Lecture 9: From Nationalism to Democracy


Following the War of 1812 the United States entered what is often called the Era of Good Feelings, when a high degree of national consensus prevailed and nationalist values were cemented. The Era of Good Feelings was followed by the Era of the Common Man, in which the central figure is Andrew Jackson, the President of the Common Man. These two eras could be contrasted, but they also could be considered pieces of a larger whole, whereby nationalism is further strengthened by an injection of popular democracy.


Outline of Lecture


During the thirty years or so following the War of 1812, the US experienced first the Era of Good Feelings, a time of great consensus, and then the Era of the Common Man, a time of great contention. This is a time to consider the course of democracy as an institution in America. Greater participation in politics broke down the consensus, established the political folk hero as a new type of leader, and while not always pretty, invigorated the democratic system.

The Era of Good Feelings

The nationalist program was one of development, comprising the national bank, a protective tariff, internal improvements, liberal land laws, pro-business court decisions, and assertive foreign policy. Such a program was possible because of a temporary lull in party politics and high degree of public consensus.

The Missouri Compromise

Jefferson called the controversy over the admission of Missouri, centering as it did on the issue of slavery, a “firebell in the night.” It showed that slavery, while still amenable to compromise (the Missouri Compromise and the Second Missouri Compromise) in Congress, was becoming a dangerously divisive issue.

The Era of the Common Man

Andrew Jackson symbolizes the Era of the Common Man. The traits of his Presidency, and of the new brand of politics, are evident in the examination of the Eaton affair, the fight with the Bank of the United States, Indian removal, and the nullification crisis.

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11. Advantages of Democracy in the United States


This chapter on the advantages of democracy seems particularly appropriate for study in relation to the time of President Andrew Jackson, the Era of the Common Man. Many Americans lionized Jackson, who epitomized the democratization of American public affairs. Others said he would be the ruin of the country. And about that time, Tocqueville arrived in the US.


·         In matters of government, what things do aristocracies do well? What things do democracies do well?

·         Consider the relation of the last full paragraph before the “Public Spirit” section to the presidency of Andrew Jackson.

·         What are the two types of patriotism? And why are Americans, as Tocqueville sees them, so darned patriotic?

·         OK, here's a challenge to one of you Business majors. Can you take Tocqueville's comments on patriotism and relate them to management theory, as practiced in a business organization?

·         This chapter shows Tocqueville at his rhetorical best. Check out his ode to liberty “the art of being free”; also his paragraphs measuring and comparing aristocracy and democrac. And don't miss his use of humor! This guy can be really droll.

·         Tocqueville describes Americans' all-consuming interest in politics. Is that the way Americans are today?

·         Who enforces the law in a democracy?


Much of this lecture is concerned with Andrew Jackson, the President for the Common Man. So go to the White House and read about Jackson as President. While you're there, read about his dear Rachel, whose honor was sullied by Jackson's foes.

Film Review

Gangs of New York
Immigrant tensions break out in gang warfare.

The President’s Lady

The romance between Andrew Jackson and his Rachel.

Gorgeous Hussy

A cinematic treatment of the Eaton affair during the Jackson administration.  Joan Crawford plays the innkeeper’s daughter.

Book Review

Fehrenbacher, The South and Three Sectional Crises


Heidler, Old Hickory’s War


Heidler and Heidler, Andrew Jackson and the Quest for Empire


Remini, Andrew Jackson and the Bank War