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Egypt and Jacksonian Democracy
February 2, 2011
by William P. Meyers

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One could argue that Egypt already is a democracy. After all, they do have elections from time to time; the last was in 2005. Certainly it is a republic, the Arab Republic of Egypt; let the advocates of making America a pure, non-democratic republic take note. [See democracy v. republic]

Some people say that in reality it is a one-party and personal dictatorship of Mohamed Hosni Mubarak and his National Democratic Party. Other parties are either suppressed or only allowed as window dressing for the leading party.

The United States of America was not intended to have political parties as such as all. They are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. Also not mentioned in the Constitution, but discussed at length in the Federalist Papers, were factions. Basically, the founders were afraid that government would be used by a poor majority to confiscate, through taxation or inflationary money schemes, the property of the wealthy. They did their best to prevent that.

Fast forward to what historians (apologists, really) call the age of Jacksonian Democracy. This is an era when masses of Americans were mobilized against the establishment. That establishment was represented in the Presidential elections of 1824 by four candidates all of the same Democratic-Republican Party. John Quincy Adams became President, but Andrew Jackson received both the most electoral and popular votes.

Andrew Jackson was basically a thug; it is only a coincidence that he came to embody the new Democracy. What was new about it was that, in most states, by 1824 any white male of age 21 or older could vote. This had been a gradual trend. Pennsylvania had adopted universal manhood suffrage (what it was called, if you excluded non-whites from the ranks of men) just before the Constitution was written. Rich men, mostly plantation owners but increasingly a class of capitalists, preferred the old system where only men with property were allowed to vote. Often the democratic process involved lowering the property requirement, which brought in enough lower-class voters to create majorities that could abolish that requirement.

The Democratic Party was organized around Andrew Jackson because he was the "hero of New Orleans." [See battle of New Orleans]. Andrew Jackson, in addition to being a cold blooded killer, was a slave owner, and was rich by the standards of the times. The new party was being organized by men who wanted to control the government in order to enrich themselves. They had been unable to break into the ranks of the Eastern establishment.

Andrew Jackson did not lead the fight for universal (white) manhood suffrage He was the beneficiary of it. The Democratic Party was based on four principles: slavery, Indian removal, federal public works, and desire for federal jobs. It was strong in the western states (the most western state was Missouri) and weak in the eastern establishment states, particularly in New England.

What were the aspirations of the masses of white male voters who put Jackson in office in 1828? Of course they varied, but they can be summed up in a Democratic campaign slogan (pardon the language): "niggers for the niggerless." In other words, the 90% of white farmers who did not own slaves could hope to become slave owners and expand their land holdings as Indians were slaughtered. It was the tried and true method for social advancement in the U.S.; it was how the Jefferson Family advanced itself until Thomas Jefferson became President. But Jackson's personal appeal was as a military leader.

The Democratic Party is still highly tied to the public service sector. Indians ceased to be an issue in the late 1800s. The Party gave up its love of slavery only when it suffered military defeat in 1865, but then became the party of racism until 1965.

What kind of revolution will Egypt have? It depends on what the people will settle for. The ability of elites to manipulate masses of voters is very sophisticated. Already we see the elites trying to pacify the people of Egypt by re-arranging deck chairs. The Egyptians seem to want freedom, but they also want more money. Pleasing everyone will not be easy.

Jacksonian Democracy, despite its flaws, was important in the development of the United States. It moved the nation from being a nearly pure Republic to being a somewhat democratic Republic. With all white men allowed to vote, factory workers would eventually gain clout. Women would demand the right to vote, and of course the Civil War resulted in non-whites gaining voting rights, at least in theory. After the civil rights acts of the 1960's essentially every adult gained the right to vote.

Twice in recent memory, in Algeria and non-occupied Palestine, elections were held that resulted in Islamic parties coming to power. The United States then backed anti-Islamic factions that established dictatorships. It seems that radical Islamic influence in Egypt is not all that strong, so this may not be an issue in Egypt. The situation may be more like Turkey, where a moderate Islamic party has done an excellent job of governing democratically.

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