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The Coming of Democracy

, 248 pages

10 b&w illus.

June 2018



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The Coming of Democracy

Presidential Campaigning in the Age of Jackson


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.

Mark R. Cheathem is a professor of history at Cumberland University, where he is the project director of the Papers of Martin Van Buren. He is the author of Andrew Jackson, Southerner and Andrew Jackson and the Rise of the Democrats.

"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."

"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 make it ideal for students."

"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."

"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."

"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."

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