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Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America Paperback

ISBN-13: 978-0809065479 ISBN-10: 0809065479 Edition: 2nd

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; 2nd edition (May 2, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809065479
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809065479
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #89,697 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Despite its subtitle, this is much more than just another study of Jacksonian-era politics. Instead, Watson has integrated recent literature and traditional themes to produce a persuasive and well-written survey of public life from 1816 to 1848. He shows how social, cultural, and economic factors interacted with politics, and stresses as a major theme the tension between liberty and power that both characterized the period and forms part of its historical legacy. His explanations of republican theory and the fight over the Bank of the United States are particularly clear, and there are also good sections on slavery, the Indians, and the changing role of women. Recent scholarship has dated well-known previous surveys of Jacksonian America. For now, this should be the volume of choice. For most libraries.-- Jonathan D. Sarna, Hebrew Union Coll.
Jewish Inst. of Religion, Cincinnati
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"This is a superb book-indeed, a model of its kind." --Thomas P. Slaughter, Rutgers University

"A splendid achievement, sane, balanced, beautifully written." --Michael F. Holt, University of Virginia

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By "Lord Bowler" on April 18, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I used Liberty and Power to teach the Jacksonian period to international students for a course on US History. The book started right where Gordon Wood's "Radicalism of the American Revolution" left off with the splintering of the Democrat-Republicans and the emergence of the Democrat Party. Because the book was not too long but still had some great ideas, it served very well as a textbook. The book does not go into an excruciating amount of detail, so it may not be ideal for those who desire primary source material. Probably Watson's best effort is seen in his description of the Democrat and Whig parties, their constituencies, and their platforms. He shines in showing how contemporary forces led to the creation of these parties, and how they continued to shape them.

I gave the book 4 stars because I am not entirely convinced by the message behind its title. One could argue that the struggle between "Liberty" and "Power" began not with the Whigs and Democrats, but could be traced back to the Federalists and Democrat-Republicans over the First B.U.S. in the 1790s or even the Federalists and Antifederalists over the ratification of the US Constitution. The National Republicans/Whigs can be interpreted as inheriting the Federalists' role as promoting the economic and fiscal strength of the nation. Furthermore, Watson himself states that both the Whigs and Democrats, as the children of the previous Democrat-Republicans portrayed themselves as the champions of liberty, with the Democrats casting "big money" and corruption as the enemies of liberty and the Whigs struggling against what they interpreted as Jackson's absolutism ("King Andrew") and partisanship which the Founding Fathers themselves decried.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Alfred Johnson on May 22, 2007
Format: Paperback
The central story line of the Jacksonian period economically, socially and politically was the fight over the establishment, continuation and rechartering of the Bank of the United States which despite its name was a privately owned corporation headed by the notorious Nicholas Biddle. In short the story was, as almost always under capitalism, about the money. Hard money, paper money, metallic money, federal money, state money, no money. It is all there. As confusing and, frankly, somewhat trivial as the issues may seem to the 21st century mind the various fights determined the path of capitalist formation for the rest of the 19th century. One does not have to be a partisan of any particular monetary policy to know that if the Biddle-led forces had won then capital formation in the United States would have taken a very different turn. Thus, the essential Jacksonian victory on the bank question is one that militants today can give a retroactive endorsement. To my mind the definitive assessment of the period is still Arthur Schlesinger's Age of Jackson. For those who want a shorter version of that epic updated to include more details about party formation, women and culture in the period the present book will do just fine.

Although control of the money was the underlying premise for the political fights of the day they also represented some very different appreciations of what American society should look like. Watson, even more than Schlesinger, goes to great pains to highlight the various factions within each of the coalescing parties that would come to form the Democratic and Republican two-party system that we are familiar with today. Moreover, these fights had different implications for differing sections of the country. In that regard the names Daniel Webster, John C.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By J. Grattan VINE VOICE on September 21, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a very insightful examination of the political thinking and alignments of the Jacksonian era - the two-plus decades after the Monroe presidency through the Polk years. The author's analysis draws upon the 18th century concept of republicanism, a somewhat nebulous notion with wide-ranging interpretations and implications. The different political factions of the era all claimed to be "republicans," yet their different understandings were such that by 1836 two well-defined political parties - the Whigs and the Democrats - had emerged based on those differences. Though the Southern system of enslavement loomed large throughout this period, the reactions to the commercial advances of the period, the Market Revolution in the author's words, proved to be most contentious as it intersected with republicanism.

Republicanism is a creed that has no tolerance for monarchy, dictatorship, nobility, aristocrats, and the like. It posits equal, free, independent, and virtuous self-governing citizens as the basis of the political community. The Jeffersonian ideal of such a person was the small, mostly self-subsisting, farmer. Liberty, above all, was emphasized but was compromised if a person was not independent, or, in other words, dependent on others for his well-being. In addition, a central tenet of republicanism was that a "common good" existed. Society with its various elements constituted a harmonious whole with no need for factions or political parties to represent "interests." Perhaps a cherished ideal, especially among Jacksonians, such an ideal social state has never existed in America. Dating from the founding, the landed gentry and commercial elites were more powerful socially and politically and certainly formed alliances.
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