Jacksonian democracy is the political movement toward greater democracy for the common man symbolized by American politician Andrew Jackson and his supporters. The Jacksonian Era lasted roughly from Jackson's 1828 election as president until the slavery issue became dominant after 1850 and the American Civil War dramatically reshaped American politics as the Third Party System emerged. Jackson's policies followed the era of Jeffersonian democracy which dominated the previous political era. When the Democratic-Republican Party of the Jeffersonians became factionalized in the 1820s, Jackson's supporters began to form the modern Democratic Party. They fought the rival Adams and Anti-Jacksonian factions, which soon emerged as the Whigs.
More broadly, the term refers to the era of the Second Party System (mid-1830s–1854) characterized by a democratic spirit. It can be contrasted with the characteristics of Jeffersonian democracy. Jackson's equal political policy became known as "Jacksonian Democracy", subsequent to ending what he termed a "monopoly" of government by elites. Jeffersonians opposed inherited elites but favored educated men while the Jacksonians gave little weight to education. The Whigs were the inheritors of Jeffersonian Democracy in terms of promoting schools and colleges. During the Jacksonian era, suffrage was extended to (nearly) all white male adult citizens.
In contrast to the Jeffersonian era, Jacksonian democracy promoted the strength of the presidency and executive branch at the expense of Congress, while also seeking to broaden the public's participation in government. The Jacksonians demanded elected (not appointed) judges and rewrote many state constitutions to reflect the new values. In national terms they favored geographical expansion, justifying it in terms of Manifest Destiny. There was usually a consensus among both Jacksonians and Whigs that battles over slavery should be avoided.
Jackson's expansion of democracy was largely limited to Americans of European descent, and voting rights were extended to adult white males only. There was little or no progress for African-Americans and Native Americans (in some cases regress). Andrew Jackson's presidency promoted racist legislation, including the forced removal of Cherokees from the Southern United States and the Indian Removal Act.
stretches the concept of democracy about as far as it can go and still remain workable....As such it has inspired much of the dynamic and dramatic events of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in American history—Populism, Progressivism, the New and Fair Deals, and the programs of the New Frontier and Great Society.
A Democratic cartoon from 1833 shows Jackson destroying the bank with his "Order for the Removal," to the annoyance of bank president Nicholas Biddle, shown as the Devil himself. Numerous politicians and editors who were given favorable loans from the Bank run for cover as the financial temple crashes down. A famous fictional character Major Jack Downing (right) cheers, "Hurrah! Gineral!"
Jacksonian democracy was built on the following general principles:
The Jacksonians believed that voting rights should be extended to all white men. By 1820, universal white male suffrage was the norm, and by 1850 nearly all requirements to own property or pay taxes had been dropped.
This was the belief that white Americans had a destiny to settle the American West and to expand control from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific and that the West should be settled by yeoman farmers. However, the Free Soil Jacksonians, notably Martin Van Buren, argued for limitations on slavery in the new areas to enable the poor white man to flourish; they split with the main party briefly in 1848. The Whigs generally opposed Manifest Destiny and expansion, saying the nation should build up its cities.
Also known as the spoils system, patronage was the policy of placing political supporters into appointed offices. Many Jacksonians held the view that rotating political appointees in and out of office was not only the right but also the duty of winners in political contests. Patronage was theorized to be good because it would encourage political participation by the common man and because it would make a politician more accountable for poor government service by his appointees. Jacksonians also held that long tenure in the civil service was corrupting, so civil servants should be rotated out of office at regular intervals. However, it often led to the hiring of incompetent and sometimes corrupt officials due to the emphasis on party loyalty above any other qualifications.
Like the Jeffersonians who strongly believed in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, Jacksonians initially favored a federal government of limited powers. Jackson said that he would guard against "all encroachments upon the legitimate sphere of State sovereignty." However, he was not a states' rights extremist; indeed, the Nullification Crisis would find Jackson fighting against what he perceived as state encroachments on the proper sphere of federal influence. This position was one basis for the Jacksonians' opposition to the Second Bank of the United States. As the Jacksonians consolidated power, they more often advocated expanding federal power, presidential power in particular.
Complementing a strict construction of the Constitution, the Jacksonians generally favored a hands-off approach to the economy, as opposed to the Whig program sponsoring modernization, railroads, banking, and economic growth. The leader was William Leggett of the Locofocos in New York City.
In particular, the Jacksonians opposed government-granted monopolies to banks, especially the national bank, a central bank known as the Second Bank of the United States. Jackson said, "The bank is trying to kill me, but I will kill it!" And he did so. The Whigs, who strongly supported the Bank, were led by Daniel Webster and Nicholas Biddle, the bank chairman. Jackson himself was opposed to all banks because he believed they were devices to cheat common people; he and many followers believed that only gold and silver should be money.
Election by the "Common Man"
An important movement in the period from 1800 to 1830—before the Jacksonians were organized—was the expansion of the right to vote to include all white men. Older states with property restrictions all dropped them; no new states had them. The process was peaceful, and widely supported, except in the state of Rhode Island. In Rhode Island, the Dorr Rebellion of the 1840s demonstrated that the demand for equal suffrage was broad and strong. However, the fact that a man was now legally allowed to vote did not necessarily mean he routinely voted. He had to be pulled to the polls, which became the most important role of the local parties. They systematically sought out potential voters and brought them to the polls. Voter turnout soared during the Second Party System, reaching about 80% of the adult white men by 1840.
The Anti-Masonic Party, an opponent of Jackson, introduced the national nominating conventions to select a party's presidential and vice presidential candidates, allowing more voter input.
The period 1824–32 was politically chaotic. The Federalist Party and the First Party System were dead, and with no effective opposition, the old Democratic-Republican Party withered away. Every state had numerous political factions, but they did not cross state lines. Political coalitions formed and dissolved, and politicians moved in and out of alliances.
Most former Republicans supported Jackson; others, such as Henry Clay, opposed him. Most former Federalists, such as Daniel Webster, opposed Jackson, although some like James Buchanan supported him. In 1828, John Quincy Adams pulled together a network of factions called the National Republicans, but he was defeated by Jackson. By the late 1830s, the Jacksonian Democrats and the Whigs politically battled it out nationally and in every state.
The new Democratic Party
1837 cartoon shows the Democratic Party as donkey.
The spirit of Jacksonian Democracy animated the party from the early 1830s to the 1850s, shaping the Second Party System, with the Whig Party the main opposition. The new Democratic Party became a coalition of farmers, city-dwelling laborers, and Irish Catholics.
The new Party galvanized in 1828 as Andrew Jackson crusaded agains the corruption of President John Quincy Adams. Organized by Martin Van Buren, the new party (which did not get the name "Democrats" until 1834) swept to a landslide. As Norton explains:
Jacksonians believed the people's will had finally prevailed. Through a lavishly financed coalition of state parties, political leaders, and newspaper editors, a popular movement had elected the president. The Democrats became the nation's first well-organized national party...and tight party organization became the hallmark of nineteenth-century American politics.
Behind the party platforms, acceptance speeches of candidates, editorials, pamphlets and stump speeches, there was a widespread consensus of political values among Democrats. As Norton explains:
The Democrats represented a wide range of views but shared a fundamental commitment to the Jeffersonian concept of an agrarian society. They viewed the central government as the enemy of individual liberty. The 1824 "corrupt bargain" had strengthened their suspicion of Washington politics....Jacksonians feared the concentration of economic and political power. They believed that government intervention in the economy benefited special-interest groups and created corporate monopolies that favored the rich. They sought to restore the independence of the individual--the artisan and the ordinary farmer--by ending federal support of banks and corporations and restricting the use of paper currency, which they distrusted. Their definition of the proper role of government tended to be negative, and Jackson's political power was largely expressed in negative acts. He exercised the veto more than all previous presidents combined. Jackson and his supporters also opposed reform as a movement. Reformers eager to turn their programs into legislation called for a more active government. But Democrats tended to oppose programs like educational reform mid the establishment of a public education system. They believed, for instance, that public schools restricted individual liberty by interfering with parental responsibility and undermined freedom of religion by replacing church schools. Nor did Jackson share reformers' humanitarian concerns. He had no sympathy for American Indians, initiating the removal of the Cherokees along the Trail of Tears.
Jackson fulfilled his promise of broadening the influence of the citizenry in government, although not without vehement controversy over his methods.
Jacksonian policies included ending the bank of the United States, expanding westward, and removingAmerican Indians from the Southeast. Jackson was denounced as a tyrant by opponents on both ends of the political spectrum such as Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. This led to the rise of the Whig Party.
Jackson created a spoils system to clear out elected officials in government of an opposing party and replace them with his supporters as a reward for their electioneering. With Congress controlled by his enemies, Jackson relied heavily on the power of the veto to block their moves.
One of the most important of these was the Maysville Road veto in 1830. A part of Clay's American System, the bill would have allowed for federal funding of a project to construct a road linking Lexington and the Ohio River, the entirety of which would be in the state of Kentucky. His primary objection was based on the local nature of the project. He argued it was not the Federal government's job to fund projects of such a local nature, and or those lacking a connection to the nation as a whole. The debates in Congress reflected two competing visions of federalism. The Jacksonians saw the union strictly as the cooperative aggregation of the individual states, while the Whigs saw the entire nation as a distinct entity.
In addition to Jackson, his second vice president and one of the key organizational leaders of the Jacksonian Democratic Party, Martin Van Buren, served as president. Van Buren was defeated in the next election by William H. Harrison. Harrison died just 30 days into his term, and his vice president, John Tyler, quickly reached accommodation with the Jacksonians. Tyler was then succeeded by James Polk, a staunch supporter and protege of Jackson, and the last of the true Jacksonian presidents. James Buchanan served in Jackson's administration as Minister to Russia and as Polk's Secretary of State, but he did not pursue Jacksonian policies.
^Bray Hammond, Banks and Politics in America, From the Revolution to the Civil War (1957)
^Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States (2009) ch 2
^William G. Shade, "The Second Party System". in Paul Kleppner, et al. Evolution of American Electoral Systems (1983) pp 77-111
^William Preston Vaughn, The Anti-Masonic Party in the United States: 1826-1843 (2009)
^Richard P. McCormick, The Second American Party System: Party Formation in the Jacksonian Era (1966).
^Michael F. Holt, Political Parties and American Political Development: From the Age of Jackson to the Age of Lincoln (1992)
^Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (2005)
^Mary Beth Norton et al., A People and a Nation, Volume I: to 1877 (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) p 287
^Mary Beth Norton et al., A People and a Nation, Volume I: to 1877 (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) p 287
^Donald B. Cole, The Presidency of Andrew Jackson (1993)
^Naomi Wulf, "The Greatest General Good": Road Construction, National Interest, and Federal Funding in Jacksonian America," European Contributions to American Studies, June 2001, Vol. 47, pp 53-72
References and bibliography
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Baker, Jean (1983). Affairs of Party: The Political Culture of Northern Democrats in the Mid-Nineteenth Century. Bronx, NY: Fordham University Press. ISBN0-585-12533-3.
Bugg, James L., Jr. (1952). Jacksonian Democracy: Myth or Reality?. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Short essays.
Cave, Alfred A. (1964). Jacksonian Democracy and the Historians. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press.
Cole, Donald B. (1984). Martin Van Buren And The American Political System. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN0-691-04715-4.
Cole, Donald B. (1970). Jacksonian Democracy in New Hampshire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN0-674-46990-9. Uses quantitative electoral data.
Formisano, Ronald P. (1971). The Birth of Mass Political Parties: Michigan, 1827-1861. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN0-691-04605-0. Uses quantitative electoral data.
Formisano, Ronald P. (1983). The Transformation of Political Culture: Massachusetts Parties, 1790s-1840s. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN0-19-503124-5. Uses quantitative electoral data.
Formisano, Ronald P. (1999). "The ‘Party Period’ Revisited". Journal of American History (Organization of American Historians) 86 (1): 93–120. doi:10.2307/2567408. JSTOR2567408.
Formisano, Ronald P. (1969). "Political Character, Antipartyism, and the Second Party System". American Quarterly (The Johns Hopkins University Press) 21 (4): 683–709. doi:10.2307/2711603. JSTOR2711603.
Formisano, Ronald P. (1974). "Deferential-Participant Politics: The Early Republic's Political Culture, 1789-1840". American Political Science Review (American Political Science Association) 68 (2): 473–487. doi:10.2307/1959497. JSTOR1959497.
Hammond, Bray (1958). Andrew Jackson's Battle with the "Money Power". Chapter 8, an excerpt from his Pulitzer-prize-winning Banks and Politics in America: From the Revolution to the Civil War (1954).
Hofstadter, Richard (1948). The American Political Tradition. Chapter on AJ.
Hofstadter, Richard (1969). The Idea of a Party System: The Rise of Legitimate Opposition in the United States, 1780-1840.
Holt, Michael F. (1999). The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN0-19-505544-6.
Holt, Michael F. (1992). Political Parties and American Political Development: From the Age of Jackson to the Age of Lincoln. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press. ISBN0-8071-1728-5.
Howe, Daniel Walker. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (Oxford History of the United States) (2009), Pulitzer Prize; surveys era from ant-Jacksonain perspective
Howe, Daniel Walker (1991). "The Evangelical Movement and Political Culture during the Second Party System". Journal of American History (Organization of American Historians) 77 (4): 1216–1239. doi:10.2307/2078260. JSTOR2078260.
Kohl, Lawrence Frederick (1989). The Politics of Individualism: Parties and the American Character in the Jacksonian Era. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN0-19-505374-5.
Kruman, Marc W. (1992). "The Second American Party System and the Transformation of Revolutionary Republicanism". Journal of the Early Republic (Society for Historians of the Early American Republic) 12 (4): 509–537. doi:10.2307/3123876. JSTOR3123876.
McCormick, Richard L. (1986). The Party Period and Public Policy: American Politics from the Age of Jackson to the Progressive Era. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN0-19-503860-6.
McCormick, Richard P. (1966). The Second American Party System: Party Formation in the Jacksonian Era. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Influential state-by-state study.
McKnight, Brian D., and James S. Humphreys, eds. The Age of Andrew Jackson: Interpreting American History (Kent State University Press; 2012) 156 pages; historiography
Mayo, Edward L. (1979). "Republicanism, Antipartyism, and Jacksonian Party Politics: A View from the Nation's Capitol". American Quarterly (The Johns Hopkins University Press) 31 (1): 3–20. doi:10.2307/2712484. JSTOR2712484.
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Myers, Marvin (1957). The Jacksonian Persuasion: Politics and Belief. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Pessen, Edward (1978). Jacksonian America: Society, Personality, and Politics.
Pessen, Edward (1977). The Many-Faceted Jacksonian Era: New Interpretations. Important scholarly articles.
Remini, Robert V. (1998). The Life of Andrew Jackson. Abridgment of Remini's 3-volume biography.
Remini, Robert V. (1959). Martin Van Buren and the Making of the Democratic Party.
Sellers, Charles (1991). The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846. Influential reinterpretation
Shade, William G. "Politics and Parties in Jacksonian America," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Vol. 110, No. 4 (Oct., 1986), pp. 483-507 online
Shade, William G. (1983). "The Second Party System". In Kleppner, Paul et al. Evolution of American Electoral Systems. Uses quantitative electoral data.
Sellers, Charles (1958). "Andrew Jackson Versus the Historians". Mississippi Valley Historical Review (Organization of American Historians) 44 (4): 615–634. doi:10.2307/1886599. JSTOR1886599.
Sharp, James Roger (1970). The Jacksonians Versus the Banks: Politics in the States after the Panic of 1837. Uses quantitative electoral data.
Silbey, Joel H. (1991). The American Political Nation, 1838-1893.
Silbey, Joel H. (1973). Political Ideology and Voting Behavior in the Age of Jackson.
Syrett, Harold C. (1953). Andrew Jackson: His Contribution to the American Tradition.
Taylor, George Rogers (1949). Jackson Versus Biddle: The Struggle over the Second Bank of the United States. Excerpts from primary and secondary sources.
Van Deusen, Glyndon G. (1963). The Jacksonian Era: 1828-1848. Standard scholarly survey.
Wallace, Michael (1968). "Changing Concepts of Party in the United States: New York, 1815-1828". American Historical Review (American Historical Association) 74 (2): 453–491. doi:10.2307/1853673. JSTOR1853673.
Ward, John William (1962). Andrew Jackson, Symbol for an Age.
Wilentz, Sean (1982). "On Class and Politics in Jacksonian America". Reviews in American History (The Johns Hopkins University Press) 10 (4): 45–63. doi:10.2307/2701818. JSTOR2701818.
Wilentz, Sean (2005). The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln. Highly detailed scholarly synthesis.
Wilson, Major L. (1974). Space, Time, and Freedom: The Quest for Nationality and the Irrepressible Conflict, 1815-1861. Intellectual history of Whigs and Democrats.
Blau, Joseph L., ed. Social Theories of Jacksonian Democracy: Representative Writings of the Period 1825-1850 (1954) online edition
Eaton, Clement ed. The Leaven of Democracy: The Growth of the Democratic Spirit in the Time of Jackson (1963) online edition