“For the White House the new year began in gloom.”
There’s a casual remark in one of Gore Vidal’s later essays that “No one seems to read The Age of Jackson anymore.” And if you read his novel Burr, which is set right in the middle of it, you see that, indeed, he has.
The history is both interesting and strange, and takes some time to think through exactly what it is doing. It is NOT a history of the Jackson presidency, although that plays an important and essential role in the book itself. Modern readers are going to very quickly notice the entire absence of important events and legacies like the Indian Removal Act and the “Trail of Tears” as well as much discussion on the slavery question. So while those are gaps, the nature and extent to which they are omissions is a more complicated question.
Instead, the focus of the book is about determining the political legacy of Jackson, and how that shaped later politics, as well as determining exactly what is meant by “Jacksonian Democrat”. Ostensibly, it works this way, according to the book: Jacksonian Democrats distrust the business class in America, and instead revere the idea of property ownership. Business interests, which Jackson would consider, non-makers — meaning that they produce wealth, but not goods, are at odds with farmers and the producers of material goods. This leads to some policies like being against a national bank, because financial institutions exist to make money, not improve lives. A farmer borrowing from a local bank or a peer has some flexibility, while borrowing from a large bank would not. This framing sets the tone for a lot of later policies. And it becomes complicated quickly as Schlesinger details the ways in which this conflict works in real world ways.
One of the hardest things to do in American literature (for me), is answer the question: who would I vote for? Because traditional political beliefs don’t quite line or work here. Only with Lincoln does it become a relatively clear question, but also only really for two elections, and then it gets muddled soon thereafter. It’s a challenge to read a book like this and think: wait, would I have voted for Jackson in 1824? The answer, I don’t actually know!