Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Searching for Democratic Roots

Sean Wilentz's The Rise of American Democracy concentrates on that period in American history during which the recognizable framework of the modern American political system developed. This includes the formation of the first loyal opposition party (by Jefferson and Madison), the formation of the populist Democratic party (by Jackson), and the formation of the modern Republican party (leading to the election of Lincoln). It's a useful resource for 'radical' Democrats, in the sense of those who are searching for the roots of the party's political stances.

I was struck by the timelessness of this statement of principle made by Andrew Jackson as part of his 1832 message accompanying his veto of the rechartering of the Bank of the United States:

It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes… Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society – the farmers, mechanics, and laborers – who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government.

A core mission of the Democratic party has always been to stand against the injustice of a Government that focuses on making "the rich richer and the potent more powerful."

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