Over the past two decades Jacksonian historiography has been enriched by the publication of a large number of scholarly articles and monographs. Legislative voting in the states and in Congress has been analysed, the social composition of the two major parties has been studied, the mechanics of the political system have been scrutinized and political ideas have been reexamined. The present article will be concerned with ideology, the belief system of the Jacksonian Democratic party. It will deal specifically with the Jacksonian conception of equality. Surprisingly, this is a facet of Democratic ideology to which relatively little attention has been paid.
In The American Political Tradition, published in 1948, Richard Hofstadter presented what is perhaps the standard view of Jacksonian equality. He cited Andrew Jackson's Bank Veto Message of 1832. Jackson here affirmed that
Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth cannot 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.
Hofstadter concluded that this was “certainly … not the philosophy of a radical leveling movement that proposes to uproot property or to reconstruct society along drastically different lines.”