After the “corrupt bargain” that awarded John Quincy Adams the presidency in 1825, American politics underwent a fundamental shift from deference to participation. This changing tide eventually propelled Andrew Jackson into the White House—twice. But the presidential race that best demonstrated the extent of the changes was that of Martin Van Buren and war hero William Henry Harrison in 1840. Harrison’s campaign was famously marked by sloganeering and spirited rallies.
In The Coming of Democracy, Mark R. Cheathem examines the evolution of presidential campaigning from 1824 to 1840. Addressing the roots of early republic cultural politics—from campaign biographies to songs, political cartoons, and public correspondence between candidates and voters—Cheathem asks the reader to consider why such informal political expressions increased so dramatically during the Jacksonian period. What sounded and looked like mere entertainment, he argues, held important political meaning. The extraordinary voter participation rate—over 80 percent—in the 1840 presidential election indicated that both substantive issues and cultural politics drew Americans into the presidential selection process.
Drawing on period newspapers, diaries, memoirs, and public and private correspondence, The Coming of Democracy is the first book-length treatment to reveal how presidents and presidential candidates used both old and new forms of cultural politics to woo voters and win elections in the Jacksonian era. This book will appeal to anyone interested in US politics, the Jacksonian/antebellum era, or the presidency.
Praise for The Coming of Democracy
“A well-written and engaging book that draws connections between antebellum elections and those of the present. Many instructors will see The Coming of Democracy as a valuable teaching tool.”
Harry L. Watson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, author of Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America
“It would be difficult to overstate how much I enjoyed this book. Cheathem’s clear, cogent prose made it a pleasure to read. The clarity of the writing and the admirable simplicity of its organization makes it ideal for students.”
Robert M. Owens, Wichita State University, author of Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer: William Henry Harrison and the Origins of American Indian Policy
“Students and scholars owe Mark R. Cheathem a debt of gratitude for authoring this informative and engaging volume on the changing nature of political culture. His analysis of the evolution of campaign organizations, as well as the print and material aspects of that culture, provides a welcome and necessary perspective on contemporary politics.”
John M. Belohlavek, University of South Florida, author of “Let the Eagle Soar!”: The Foreign Policy of Andrew Jackson
“Success in modern politics hinges on building a cultural connection, however superficial, between candidates and voters. In The Coming of Democracy, Mark R. Cheathem systematically describes the forging of this American cultural politics of ‘electioneering’ over the four presidential cycles leading up to the legendary Log Cabin campaign of 1840. Cheathem’s work is an essential review for political and cultural historians, but will also prove accessible and entertaining for undergraduates.”
John L. Brooke, Ohio State University, author of Columbia Rising: Civil Life on the Upper Hudson from the Revolution to the Age of Jackson
“Mark R. Cheathem’s fusion of formal and cultural politics provides an intriguing and useful lens for understanding voter engagement in early republican presidential elections. This engaging, lucid synthesis will appeal not only to scholars of the early republic, but also to students and general readers eager to understand the Jacksonian origins of our modern presidential politics.”
Kirsten E. Wood, Florida International University, author of Masterful Women: Slaveholding Widows from the American Revolution through the Civil War
“Beyond its essential contribution to the political history of the period, this book is a
model of accessible scholarship. . . . The opposite of a dry monograph, the book’s lively prose and approachable format, with many headings and subheadings to guide the reader, will especially appeal to an undergraduate audience. Teachers of early American politics will similarly appreciate that the rich material offers ways to supplement lectures and provoke classroom discussion alike.”
Thomas Balcerski, Eastern Connecticut State University, New York History 102 (Winter 2021-2022): 408-411.
“Mark Cheathem’s The Coming of Democracy, which examines the beginnings of the nation’s turn toward cultural politics during the Jacksonian era, . . . appears at an incredibly prescient moment and offers an interesting lens through which to examine both the nation’s current political setting as well as the robust and colorful political campaigns associated with the Age of Jackson.”
“Cheathem’s study is literally a textbook example of how a succession of presidential candidates employed political culture to seize the opportunity to find the sweet spot between reticence and ambition. Where Heale focuses on the activities of the various presidential candidates, Cheathem zeroes in on the material culture of political campaigning—political cartoons, campaign biographies, music, and the intended-for-public-release correspondence between candidates and voters.
In doing so, Cheathem creates a complementary thesis to Sean Wilentz’s The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln. If Wilentz is describing the grand march of democratization from a height of thirty thousand feet, Cheathem is explaining how that looked and worked on the ground.”