency in 1824. These grumblings were reaffirmed by Adam's appointment of Clay as secretary of state. Though Jackson later acknowledged that Adams was far too honest to have been involved in anything corrupt or illegal, he was willing to exploit the rumors at the time in order to gain the presidency. People urged Jackson to run for the presidency in 1828, though he initially declined to openly seek the nomination. Tennessee once again nominated him, and Jackson accepted with a grand gesture, the type which was to play a pivotal role in his presidential nomination. Adams faced problems in his presidency, among them the fact that he did not have any close friends or confidantes among his cabinet members. Furthermore, though Adams was accused of using power and corruption to attain the presidency, he refused to use his position as president to gain leverage to keep the presidency. Adams also had to deal with the issue of how to handle emerging Latin American nations as they gained their independence from Europe. Both Adams and Clay supported a free Latin America and wished to attend the Panama Conference, an idea that was popular throughout America, despite attempts by Adams' foes to squash it. Jackson used Adams' position in foreign policy as well as domestic matters as a way to demonstrate that Adams was abusing his office. However, in reality, Adams consistently refused to use the power of this office, something that frustrated his supporters.

Parsons begins chapter five by discussing how… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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