Written by Ahmad Alnasser, 12th Grade Teen Historian,
With 2016 being an election year, it would be pretty difficult to miss an advertisement by one of the candidates, in a multitude of languages, urging one to vote and support their campaigns. Nowadays, seeing politicians’ names on everyday items is commonplace, but in the early 1800s campaign advertisements were relatively uncommon. Traditionally, elections were reserved for well-to-do Americans, while the lower class citizens had much more to worry about than what some man in Washington, D.C., had to offer them.
This plate features an eagle in the middle clutching the leaves of a potted tulip plant, a phrase in German around the circumference, and the words “LIBERTY FOR J A JACKSON” prominently engraved across the top. Created by Samuel Troxell, this dish certainly was the first of a new wave of politics. The dish was created using the German sgraffito style, as shown by its contrasting colors in the clay and shades of green across the plate. The German saying is humorous yet prominent; it reads: “Unser magdi die Sau; Die wer allen tag gern eine Frau,” which roughly translates to “Our maid the sow, who will gladly tag himself as a woman.” This most likely referred to Troxell’s belief that Andrew Jackson would fight for the people at all costs, even if it meant turning himself into a woman. Obviously such a thing would be very difficult to do in 1828, and the tone of the saying makes it seem like Jackson could do it without thinking twice, a testament to how much he wanted to help the people.
This piece is truly representative of the changing tide of American politics in the early 1800s. With Jackson running and promising that he would usher in “The Age of the Common Man,” he was contrasting himself further from the previous six presidents. The first six presidents— Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and John Quincy Adams—were one and the same in the sense that they were all eastern educated, wealthy plantation owners. Jackson, in addition to being a war hero, was a self-made man who frequently denounced education’s role in making an effective leader. This, combined with his destitute and remote upbringing, made Jackson stand out to the lower class as someone who could genuinely help them. In a similar fashion, Troxell targeted that same demographic. This intent is evident through the price he listed on the back of the dish: twelve and a half cents. Adjusting for inflation, this dish is worth around $3.50 today. The relatively affordable price of the dish made it possible for more people to support Jackson.
The sgraffito style was very common around this time, especially to Pennsylvania Germans like Troxell. The style is exemplified by putting two contrasting layers of clay on ceramics and then scratching the top layer to reveal the other layer underneath it. This can be seen with Troxell’s dish, as the orange-ish clay color comes out with the lighter brown on top in order to transcribe the different designs that are present. The shades of green that make up the top layer are also part of the sgraffito style, as they not only contrast the colors already present but also provide an artistic touch to what is otherwise a fairly standard dish.
The purpose of a dish like this is simple: to stir up as much support as possible for Andrew Jackson in the 1828 presidential race. The significance of this lies in the political demographics of the time. Since the birth of the United States, generally the wealthy and elite were the most avid participators in politics. As a result, a fairly low percentage of citizens would participate in elections.
As seen on the graph above, voter turnout in the election year immediately preceding 1828 is at 26.9 percent, which is just over a fourth of the total eligible voting population. Andrew Jackson’s strategy was to target those who were not included in the political process to bring them in and develop his voting base. As a result of this, the election of 1828 more than doubled the voter turnout of 1824, as more people wanted to participate in government. Being the son of two Irish immigrants, Jackson had broad appeal from immigrants. Furthermore, he actively sought to include all citizens who were capable of voting into the political process. The citizens who were capable of voting included white males who owned property, but the tide was changing during Jackson’s time to include poor whites. He also had appeal from white laborers in the south as well as the north due to the growing feeling that they were being exploited by rich businessmen in places like New York City. Jackson had support in the Northeast due to his liking of tariffs, which protected trade interests for the Northeast. Not coincidentally, Troxell was from Pennsylvania, so Jackson was a more favorable candidate. In the south, Jackson was seen as the less-corrupt candidate due to the corrupt bargain in 1824 when Henry Clay threw his support for John Quincy Adams even though Jackson had more total votes. The Clay-Adams alliance that cost Jackson the presidency was seen as another rich northerner skewing politics to his favor. Enslaved Blacks (and to an extent free Blacks) were not allowed to vote, so the expanding of suffrage was limited to poor whites.
Jackson’s inaugural address, given in March 1829, shows how much he truly cared about making democracy fair for more than just people with considerable wealth. Given the ethos of Andrew Jackson, a man who consistently fought for the common man in order to make America more ideally democratic, it stands to reason that he would use his influence in government to help average Americans. In the speech, he cited goals to use public funds wisely and not to expand the military during peacetime. He also implied that corruption currently in society needed to be removed as well as the patronage in government, where politicians would choose their successors based on their own self-interests instead of merit. Overall, it was evident from his inauguration speech (and shortly thereafter) how much this common man was gaining political momentum as president. Eyewitnesses attest to the rowdy and crazy nature of the party after the Inauguration speech. President Jackson himself had to escape from a window in order to avoid being injured by all the people celebrating in the White House! As Andrew Jackson campaigned for the office of president, he needed help transmitting his message out to all the masses. Samuel Troxell helped with that, and his dishes, designed to be affordable while at the same time keeping the image of Andrew Jackson as president in everyone’s mind, aided in electing Jackson into the White House.
Sgraffito. In: Weyer, Angela; Roig Picazo, Pilar; Pop, Daniel; Cassar, JoAnn; Özköse, Aysun; Vallet, Jean-Marc; Srša, Ivan, eds. (2015). EwaGlos. Petersberg: Michael Imhof. p. 102. doi:10.5165/hawk-hhg/233
“The Inauguration of President Andrew Jackson, 1829.” The Inauguration of President Andrew Jackson, 1829. 2007. Accessed August 02, 2016. http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/jacksoninauguration.htm.
Welling, George M. “Andrew Jackson 1767-1845 A Brief Biography.” The 1828 Presidential Election. Accessed August 08, 2016. http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/biographies/andrew-jackson/the-1828-presidential-election.php
Wooley, John, and Gerhard Peters. “Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections.” Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections. Accessed August 02, 2016. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/data/turnout.php.
Yale Law School. “The Avalon Project : First Inaugural Address of Andrew Jackson.” The Avalon Project : First Inaugural Address of Andrew Jackson. Accessed August 02, 2016.