Featured 19th Century Politicians Appealed to Their Base Too

Discussion in 'Coin Chat' started by johnmilton, Aug 11, 2020.

  1. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    Today political commentators talk about candidates and those in office who are constantly saying and doing things that “appeal to their base.” It is nothing new. In the 19th century candidates and office holders did the same thing.

    Van Buren Plow.jpg

    Here is a political token that has been on my want list for at least 20 years. It is quite scarce. I have seen only about 4 or 5 pieces in auctions over the last two decades or so. For me the ideal piece would one struck in white metal with a hole at the top. This piece is struck on copper, which makes it rarer, with a layer of gold plating. It was perhaps given to a high official of the Democratic Party, or it might have been made for a 19th century collector. In any case this is the only piece that I have had to chance to buy when my finances dictated that I could buy it.

    The obverse features a portrait of Martin Van Buren, who was Andrew Jackson’s protégé and successor. The slogan reads, “The prudence and principles of our FORE FATHERS.” The reverse shows a farmer behind a plow and the slogan, “Who can justly appreciate liberty & equality … THE DEMOCRACY.”

    The message here is one that originated with Thomas Jefferson, the man whom most historians credit as the founder of the Democratic Party. Jefferson believed that true democracy rested with the yeoman farmer who owned his land, tilled his soil and was in many ways self-sufficient. The farmer was not dependent upon the big cities, banks and “stock jobbers.” The yeoman farmer was the true embodiment of liberty and virtue.

    Andrew Jackson shared those ideals. His election base was the farm vote, which made up 79% of the population in 1820. By 1830 it was down to 70%, but still a potent force. Jackson had his urban supporters, the day laborers and wage earners, but his biggest base by far was the farmer. He was a plantation owner, and given his military record, that made him the farmer’s hero.

    Van Buren was neither a farmer nor a military hero. He was a politician who had worked his way up from the son of a poor tavern owner to the highest offices in New York State and the national government. He needed to “stroke his base of support,” and that’s what his supporters were doing with this token.

    Doyle DeWitt, who wrote the first major guide on 19th political tokens, stated that he was not sure what year this piece may have been issued. It may have been distributed during the 1836 presidential campaign, or it may have been released after Van Buren took the Oath of Office on March 4, 1837. The theory is that it was issued to bolster the spirits of Van Buren’s agrarian base after the economy had been rocked by the Panic of 1837 which started a month after Van Buren took office. At any rate this piece offers some interesting political symbolism.

    Andrew Jackson was the first master of this version of “retail politics.” In 1824 he used his image as the hero of the Battle of New Orleans to stoke up support and continued do in 1828, 1832 and even in the 1834 off-year elections.

    Andrew Jackson Hero.jpg
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2020
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  3. markr

    markr Active Member

    @johnmilton those are very cool tokens. The analysis and linkage about "the base" seems totally on the mark.

    You say that Jackson continued to stoke up support in 1828 and 1834, I presume via tokens? If so, do you know who issued them--the political party itself or some interested third party?

    johnmilton likes this.
  4. Robert Ransom

    Robert Ransom Well-Known Member

  5. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    I am sure that those tokens were financed by private individuals. Whether or not they did it through the party apparatus is had to say. My guess would be that most of them were directed more toward individuals or the state party organizations.

    The national party was still in the growth stage at this time. When they held their national conventions, not every state was represented, and the number of delegates per state was not tied to the state population and the number party members who held offices in the state as it is today.

    1832 was a presidential election year. Low #1, the most famous and desirable Hard Times Token, was issued for Jackson that year.

    Low 1.jpg

    DeWitt attributed these two tokens to the 1834 congressional races. The opposition Whig Party issued far pieces.

    Jackson Toga.jpg Jackson Coat.jpg
  6. furryfrog02

    furryfrog02 Well-Known Member

    Very interesting tokens. Not a fan of the man but he knew how to stoke his base.
  7. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    Although I will never a Jackson cheerleader the was Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. was, he did have his good points.

    - He introduced the American political system to the active, involved electorate by getting the people involved in selecting their presidents. When this nation was founded, only about 25% of the Electoral College votes were selected by a direct popular vote. By the 1824 election, when Jackson ran for the first time, that number had flipped to 75% popular vote and 25% state legislatures. Jackson was the presidential candidate to take advantage of that and put it work.

    - He actually fought one of the first skirmishes of the Civil War when he faced down John C. Calhoun over the nullification movement. Calhoun represented the southern states point of view. He headed up the nullification movement which held that a state could nullify any law the Federal Government passed that went against that state’s interests.

    The specific issue were the high protective tariffs that the Southern states had to pay on imported goods while the northern “infant industries” benefited from them. Calhoun had a legitimate complaint, but the idea that the states could treat any law the way they pleased posed a threat to the Union. Jackson stared him down with the threat of military force. Later the tariffs were reduced.
    Bradley Trotter and furryfrog02 like this.
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