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Jackson Essay, Research Paper

The Emergence of a more Democratic Republic

We should recall that democracy as we understand it at the end of the Twentieth Century did not exist in the ages of Jefferson and Jackson. Today we accept the notion that democracy means that every citizen has a vote, with certain reasonable restrictions such as age, registration requirements and so on. In the early 1800s it was generally accepted that in order to vote a person needed to have a legal stake in the system, which could mean property ownership or some economic equivalent. In many states the people did not vote for presidential electors, and U. S. senators were elected by the state legislatures. Even eligibility to vote for members of the House of Representatives was left to the individual states. Women, Indians and Blacks (whether slave or free) were restricted from voting almost everywhere. When Sam Houston was elected governor of Tennessee in 1828, his friends had to make him a gift of 500 acres of land, which was a requirement for holding that office.

In the decades surrounding the presidency of Andrew Jackson democracy began to expand. States rewrote constitutions and extended the franchise to all free white males. European visitors such as Alexis de Tocqueville noticed the spirit of equality that pervaded the United States, unlike anything known in the Old World. (Not all Europeans, nor Americans, for that matter, were sure that was a good idea–terms like “mobocracy” and “anarchy” were thrown around from time to time.) By the late 1830s, the United States had become a full democracy for adult white males, but inequalities still existed: poor people were still poor, and while wealth may not have bought votes directly, it certainly was a prerequisite for any kind of real power. What was different about America was not that the gap between rich and poor had narrowed–indeed, the opposite was probably true–but that there were few systemic barriers (except for slavery) that prevented people from gaining wealth and power. However limited, the idea of America as a land of unprecedented opportunity was not inaccurate in the context of the times. Importantly, equality of opportunity did not necessarily mean equality of result, a concept with which Americans continue to wrestle in making political choices.

The other major change in the Jacksonian era was the emergence of a solid two-party system. The modern Democratic Party was founded under Jackson, and an opposition party?the Whigs?soon evolved. When that party disappeared in the early 1850s, it was soon replaced by the Republican Party, giving the U.S. the basic political structure that survives to this day. Although many issues have changed since the 1800s, the present Republican and Democratic parties have much in common with their ancestors.

Another development in the Age of Jackson was that the idea of political service as a sort of noblesse oblige?which was the way people like Washington and Jefferson tended to look at it?was gone. Politics for many men became if not a career, than certainly something they pursued because they wanted to, not because they thought they ought to. What rewards they sought are no easier to establish then than they are today?recognition, a sense of power, perhaps financial gain and other factors were no doubt present in those who sought office of government related jobs, but in any case it became possible to think in terms of the profession of politics. John Quincy Adams was probably the man who personified that transition, having served in a variety of public offices for most of his life during a career that went back to his father’s time, but in the election of 1828 he was criticized for that fact: the notion of a professional politician still did not sit well with many.


The Election of 1824

The election of 1824 is most interesting for the fact that it is the last election in which the result was not decided by the electoral college. Because no one won a majority of votes in that body, it went into the House of Representatives, which decided in favor of John Quincy Adams even though Andrew Jackson had won the popular vote. Although it is not known what went on behind the scenes, Jackson’s supporters spoke of a “corrupt bargain” between Adams and Henry Clay, an issue that carried over to the election of 1828 and had a harmful effect on Adams’ administration. Five candidates had sought the presidency in 1824, backed not by parties as such but by various state caucuses and coalitions. John Quincy Adams, William Crawford, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, and Andrew Jackson all had their hats in the ring, although Calhoun dropped out and Crawford became ill. Thus it became a three-man race, and when Adams, the winner, named Henry Clay as Secretary of state?a post that seemed to lead straight to the presidency, having been held by every previous president except Washington and John Adams?Jackson’s people smelled a rat. Jackson’s men in Congress gave Adams a bad time, and his presidency was not successful.

(Note: It is interesting that among the great figures from early American history, several had presidencies that did not seem to live up to their other accomplishments, including Jefferson, Madison and John Quincy Adams.)


The Life and Times of Andrew Jackson

We have discussed (or will discuss) Andrew Jackson’s life in some detail in class, including the famous story of the duel in which he apparently shot a man named Charles Dickenson to death in cold blood. Although Jackson was a wealthy landowner, slave owner, attorney, businessman and general, he had common origins, and was thought by some to have been a crude individual. He certainly had a volatile personality and led anything but a calm and quiet existence. Yet based on his heroic defense of New Orleans in 1815, he was a popular hero of the highest order, the second in a series of successful military men who rose to high political office.

Jackson’s popularity was based on the following:

He was best known as an Indian fighter war hero, although when elected president he was a wealthy man of property.

Jackson was a symbol of the new age of democracy?the “age of the common man.”

He was both an average and ideal American and was therefore able to draw support from every section and social class.

Jackson could be charming, and he was basically honest; there was never any doubt about his courage, either physical or moral.

He was a charismatic but not intellectual leader; highly intelligent, shrewd and practical. A true westerner at heart, and a slave holder, Jackson resented the North and East. On the other hand, he did not buy into the growing states’ rights philosophy that was beginning to grow stronger in that era.

Jackson had reputation as a hotheaded brawler who never forgave enemies. He was not above using that reputation to make an impression on people. (In a famous incident in the White House, he apparently lost his temper and fumed at some unwelcome guests, who fled in horror. When they had gone, he turned to an aide, grinned and said, “They thought I was mad, didn’t they?”)

The meaning of the Battle of New Orleans was seen as a victory for the American farmer and affirmed the value of “undisciplined” fighters as opposed to the British regulars. It was one of the most one-sided victories ever. Jackson was seen as a man of extraordinary will power, which could accomplish much.

The Charles Dickinson duel: they used pistols at 24 feet. Jackson decided to let Dickinson, a dead shot, fire first; Jackson wore loose clothing to disguise his outline. Jackson took a hit in breast, then calmly fired. The pistol was half cocked and didn’t go off, but Jackson, in considerable pain from the bullet in his chest, re-cocked the pistol and fired again, killing his opponent. Jackson left the field not letting anyone know he was hit. The bullet lodged near his heart and stayed there for the rest of his life, causing frequent discomfort.

When Jackson died, an observer said, “If Andy Jackson decides on heaven, that?s where he?ll go!”

Jackson grew in office of president and made that office more democratic. He did not act as a “dignified chief of state above politics” but rather as a political infighter who saw his role as protecting the people from the excesses of Congress. His presidency was one piece of a long struggle over the nature of government power and authority: at which end of Pennsylvania Avenue does the real power reside: In Congress or the White House? Jackson saw the office of President as a protection against the power usurpers of the House, Senate and Supreme Court.



The election of 1828 was more of a “revolution” than that of 1800. Andrew Jackson won by 647,000 votes to 507,000, 178-83 in electoral college. Far more people voted for president than in 1824, as the states were beginning to let the people select presidential electors.

A new two-party system emerged from the election of 1828. From then on, parties ran their candidates for President and Vice-president together as a ticket. John C. Calhoun was the last man to run for Vice President independently. (He was elected twice, under both Adams and Jackson.)

The campaign was one of the dirtiest in American history and became a mudslinging attack on personalities:

John Q. Adams was accused of “feeding at the public trough,” because of his long years of public service. He was called a “pimp” for providing an American girl as “gift” for the Czar of Russia. As he had installed a billiard table for the White House he was charged with turning it into a “gambling den.”

Jackson was portrayed as a “drunk,” a brawler and an adulterer because Rachel?s divorce had not been final when they first got married.

Several significant political issues divided the people at the time, among them the National Bank and the protective tariff. Jackson managed to avoid taking firm positions on any issues and in fact managed to get on both sides of the tariff question, depending on what part of the country his people were in. This was done by a bill to create a tariff that was supposedly so high that it would never pass. It did pass, however, and became known as the “Tariff of Abominations,” which raised a storm of protest led by John C. Calhoun.

[See [link] The South Carolina Exposition and Protest.]

Jackson?s Inauguration is famous for the riotous behavior of his supporters: The locals complained that “barbarians” had invaded the White House; the stewards finally saved day by taking the punch bowls outside.

Jackson saw himself as President of All the People?defender of the “Common Man.” A prevailing view since the writing of the Constitution had been an assumption of the natural supremacy of the legislature. Jackson vigorously challenged that assumption. He saw himself as the direct representative of all the people and willingly used his authority on their behalf. He vetoed more bills than all his predecessors combined, challenging the view that the only grounds for a presidential veto were a bill’s constitutionality. He expanded the power of his office, but did not favor unlimited power for the national government.

Jackson used an unofficial “Kitchen Cabinet” of close friends to advise him. He was a poor administrator, had strong prejudices, held contempt for expert advice, and made bad choices, but he was a strong and popular leader.

Jackson more or less endorsed the idea of the “Spoils System”: he believed that rotation of people in government jobs (which required no special expertise) led to the Expansion of democracy.



New Constitutions of the 1820s expanded democracy in many states. For example, the Virginia Constitution was rewritten in 1829 and almost abolished slavery. Other revisions included Massachusetts (1820) and New York (1821.) Property holding qualifications for voting were lifted.

According to some, the Constitution had been designed to keep the common man in his place. Fear of “Mob Rule” was relevant. Jacksonian democracy changed that: in 1824 25% of adult white males were eligible to vote; by 1840 it was up to 78%. More and more states went to popular elections for the presidency.


Issues surrounding Jackson’s Presidency:

The National Bank: Jackson kills it. [link] See Jackson’s veto message. [link]

Internal Improvements: The Maysville Road

The Tariff: The Nullification controversy of 1832

See the South Carolina Ordinance and Jackson’s Proclamation on Nullification

The matter of states rights versus Union: See Daniel Webster’s Union Address

(Note: The issue of “Union” does not resonate with Americans today because we take it for granted. It is very much like our feelings of patriotism, but was not universally shared in those times. Still, in 1861 thousands of northern boys and young men went off to fight for the concept of the Union. Webster was the prime articulator of that idea.

It is, sir, the people?s Constitution, the people?s government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people. The people of the United States have declared that this Constitution shall be the supreme law. We must either admit the proposition or dispute their authority.

–Daniel Webster, 1830

Jackson and Calhoun: Although Jackson was a Democrat and Daniel Webster a Whig, they did agree on the idea of Union. Standing poles apart from both was Vice President John C. Calhoun. Secretary of State Martin Van Buren and Calhoun began in a clash over who was to be the heir apparent to Jackson, a position Van Buren easily attained as Calhoun moved farther and farther to the states’ right position. Calhoun needed that position to keep strength in South Carolina, while Van Buren had a comfortable political base in New York. Jackson was not totally unsympathetic to states’ rights issues, but felt Calhoun and South Carolina went far too far afield in nullification of the tariff in 1832.


THE PEGGY EATON AFFAIR would have remained a small scale sexual scandal had it not disrupted the functioning of Jackson’s government. Peggy had a “colorful” past, but was married to Jackson’s close friend, Secretary of War John Eaton. When the cabinet wives (led by Floride Calhoun) refused to accept Mrs. Eaton, the matter spilled over into the business of government, making Jackson furious. The treatment of Peggy Eaton reminded Jackson of the treatment of Rachel during the 1828 campaign, which he believed had contributed to her death. He fumed: “I did not come here to make a cabinet for the ladies of this place, but for the nation!” Martin Van Buren, a widower and therefore safe from wifely criticism of Mrs. Eaton, was kind to her, and as a way out of the “Eaton malaria,” offered to resign and suggested the rest of the cabinet do so also. Jackson gratefully accepted and promised to aid Van Buren, which he did, making him Vice President in 1832.


Jackson and the Whigs

Rise of the Whigs?all those opposed to “King Andrew”

Locofocos?the radical wing of the Jacksonians, ex members of the Workingman?s Party. They wanted a stable currency because inflation killed people of fixed wages. Others

Webster, Clay and the American system, some Whigs resemble old Federalists.

The National Republican Party, the party of John Quincy Adams, who is still around. He serves in Congress 18 years after being President. (See the Film “Amistad.”)



Without much doubt the ugliest event in the Jackson years was the removal of the Cherokee Indians from Georgia to reservations located west of the Mississippi River. Although the case of Worcester v. Georgia had established the Cherokee as an independent nation within Georgia, Jackson backed Georgia and defied the Court, and thousands of Cherokee were forced along the “Trail of Tears” to the West.

Jackson felt that the Indians would be better off “out of the way” and settled his policy on “voluntary emigration west of the Mississippi.” The Cherokee had previously been recognized as a nation with laws and customs of their own.

An 1828 Georgia law declared that the state had jurisdiction over Indian Territory. Gold was discovered on Indian land, and Indians sought relief in the Supreme Court to hold onto land.

Georgia demanded that people on reservations get licenses?came to court in [link to be added] Worcester v. Georgia. [link to be added] Court said laws had no force on Cherokee land.

The Court gets into the act: [link to be added] Cherokee Nation vs. Georgia [link to be added]

Jackson?s strong states? rights position on Indian matters helped lead S.C. to think he might take the same approach on the tariff.


The Election of 1840: Log Cabin and Hard Cider

“Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!”

“Van, Van is a used-up man”

The Rush for Spoils

The Aftermath of Jacksonianism

Parties are here to stay, organized all the way down to precinct level.

The machine system begins to grow.

Many conflicting interpretations of Jackson.

Republican virtue.

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