Books for Spring 2019

In addition to a bevy of articles and essays, students in my Spring 2019 courses will be reading these books.

Introduction to Historical Methods

Conal Furay and Michael J. Salevouris, The Methods and Skills of History: A Practical Guide, 4th ed. (Wiley Blackwell, 2015) ISBN 9781118745441

Jill Lepore, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History (Princeton Univ. Press, 2011) ISBN 9780691153001

Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 8th ed. (University of Chicago Press, 2013) ISBN 9780226816388

American Presidency

Mark R. Cheathem, The Coming of Democracy: Presidential Campaigning in the Age of Jackson (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2018) ISBN 978-1421425986

Erika Falk, Women for President: Media Bias in Nine Campaigns, 2d. ed. (Univ. of Illinois Press, 2010) ISBN 978-0252076916

John Fea, Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (Eerdmans, 2018) ISBN 978-0802876416

David Greenberg, Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency (W.W. Norton, 2017) ISBN 978-0393353648

Previewing Andrew Jackson and the Rise of the Democratic Party

Several years ago, I was invited to write a book on Andrew Jackson and the origins of the Democratic party for ABC-CLIO. While I was grateful for the opportunity, the book was marketed as a reference book, with ancillary material included that I thought detracted from the narrative and a price that deterred widespread sales to the public.

Thankfully, the editors at ABC-CLIO agreed to let me approach UT Press with the idea of publishing an affordable paperback edition. We stripped away all of the ancillary material to leave the main narrative and took out some of the material on political culture. I also added some new material, especially on Martin Van Buren. The result is Andrew Jackson and the Rise of the Democratic Party.

Win a Free Copy of The Coming of Democracy!

Now that The Coming of Democracy is in hand, here’s your chance to win a signed paperback copy.*

You can win in two ways:

1. Like the Jacksonian America Facebook page, and share the post about this contest on your personal timeline.

2. Retweet the Twitter announcement of this contest.

I will award one book for Facebook participants and one for Twitter participants. Winners will be announced on Aug. 8.

If you don’t win (or if you don’t want to wait!), you can purchase copies of the book, scheduled to be published in early August, on the Johns Hopkins Univ. Press website.

As always, Cheathem family members are prohibited from winning.

*I’m also willing to send the winner(s) a signed hardback copy, but note that the hardbacks don’t have a dust jacket, so you won’t have that cool Van Buren image sitting on your shelf.

Background to The Coming of Democracy

One of the things I didn’t have to address in my previous series on the evolution of a book was the changes that a book can undergo between proposal and publication. I didn’t have this experience with any of my previous books, but The Coming of Democracy was different.

In 2012, I sent Johns Hopkins University Press editor Bob Brugger a pitch for a book on the 1840 presidential election, hoping to place it in the press’ Witness to History series. I liked the idea of writing a book targeted at undergraduates that would help them understand the politics of the Jacksonian era. My original proposal suggested the title The Log Cabin and Hard Cider Campaign and summarized my vision:

Using the “Log Cabin and Hard Cider” campaign as its hook, this book will demonstrate, in accessible narrative prose, how the 1840 election capped a twenty-year period of political development. These two decades exposed important fissures in American society, as principles (republican vs. democratic), personalities (e.g., Jackson vs. Adams and Clay), populism (e.g., barbeques and parades) and emerging issues (e.g., slavery and the economy) inaugurated a new era of presidential politics. The book will also reflect on the changes in the American party system, as the National Republicans of the 1820s splintered into factions that coalesced into the Democrat-Whig rivalry of the 1830s, which disintegrated in the mid-1850s.

After some back-and-forth discussion with Bob, the proposal went out for review. The reports asked for three main revisions: a more serious consideration of issues that separated the Whigs and Democrats; more serious attention to the popular politics of the 1830s; and a review of more recent literature on Early Republic political practices to move beyond the deferential politics interpretation.

All of these changes made sense, so I expanded the research that I had already begun. By the time I started to write, the book had shifted from focusing primarily on the 1840 election to tracing the development of the era’s presidential campaigning that culminated in the 1840 election. I submitted the manuscript in June 2015 and awaited further word.

While I had been writing, Bob had moved into semi-retirement, and Elizabeth Demers took over his position at JHUP. The transition led to miscommunication about the status of the manuscript and a delay in submitting it to readers for review.

When the reviews came back, they were mixed. Among other things, the readers thought there was a disconnect from the book title and the actual manuscript; they wanted more clarification on the formal vs. informal political dichotomy that I discussed; and they thought that the writing wasn’t a good fit for the intended audience of undergraduate students. I didn’t agree with all of the criticisms, but many of them were helpful and pointed me toward necessary revisions to the manuscript.

Ultimately, the editors of the Witness to History series decided that the book wasn’t a good fit for their series. Even today, I don’t disagree with that assessment, and I’m glad JHUP made the change to a stand-alone book.

While scholars aren’t the primary audience, I think this book provides an opportunity for them to begin to explore the ways in which Jacksonian-era political factions and parties used cultural politics to influence voters. I hope that they see it as a starting point for more research on an interesting and relevant topic.

This book was the most difficult one I’ve written to date. It wasn’t a straight-forward chronological narrative, and the audience was different. The change in editors at JHUP also provided some unexpected delays and hiccups. Nevertheless, I’m proud of it, and I hope it expands our conception of Jacksonian-era politics.

Read the Introduction to The Coming of Democracy

My thanks to Johns Hopkins University Press for allowing me to post the introduction to my forthcoming book, The Coming of Democracy: Presidential Campaigning in the Age of Jackson.

On 29 May 1840, approximately 7,500 individuals gathered in Clarksville, Tennessee, to witness a parade celebrating presidential candidate William Henry Harrison. The Whig Party had chosen the War of 1812 hero and former territorial governor, US senator, and diplomat to challenge the incumbent president, Democrat Martin Van Buren. The Clarksville audience watched as 250 Harrison supporters disembarked from the steamboat Gallatin and began marching from the dock to the square, then on to the area prepared for the festivities. As bands played, parade members carried banners announcing their devotion to the Whig cause. One banner proclaimed, “Harrison and Tyler—Vox populi, vox dei.” This Latin phrase, translated “the voice of the people is the voice of God,” indicated their belief that the people’s choice of Harrison and his running mate, Virginian John Tyler, reflected providential will.[1]

Floats were also part of the parade, and one proved especially memorable. It incorporated the Log Cabin and Hard Cider campaign theme, introduced by Democrats as a way to criticize Harrison but adopted by the Whigs to indicate their candidate’s purported common-man lifestyle. The float consisted of a log cabin with “several coon skins nailed about the door, and a live coon . . . playing upon the bark roof.” The obligatory barrel of hard cider rested inside the cabin. Banners were tacked on either end of the building. One identified Harrison with another American military hero, George Washington; the other said, in part, “Harrison and Reform.” This last inscription gave a nod to both the Whigs’ support of various moral reform movements as well as Harrison’s desire to bring a different direction to the presidency. A testament to the latter came from the drummer leading the float, a former British prisoner of war captured by Harrison at the Battle of the Thames, the 1813 engagement on which the Whig candidate’s military fame primarily rested. The drummer reportedly testified on his former captor’s behalf: “General Harrison saved him from one Monarchy [the British] and is about to save him from another [Van Buren].”[2]

The Whigs had formed in 1834 during Jackson’s second administration but had been unsuccessful in their efforts to defeat Van Buren in the 1836 election. Four years later, their chances of replacing him with Harrison were good if they could find a way to convince the growing number of voters that their party held the nation’s future success in its hands.

Van Buren’s fall from grace came quickly once he ascended to the presidency in 1837. He had risen from his home state of New York to become the trusted confidant of Andrew Jackson, the seventh president. When Jackson took office in 1829, Van Buren served first as his secretary of state (1829–31), then as his vice president (1833–37). In 1836, the New Yorker won election as Jackson’s successor. His administration suffered, however, from the Panic of 1837, a series of economic downturns across the nation that began almost immediately after he took office and left him precariously perched to win a second term. He and the Democrats nevertheless were positioned to draw on the organized partisanship of the very two-party system that Van Buren had helped to rejuvenate over the past few years.

At stake in the 1840 presidential election was the future of this political party system. Democrats had formed their party identity during the 1828 campaign and early in Jackson’s first administration. They possessed a political ideology based on the Jeffersonian principles of limited government and the will of the people. A Van Buren victory in 1840 would further strengthen the Democrats and seemed likely to, if not scatter the Whigs, at least make them a permanent minority party for the near future. The Whigs, on the other hand, had initially organized as an anti-Jackson party, bringing together disparate individuals and factions who agreed on opposing Old Hickory but not necessarily much else. By 1840, the Whigs were the party of social morality and progressivism; that year’s presidential campaign offered the first legitimate opportunity for the Whigs to articulate a focused political agenda and to begin building a stable voting base led by their presidential choice. A Harrison victory would force the Democrats to reexamine their own political program and reconsider whether the principles embodied in Jackson’s administrations were enough to recapture the presidency in 1844.

Throughout the early republic and Jacksonian periods, both parties attempted to lure voters to their side by using cultural politics, or political activities that took place outside formal party organization and the act of voting. What sounded and looked like entertainment, things such as music, public events, and cartoons, held important political meaning in the first few decades of the United States’ existence. These appeals targeted the growing number of eligible voters, which increased dramatically following the 1824 presidential election, and engaged nonvoters, particularly women. The extraordinary voter participation rate (over 80 percent) in the 1840 presidential election indicated that both substantive issues and cultural politics involved Americans in the presidential selection process.

Drawing parallels between the Jacksonian era and today is problematic because of the enormous changes that the nation and its politics have experienced. Nevertheless, the question of voter engagement is one that remains relevant in the age of round-the-clock news cycles and social media campaigns, and the maturation of cultural politics during the Jacksonian period is an important starting point for considering what drives twenty-first-century Americans’ interest in presidential politics.

[1]. Thomas B. Alexander, “The Presidential Campaign of 1840 in Tennessee,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 1 (March 1942): 36–37; and Nashville (TN) Whig, 1 June 1840.

[2]. Nashville (TN) Whig, 1 June 1840. The “coon” symbology used by the Whigs referenced their employment of frontier identity and had no obvious connection to the current racist connotations of the word. See David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, rev. ed. (Brooklyn, NY: Verso, 1999), 98.

The Coming of Democracy Is . . . Coming!

After what has felt like an eternity, The Coming of Democracy: Presidential Campaigning in the Age of Jackson (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press) is in the final stages of production. It is scheduled to come out in July and is available for pre-sale.

I want to publicly thank Harry Watson, Robert Owens, John Belohlavek, John Brooke, and Kirsten Wood for their kind words about the book. This book wasn’t the one I started out to write, but I am proud of how it turned out. I hope it extends the conversation about cultural politics undertaken by a host of my fellow SHEARites and reminds readers of the continued relevancy of Jacksonian-era politics.


Remembering Hendrik Booraem

Young Hickory: The Making Of Andrew JacksonDr. Hendrik Booraem V passed away in October 2017. His obituary outlines a more remarkable publishing record than even I realized. Many people may not recognize his name, but Booraem wrote one of the most underappreciated biographies of Andrew Jackson.

Entitled Young Hickory: The Making of Andrew Jackson, Booraem’s biography is exhaustive in explaining the world in which Old Hickory grew up. His footnotes are meticulous, and his exposure of Augustus Buell’s mythologizing and lies is a tour de force.

While I didn’t agree with everything that Booraem wrote about Jackson and his world, I admired his ability to explain the Waxhaws and the Ulster Scots culture in which Jackson was raised. My copy of his book is well worn from its use in writing Andrew Jackson, Southerner.

If you haven’t read Young Hickory, I recommend that you do so. It will help you appreciate Booraem’s contribution to Jacksonian historiography, even if many people do not recognize it.

Books for Fall 2018

Jacksonian Democracy

Carol Berkin, A Sovereign People: The Crises of the 1790s and the Birth of American Nationalism (Basic Books, 2017) 978-0465060887

Mark R. Cheathem, Andrew Jackson, Southerner (LSU Press, 2013) ISBN 9780807150986

Cassandra Good, Founding Friendships: Friendships between Men and Women in the Early American Republic (Oxford Univ. Press, 2015) ISBN 9780199376179

Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life (HarperPerennial, 1989) ISBN 0060916060

Sharon Ann Murphy, Other People’s Money: How Banking Worked in the Early American Republic (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2017) ISBN 9781421421759

Introduction to Documentary Editing

Mary-Jo Kline and Susan Holbrook Perdue, A Guide to Documentary Editing, 3rd. ed.  (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008)–Available for free online at the link

Ted Widmer, Martin Van Buren (Times Books, 2004) ISBN 9780805069228

Jacksonian America: 2017 in Review

Total blog views: 41,076

Most active 2017 month in views: August (5,024)

Ten most-viewed posts of 2017 (2017 posts in bold):
1. Debunking the Lincoln-Kennedy Federal Reserve Meme 9,766
2. Andrew Jackson’s Profane Parrot 4,368
3.  Was Calvin Coolidge a Klansman? 1,773
4. The Man Who Wanted to Kill Andrew Jackson 1,678
5. 248 Years Later, Andrew Jackson Remains Controversial 1,153
6. Is Donald Trump Right About Andrew Jackson and the Civil War? 837
7. Were Tariffs the Cause of the Civil War? 836
8. George Washington Gordon, the Klan, and the History of Confederate Memorials 827
9. The Tension Between Popular and Academic History 730
10. What Does a History Course on Conspiracy Theories Look Like? 555

Review of Andrew Jackson: Hero Under Fire

As part of his publicity campaign for his new book,  Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle That Shaped America’s Destiny, Brian Kilmeade hosted a Fox News Channel (FNC) special, entitled Andrew Jackson: Hero Under Fire. At the risk of piling on my previous review of Kilmeade’s book, I wanted to give some brief thoughts on the special.

The special lasts approximately forty minutes. The Battle of New Orleans takes up roughly the first fifteen minutes, with the next ten minutes addressing Jackson’s life. Comparisons between Jackson and other presidents cover the next five minutes. Kilmeade interviews Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) about politically correct history for five minutes, then Kilmeade wraps up by discussing the attempts to take down Jackson’s statue in New Orleans.

Kilmeade uses four experts to discuss Jackson and his life and career. One of them is an appropriate choice, one is understandable, one is puzzling, and one is, well, absurd. Howard Kittell is President and CEO of the Andrew Jackson Foundation, and his parts of the special are the historically strongest. Douglas Brinkley is a trained historian whose expertise is not Jackson or nineteenth century U.S. history; however, he is a well-known CNN talking head when it comes to history, so his presence makes sense given the medium (although isn’t CNN #fakenews?). To discuss Jackson and the Battle of New Orleans, as well as parts of Jackson’s life, Kilmeade interviews Ronald J. Drez. A decorated veteran, Drez has written a book about the battle that LSU Press published in 2014, and he apparently worked closely with Stephen Ambrose on collecting oral histories of World War II veterans. But Drez is not a trained historian, and he is an interesting choice to discuss the battle considering the other options available, including Don Hickey, Gene Smith, and Tom Kanon (on the battle) and Dan Feller, Jason Opal, and yours truly (on Jackson’s life).

Finally, to gain insight into Jackson’s life and presidency, Kilmeade relies on Douglas Wead. Wead, who was an advisor to both the elder and younger Presidents Bush and who has written about presidential families, doesn’t seem to know very much about Jackson beyond surface information. In fact, some of his commentary is flat-out wrong. For example, he credits Jackson with “pioneering” the use of a new technology (lithography) that “transformed politics” because “most of America was illiterate.” Jackson’s “sexy” image, according to Wead, helped convince these illiterate voters to support Old Hickory. Most of what is in quotes in the previous two sentences is either historically unverifiable or simply wrong. As the current occupant of the Oval Office might say, “SAD!”

Not surprisingly, the special’s intent seemed to be, in no specific order, to sell Kilmeade’s book and to rail against political correctness. The first is no surprise and seems to be working; one can’t fault Kilmeade for using his media platform for publicity. As for political correctness, Kilmeade’s discussion with Lee about his book, Written Out of History: The Forgotten Founders Who Fought Big Government, is typical FNC propaganda. It contains very little understanding of historians and how they operate and is as much real history as something from David Barton. (For a critical review of Lee’s book, see Nancy Isenberg and Andy Burstein’s Salon piece.) The segment on the Jackson-Trump comparisons, which I also think was intended to bring up the ole “history is too politically correct” canard, is old news and doesn’t add much to the special.

All in all, the special isn’t worth watching unless you are interested in learning a few details (some wrong) about Jackson and the battle or learning a lot about how FNC views history and the historians who study Jackson.

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