PART FOUR  The Jacksonian Revolution

 

Andrew Jackson became the President of the United States as a result of his victory in the 1828 election. This event marks the beginning of the Age of Jacksonian Democracy, which extended through the presidencies of Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, James K. Polk, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan.

The phrase "Jacksonian Democracy" refers to the extension of democracy (and its consequent social impact) to a new group of voters as states gradually eliminated property qualifications for voting. More than four times as many men would vote in 1836 as in 1824. The movement of population out west spearheaded the destruction of voting restrictions for when the western states applied for statehood their constitutions guaranteed universal white male suffrage. This movement in turn affected the eastern states, which also began to liberalize their voting laws.

The fight for the extension of democracy was partly a sectional dispute, the West against the rich East, and partly a class dispute, the less versus the more fortunate. But the basic dispute was over what type of society the United States was going to be. Would the country be run by the large landowners and their allies, similar to the domination of the early executive branch by the Virginia dynasty of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe? Or would the country open up to the other social classes and actualize its ideal of a non-aristocratic society?

To get a better feel for the Jacksonian Age, this part visits a number of regional sites from the period. Among the representative people of this bold new age was none other than Phineas T. Barnum, the great showman. He took advantage of the change from small town society to industrialized cities to build a fortune with the nation's first organized steps toward a modern entertainment industry. The Jacksonian age was an age of reform. One of the many reforms was the start of the woman's movement. We learn more about this movement by visiting the home of Susan B. Anthony in North Adams, Massachusetts.

While the Jacksonian Revolution extended political democracy, in the realm of literature and art the nation sought a truly American style, not one merely imitative of the English. Americans found this in their own distinctive interpretation of the romantic movement. Therefore, the Age of Jackson can also be seen as America's first great creative period in the arts. Chapter 20 discusses literature in the romantic age. It deals with the many literary authors of the Berkshires: Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorn, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and many others.

During the period, important changes took place in the designs of exteriors and interiors of buildings. The major styles of architecture during this period are: Greek Revival (1825-1860); Gothic Revival (1840-1880); and Italianate (1840-1885). The principal identifying feature of the Greek Revival style is the use of porches supported by prominent columns. The Gothic Revival is one of the easiest styles to spot because of the prominent use of pointed arches for the windows and gables. The gables often have decorated verge-boards (i.e., boards carved with fancy shapes and placed at right angles to the eaves). The use of these highly decorative features reminded people of icing on a cake, hence the term "Gingerbread" style. The Italianate is also easily recognizable. It uses rounded window shapes (from the Romanesque style). In many cases, the two- or three-story houses are topped by a square cupola.

An outstanding architect of the period was Alexander Jackson Davis. In the 1830s with his partner Ithiel Town of New Haven, he worked in the Greek Revival style. During the next decade, with Andrew Jackson Downing, he designed in the Gothic Revival style (Lyndhurst castle being the best known). Later, Downing and Davis worked in the Italianate style. Davis designed the Samuel F. B. Morse house in Poughkeepsie, partly in this style.

Interior decoration followed patterns similar to those of architecture. Paralleling the Greek Revival period, the Empire Style (1820-1840) dominated the early Jacksonian period. The style takes its name from the neoclassical style of architecture and decoration created under Napoleon's reign. This second phase of the classical revival period was a continuation of late Sheraton with French design details inspired by classical forms.

The Romantic period fostered numerous revivals of styles and mixtures of styles, truly justifying the term "eclectic" as applied to the Victorian period. Among the revivals are Gothic Revival (1840-1870) and Rococo Revival (1830-1865). Furniture designed in the Gothic Revival style is characterized by arched points and undulating curves with carvings of leaves, flowers, and fruits in high relief. Davis designed Gothic Revival furniture with pointed arches for Lyndhurst Castle. The Rococo Revival style is concurrent with the Italianate style in architecture. The emphasis was less on design and more on decoration with naturalistic carvings of roses, grapes, vines, and birds. The style supposedly borrows from the Italian Renaissance, but greatly resembles the French Baroque.



Chapter 11. P. T. Barnum at Bridgeport

In pre-industrial America, puritan values enforced in small towns prevented the flourishing of a modern "entertainment" industry. The first steps in the development of such an industry with the greater freedom accompanying the Industrial Revolution, and its parallel developments in urbanization and increasing anonymity. Although the new urbanites might have greater freedom than their rural counterparts, they did not have a great deal of education. It was in this atmosphere that a man such as Phineas T. Barnum could prosper.

Barnum was born in 1810 in Bethel, Connecticut near Danbury. His father died when Phineas was only fifteen, and Phineas took a job as a store clerk to help support the family. In 1828 his grandfather set him up in his own fruit and confectionery store.

In 1834 Barnum, still in the grocery business, moved his family to New York City. Within less than a year of his arrival, he began his first humbug with the Joice Heath affair. Barnum made money by promoting the story that Joice was a 106 year old former slave who had been George Washington's nurse.

In 1841 Barnum bought Scudder's Museum in New York City, changing its name to the American Museum. This so-called museum was really a collection of oddities, plus some theater presentations. Promoters had to use the term "museum" to avoid arousing puritanical prejudices towards theaters and actors.

Barnum's "museum" really prospered when in 1842 he discovered a five year old midget named Charles S. Stratton of Bridgeport, Connecticut. The midget, whose name Barnum changed to General Tom Thumb, became a national sensation. Tom Thumb had considerable talent and came to symbolize the perpetual boy enchanting everyone with his antics. Even Queen Victoria of England received the General.

In 1862, along with the General, Barnum exhibited another midget, dubbed Commodore Nutt. The two midgets became rivals when Barnum brought in a female midget named Lavinia Warren. The General won the day and married Lavinia in New York City's Grace Church in 1863. Guests included General Ambrose Burnside, Mrs. John Jacob Astor, and Mrs. William H. Vanderbilt. President Lincoln received the newlyweds at the White House.

Barnum had settled in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1848. In 1865 the town of Fairfield, Connecticut elected him to the Connecticut legislature. After Swedish singer Jenny Lind's concert tour had made promoter Barnum rich, he began to develop East Bridgeport by bringing industry into the city. In 1875 he became mayor of Bridgeport.

It was not until 1870, when Barnum was 60 years old, that he entered the circus business. He did so by helping to organize P. T. Barnum's Museum, Menagerie and Circus. In 1880 Barnum combined with James A. Bailey to create the forerunner of the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus. Take a tour of Bridgeport and visit the sites connected with the career of the Great Showman.

Mountain Grove Cemetery (sections 8 and 9)
Dewey Street

Here you will find the grave of Barnum (1810-1891) and Tom Thumb (?-1883). A 40 foot shaft in Italian marble surmounted by a life-size statue of the General marks the latter's grave site. Lavinia lies next to him in front of the shaft.

Seaside Park
End of Main Street

Barnum donated the land for this park in 1865. A statue of the famous impresario, unveiled in 1893, stands by the seawall overlooking the Sound.

P. T. Barnum Museum
820 Main Street (Open Tues-Sat 2-5, all year)

This is an excellent museum to visit with lots of material on P. T. Barnum, the circus, and General Tom Thumb. It is not to be missed, especially Commodore Nutt's horse-drawn carriage shaped like a walnut.

Museum of Art, Science and Industry
4450 Park Avenue (Open Tues-Fri 11-5, Sat-Sun 12-5, all year)

This museum has a small exhibit of items relating to Tom Thumb. Here also are exhibits concerning goods made in nineteenth century Bridgeport.

Other Sites

Bridgeport is close to New Haven where you can tour the university's and the city's modern architecture.

 

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