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The Second Jacksonian Age

The Jacksonian era in antebellum America was, like our own age, a time of extreme democratization and rampant anti-elitism. Now, too, the democratization of knowledge and truth can produce an odd mixture of credulity and skepticism among many ordinary Americans.

PROVIDENCE – Many people have compared Donald Trump’s presidency to that of Andrew Jackson in the first half of the nineteenth century. Trump himself hung a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office. And though Trump is hardly the military hero that Jackson was, the periods in which their presidencies occurred have some striking similarities.

The Jacksonian era, like our own, was a time of extreme democratization and rampant anti-elitism. The Jacksonians insisted that anyone (by which they meant any white adult male) could serve in any political office. No longer would education, social status, and respectability matter. Such egalitarian claims alarmed the Harvard- and Yale-educated elites of the 1820s and 1830s, just as they do today.

Moreover, we, too, are living in an era when weakened traditional authorities are being challenged. Following the 2020 presidential election, one Democratic pollster concluded that Trump supporters “don’t trust the news media. They don’t trust elites. They don’t trust scientists. They don’t trust academics. They don’t trust experts.” In antebellum America, Jackson’s supporters were likewise suspicious and mistrustful of authority.