Jacksonian America Essay

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The war to suppress the Philippine insurgency soon fell into the pattern of Jacksonian wars against the Indians.

American generals had spent their early careers fighting the Sioux and the Apache.

Jacksonianism is, in Mead’s words, “an expression of the social, cultural, and religious values of a large portion of the American public,” and is characterized by “a strong sense of common values and common destiny.”Jacksonianism is poorly understood because its members are poorly represented in the cultural elites of Hollywood, the media, and academia. Mencken onwards have dismissed Jacksonians as “Boobus Americanus” mired in ignorance, religious zealotry, jingoism, and racism, while Rush Limbaugh and a host of conservative commentators have raged against the “pointy headed academics in their ivory towers” as self-righteous snobs who are contemptuous of the values and institutions that ordinary Americans hold dear. Chesterton’s classic observation expresses the conventional wisdom of many historians and commentators who define American identity in terms of ideology—Lieven’s American Creed—and mulitculturalism.

Listening to talk radio, the voice of contemporary Jacksonian populism, you can find that antipathies are mutual. Anti-intellectualism, the legacy of Scots-Irish resentment of the educated elites in England and New England, has been one of the less attractive sides of Jacksonian culture. Mead, followed by Lieven and Anderson and Cayton, while recognizing the importance of the American Creed of civic nationalism, reject it as the sole basis of American identity.

They looked with contempt on the Filipinos as “niggers,” and did not believe that the United States had any business taking on the burden of responsibility for nonwhite peoples who showed little capacity for self-government.

“To use state power to reform and reconstruct societies inhabited by people whose skin colors and religions made white Americans distinctly uncomfortable was to go to the heart of the American dilemma about the appeals of liberty and empire, choice and coercion, freedom and power, whether the location was Alabama, Manhattan, or Luzon.”Jacksonian nationalism has started to get the attention it deserves as a major force in shaping American culture and foreign policy.Theodore Roosevelt and other boosters of empire, insisting that national honor was at stake, urged the use of Jacksonian measures of total war to “subdue the savages.”But this was not a war that Jacksonians wanted to fight.The rank-and-file soldiers, Jacksonian nationalists all, had serious doubts about their mission and wanted nothing more than to go home.This proved a major “source of irritation to their English neighbors, who could not understand what they had to be proud about.” Despite their humble origins, the Scots-Irish did not behave in the spirit of humility and subordination expected of the lower sorts.“This combination of poverty and pride set the North Britons squarely apart from other English-speaking people in the American colonies.” The fierce pride of the North British emigrants would give birth to the Jacksonian code of honor.Jacksonian populism, Mead argues, played the key role in assimilating later European, and now non-European, immigrants into the American cultural values of rugged individualism, entrepreneurialism, home ownership, and democracy.Jacksonianism made the American melting pot and the American dream a reality.The surging crowd of figures records the births, deaths, and battles fought as European Americans settled the continent to the edge of the Pacific.Like Moses and the Israelites who appear in the ornate borders of the painting, these pioneers stand at the threshold of the Promised Land, ready to fulfill what many nineteenth-century Americans believed was God’s plan for the nation.It was not the best of times for the United States Army.American soldiers had come overseas to uplift a downtrodden people and bring them the blessings of democracy and good government.


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