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History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard

«·The Rise of the Whigs · CHAPTER XI·»

The Interaction of American and European Opinion

Democracy in England and France.—During the period of Jacksonian Democracy, as in all epochs of ferment, there was a close relation between the thought of the New World and the Old. In England, the successes of the American experiment were used as arguments in favor of overthrowing the aristocracy which George III had manipulated with such effect against America half a century before. In the United States, on the other hand, conservatives like Chancellor Kent, the stout opponent of manhood suffrage in New York, cited the riots of the British working classes as a warning against admitting the same classes to a share in the government of the United States. Along with the agitation of opinion went epoch-making events. In 1832, the year of Jackson’s second triumph, the British Parliament passed its first reform bill, which conferred the ballot—not on workingmen as yet—but on mill owners and shopkeepers whom the landlords regarded with genuine horror. The initial step was thus taken in breaking down the privileges of the landed aristocracy and the rich merchants of England.

About the same time a popular revolution occurred in France. The Bourbon family, restored to the throne of France by the allied powers after their victory over Napoleon in 1815, had embarked upon a policy of arbitrary government. To use the familiar phrase, they had learned nothing and forgotten nothing. Charles X, who came to the throne in 1824, set to work with zeal to undo the results of the French Revolution, to stifle the press, restrict the suffrage, and restore the clergy and the nobility to their ancient rights. His policy encountered equally zealous opposition and in 1830 he was overthrown. The popular party, under the leadership of Lafayette, established, not a republic as some of the radicals had hoped, but a “liberal” middle-class monarchy under Louis Philippe. This second French Revolution made a profound impression on Americans, convincing them that the whole world was moving toward democracy. The mayor, aldermen, and citizens of New York City joined in a great parade to celebrate the fall of the Bourbons. Mingled with cheers for the new order in France were hurrahs for “the people’s own, Andrew Jackson, the Hero of New Orleans and President of the United States!”

European Interest in America.—To the older and more settled Europeans, the democratic experiment in America was either a menace or an inspiration. Conservatives viewed it with anxiety; liberals with optimism. Far-sighted leaders could see that the tide of democracy was rising all over the world and could not be stayed. Naturally the country that had advanced furthest along the new course was the place in which to find arguments for and against proposals that Europe should make experiments of the same character.

De Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.—In addition to the casual traveler there began to visit the United States the thoughtful observer bent on finding out what manner of nation this was springing up in the wilderness. Those who looked with sympathy upon the growing popular forces of England and France found in the United States, in spite of many blemishes and defects, a guarantee for the future of the people’s rule in the Old World. One of these, Alexis de Tocqueville, a French liberal of mildly democratic sympathies, made a journey to this country in 1831; he described in a very remarkable volume, Democracy in America, the grand experiment as he saw it. On the whole he was convinced. After examining with a critical eye the life and labor of the American people, as well as the constitutions of the states and the nation, he came to the conclusion that democracy with all its faults was both inevitable and successful. Slavery he thought was a painful contrast to the other features of American life, and he foresaw what proved to be the irrepressible conflict over it. He believed that through blundering the people were destined to learn the highest of all arts, self-government on a grand scale. The absence of a leisure class, devoted to no calling or profession, merely enjoying the refinements of life and adding to its graces—the flaw in American culture that gave deep distress to many a European leader—de Tocqueville thought a necessary virtue in the republic. “Amongst a democratic people where there is no hereditary wealth, every man works to earn a living, or has worked, or is born of parents who have worked. A notion of labor is therefore presented to the mind on every side as the necessary, natural, and honest condition of human existence.” It was this notion of a government in the hands of people who labored that struck the French publicist as the most significant fact in the modern world.

Harriet Martineau’s Visit to America.—This phase of American life also profoundly impressed the brilliant English writer, Harriet Martineau. She saw all parts of the country, the homes of the rich and the log cabins of the frontier; she traveled in stagecoaches, canal boats, and on horseback; and visited sessions of Congress and auctions at slave markets. She tried to view the country impartially and the thing that left the deepest mark on her mind was the solidarity of the people in one great political body. “However various may be the tribes of inhabitants in those states, whatever part of the world may have been their birthplace, or that of their fathers, however broken may be their language, however servile or noble their employments, however exalted or despised their state, all are declared to be bound together by equal political obligations.... In that self-governing country all are held to have an equal interest in the principles of its institutions and to be bound in equal duty to watch their workings.” Miss Martineau was also impressed with the passion of Americans for land ownership and contrasted the United States favorably with England where the tillers of the soil were either tenants or laborers for wages.

Adverse Criticism.—By no means all observers and writers were convinced that America was a success. The fastidious traveler, Mrs. Trollope, who thought the English system of church and state was ideal, saw in the United States only roughness and ignorance. She lamented the “total and universal want of manners both in males and females,” adding that while “they appear to have clear heads and active intellects,” there was “no charm, no grace in their conversation.” She found everywhere a lack of reverence for kings, learning, and rank. Other critics were even more savage. The editor of the Foreign Quarterly petulantly exclaimed that the United States was “a brigand confederation.” Charles Dickens declared the country to be “so maimed and lame, so full of sores and ulcers that her best friends turn from the loathsome creature in disgust.” Sydney Smith, editor of the Edinburgh Review, was never tired of trying his caustic wit at the expense of America. “Their Franklins and Washingtons and all the other sages and heroes of their revolution were born and bred subjects of the king of England,” he observed in 1820. “During the thirty or forty years of their independence they have done absolutely nothing for the sciences, for the arts, for literature, or even for the statesmanlike studies of politics or political economy.... In the four quarters of the globe who reads an American book? Or goes to an American play? Or looks at an American picture or statue?” To put a sharp sting into his taunt he added, forgetting by whose authority slavery was introduced and fostered: “Under which of the old tyrannical governments of Europe is every sixth man a slave whom his fellow creatures may buy and sell?”

Some Americans, while resenting the hasty and often superficial judgments of European writers, winced under their satire and took thought about certain particulars in the indictments brought against them. The mass of the people, however, bent on the great experiment, gave little heed to carping critics who saw the flaws and not the achievements of our country—critics who were in fact less interested in America than in preventing the rise and growth of democracy in Europe.


J.S. Bassett, Life of Andrew Jackson.

J.W. Burgess, The Middle Period.

H. Lodge, Daniel Webster.

W. Macdonald, Jacksonian Democracy (American Nation Series).

Ostrogorski, Democracy and the Organization of Political Parties, Vol. II.

C.H. Peck, The Jacksonian Epoch.

C. Schurz, Henry Clay.


1. By what devices was democracy limited in the first days of our Republic?

2. On what grounds were the limitations defended? Attacked?

3. Outline the rise of political democracy in the United States.

4. Describe three important changes in our political system.

5. Contrast the Presidents of the old and the new generations.

6. Account for the unpopularity of John Adams’ administration.

7. What had been the career of Andrew Jackson before 1829?

8. Sketch the history of the protective tariff and explain the theory underlying it.

9. Explain the growth of Southern opposition to the tariff.

10. Relate the leading events connected with nullification in South Carolina.

11. State Jackson’s views and tell the outcome of the controversy.

12. Why was Jackson opposed to the bank? How did he finally destroy it?

13. The Whigs complained of Jackson’s “executive tyranny.” What did they mean?

14. Give some of the leading events in Clay’s career.

15. How do you account for the triumph of Harrison in 1840?

16. Why was Europe especially interested in America at this period? Who were some of the European writers on American affairs?

Research Topics

Jackson’s Criticisms of the Bank.—Macdonald, Documentary Source Book, pp. 320-329.

Financial Aspects of the Bank Controversy.—Dewey, Financial History of the United States, Sections 86-87; Elson, History of the United States, pp. 492-496.

Jackson’s View of the Union.—See his proclamation on nullification in Macdonald, pp. 333-340.

Nullification.—McMaster, History of the People of the United States, Vol. VI, pp. 153-182; Elson, pp. 487-492.

The Webster-Hayne Debate.—Analyze the arguments. Extensive extracts are given in Macdonald’s larger three-volume work, Select Documents of United States History, 1776-1761, pp. 239-260.

The Character of Jackson’s Administration.—Woodrow Wilson, History of the American People, Vol. IV, pp. 1-87; Elson, pp. 498-501.

The People in 1830.—From contemporary writings in Hart, American History Told by Contemporaries, Vol. III, pp. 509-530.

Biographical Studies.—Andrew Jackson, J.Q. Adams, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, J.C. Calhoun, and W.H. Harrison.

«·The Rise of the Whigs · CHAPTER XI·»