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An ambiguous, controversial concept, Jacksonian Democracy in the strictest sense refers simply to the ascendancy of Andrew Jackson and the Democratic party after 1828. More loosely, it alludes to the entire range of democratic reforms that proceeded alongside the Jacksonians’ triumph—from expanding the suffrage to restructuring federal institutions. From another angle, however, Jacksonianism appears as a political impulse tied to slavery, the subjugation of Native Americans, and the celebration of white supremacy—so much so that some scholars have dismissed the phrase “Jacksonian Democracy” as a contradiction in terms.
Such tendentious revisionism may provide a useful corrective to older enthusiastic assessments, but it fails to capture a larger historical tragedy: Jacksonian Democracy was an authentic democratic movement, dedicated to powerful, at times radical, egalitarian ideals—but mainly for white men.
Socially and intellectually, the Jacksonian movement represented not the insurgency of a specific class or region but a diverse, sometimes testy national coalition. Its origins stretch back to the democratic stirrings of the American Revolution, the Antifederalists of the 1780s and 1790s, and the Jeffersonian Democratic Republicans. More directly, it arose out of the profound social and economic changes of the early nineteenth century.
Recent historians have analyzed these changes in terms of a market revolution. In the Northeast and Old Northwest, rapid transportation improvements and immigration hastened the collapse of an older yeoman and artisan economy and its replacement by cash-crop agriculture and capitalist manufacturing. In the South, the cotton boom revived a flagging plantation slave economy, which spread to occupy the best lands of the region. In the West, the seizure of lands from Native Americans and mixed-blood Hispanics opened up fresh areas for white settlement and cultivation—and for speculation.
Not everyone benefited equally from the market revolution, least of all those nonwhites for whom it was an unmitigated disaster. Jacksonianism, however, would grow directly from the tensions it generated within white society. Mortgaged farmers and an emerging proletariat in the Northeast, nonslaveholders in the South, tenants and would-be yeomen in the West—all had reasons to think that the spread of commerce and capitalism would bring not boundless opportunities but new forms of dependence. And in all sections of the country, some of the rising entrepreneurs of the market revolution suspected that older elites would block their way and shape economic development to suit themselves.
By the 1820s, these tensions fed into a many-sided crisis of political faith. To the frustration of both self-made men and plebeians, certain eighteenth-century elitist republican assumptions remained strong, especially in the seaboard states, mandating that government be left to a natural aristocracy of virtuous, propertied gentlemen. Simultaneously, some of the looming shapes of nineteenth-century capitalism—chartered corporations, commercial banks, and other private institutions—presaged the consolidation of a new kind of moneyed aristocracy. And increasingly after the War of 1812, government policy seemed to combine the worst of both old and new, favoring the kinds of centralized, broad constructionist, top-down forms of economic development that many thought would aid men of established means while deepening inequalities among whites. Numerous events during and after the misnamed Era of Good Feelings—among them the neo-Federalist rulings of John Marshall’s Supreme Court, the devastating effects of the panic of 1819, the launching of John Quincy Adams’s and Henry Clay’s American System—confirmed a growing impression that power was steadily flowing into the hands of a small, self-confident minority.
Proposed cures for this sickness included more democracy and a redirection of economic policy. In the older states, reformers fought to lower or abolish property requirements for voting and officeholding, and to equalize representation. A new generation of politicians broke with the old republican animus against mass political parties. Urban workers formed labor movements and demanded political reforms. Southerners sought low tariffs, greater respect for states’ rights, and a return to strict constructionism. Westerners clamored for more and cheaper land and for relief from creditors, speculators, and bankers (above all, the hated Second Bank of the United States).
It has confounded some scholars that so much of this ferment eventually coalesced behind Andrew Jackson—a one-time land speculator, opponent of debtor relief, and fervent wartime nationalist. By the 1820s, however, Jackson’s personal business experiences had long since altered his opinions about speculation and paper money, leaving him eternally suspicious of the credit system in general and banks in particular. His career as an Indian fighter and conqueror of the British made him a popular hero, especially among land-hungry settlers. His enthusiasm for nationalist programs had diminished after 1815, as foreign threats receded and economic difficulties multiplied. Above all, Jackson, with his own hardscrabble origins, epitomized contempt for the old republican elitism, with its hierarchical deference and its wariness of popular democracy.
After losing the “corrupt bargain” presidential election of 1824, Jackson expanded upon his political base in the lower and mid-South, pulling together many strands of disaffection from around the country. But in successfully challenging President John Quincy Adams in 1828, Jackson’s supporters played mainly on his image as a manly warrior, framing the contest as one between Adams who could write and Jackson who could fight. Only after taking power did the Jacksonian Democracy refine its politics and ideology. Out of that self-definition came a fundamental shift in the terms of national political debate.
The Jacksonians’ basic policy thrust, both in Washington and in the states, was to rid government of class biases and dismantle the top-down, credit-driven engines of the market revolution. The war on the Second Bank of the United States and subsequent hard-money initiatives set the tone—an unyielding effort to remove the hands of a few wealthy, unelected private bankers from the levers of the nation’s economy. Under the Jacksonians, government-sponsored internal improvements generally fell into disfavor, on the grounds that they were unnecessary expansions of centralized power, beneficial mainly to men with connections. The Jacksonians defended rotation in office as a solvent to entrenched elitism. To aid hard-pressed farmers and planters, they pursued an unrelenting (some say unconstitutional) program of Indian removal, while backing cheap land prices and settlers’ preemption rights.
Around these policies, Jacksonian leaders built a democratic ideology aimed primarily at voters who felt injured by or cut off from the market revolution. Updating the more democratic pieces of the republican legacy, they posited that no republic could long survive without a citizenry of economically independent men. Unfortunately, they claimed, that state of republican independence was exceedingly fragile. According to the Jacksonians, all of human history had involved a struggle between the few and the many, instigated by a greedy minority of wealth and privilege that hoped to exploit the vast majority. And this struggle, they declared, lay behind the major problems of the day, as the “associated wealth” of America sought to augment its domination.
The people’s best weapons were equal rights and limited government—ensuring that the already wealthy and favored classes would not enrich themselves further by commandeering, enlarging, and then plundering public institutions. More broadly, the Jacksonians proclaimed a political culture predicated on white male equality, contrasting themselves with other self-styled reform movements. Nativism, for example, struck them as a hateful manifestation of elitist puritanism. Sabbatarians, temperance advocates, and other would-be moral uplifters, they insisted, should not impose righteousness on others. Beyond position-taking, the Jacksonians propounded a social vision in which any white man would have the chance to secure his economic independence, would be free to live as he saw fit, under a system of laws and representative government utterly cleansed of privilege.
As Jacksonian leaders developed these arguments, they roused a noisy opposition—some of it coming from elements of the coalition that originally elected Jackson president. Reactionary southern planters, centered in South Carolina, worried that the Jacksonians’ egalitarianism might endanger their own prerogatives—and perhaps the institution of slavery—if southern nonslaveholders carried them too far. They also feared that Jackson, their supposed champion, lacked sufficient vigilance in protecting their interests—fears that provoked the nullification crisis in 1832-1833 and Jackson’s crushing of extremist threats to federal authority. A broader southern opposition emerged in the late 1830s, mainly among wealthy planters alienated by the disastrous panic of 1837 and suspicious of Jackson’s successor, the Yankee Martin Van Buren. In the rest of the country, meanwhile, the Jacksonian leadership’s continuing hard-money, antibank campaigns offended more conservative men—the so-called Bank Democrats—who, whatever their displeasure with the Second Bank of the United States, did not want to see the entire paper money credit system dramatically curtailed.
The oppositionist core, however, came from a cross-class coalition, strongest in rapidly commercializing areas, that viewed the market revolution as the embodiment of civilized progress. Far from pitting the few against the many, oppositionists argued, carefully guided economic growth would provide more for everyone. Government encouragement—in the form of tariffs, internal improvements, a strong national bank, and aid to a wide range of benevolent institutions—was essential to that growth. Powerfully influenced by the evangelical Second Great Awakening, core oppositionists saw in moral reform not a threat to individual independence but an idealistic cooperative effort to relieve human degradation and further expand the store of national wealth. Eager to build up the country as it already existed, they were cool to territorial expansion. Angered by Jackson’s large claims for presidential power and rotation in office, they charged that the Jacksonians had brought corruption and executive tyranny, not democracy. Above all, they believed that personal rectitude and industriousness, not alleged political inequalities, dictated men’s failures or successes. The Jacksonians, with their spurious class rhetoric, menaced that natural harmony of interests between rich and poor which, if only left alone, would eventually bring widespread prosperity.
By 1840, both the Jacksonian Democracy and its opposite (now organized as the Whig party) had built formidable national followings and had turned politics into a debate over the market revolution itself. Yet less than a decade later, sectional contests linked to slavery promised to drown out that debate and fracture both major parties. In large measure, that turnabout derived from the racial exclusiveness of the Jacksonians’ democratic vision.
The Jacksonian mainstream, so insistent on the equality of white men, took racism for granted. To be sure, there were key radical exceptions—people like Frances Wright and Robert Dale Owen—who were drawn to the Democracy’s cause. North and South, the democratic reforms achieved by plebeian whites—especially those respecting voting and representation—came at the direct expense of free blacks. Although informed by constitutional principles and genuine paternalist concern, the Jacksonian rationale for territorial expansion assumed that Indians (and, in some areas, Hispanics) were lesser peoples. As for slavery, the Jacksonians were determined, on both practical and ideological grounds, to keep the issue out of national affairs. Few mainstream Jacksonians had moral qualms about black enslavement or any desire to meddle with it where it existed. More important, they believed that the mounting antislavery agitation would distract attention from the artificial inequalities among white men and upset the party’s delicate intersectional alliances. Deep down, many suspected that the slavery issue was but a smokescreen thrown up by disgruntled elitists looking to regain the initiative from the real people’s cause.
Through the 1830s and 1840s, the mainstream Jacksonian leadership, correctly confident that their views matched those of the white majority, fought to keep the United States a democracy free from the slavery question—condemning abolitionists as fomenters of rebellion, curtailing abolitionist mail campaigns, enforcing the congressional gag rule that squelched debate on abolitionist petitions, while fending off the more extremist proslavery southerners. In all of this fighting, however, the Jacksonians also began to run afoul of their professions about white egalitarianism. Opposing antislavery was one thing; silencing the heretics with gag rules amounted to tampering with white people’s equal rights. More important, Jacksonian proexpansionism—what one friendly periodical, the Democratic Review boosted as “manifest destiny”—only intensified sectional rifts. Slaveholders, quite naturally, thought they were entitled to see as much new territory as legally possible opened up to slavery. But that prospect appalled northern whites who had hoped to settle in lily white areas, untroubled by that peculiar institution whose presence (they believed) would degrade the status of white free labor.
It would take until the 1850s before these contradictions fully unraveled the Jacksonian coalition. But as early as the mid-1840s, during the debates over Texas annexation, the Mexican War, and the Wilmot Proviso, sectional cleavages had grown ominous. The presidential candidacy of Martin Van Buren on the Free-Soil ticket in 1848—a protest against growing southern power within the Democracy—amply symbolized northern Democratic alienation. Southern slaveholder Democrats, for their part, began to wonder if anything short of positive federal protection for slavery would spell doom for their class—and the white man’s republic. In the middle remained a battered Jacksonian mainstream, ever hopeful that by raising the old issues, avoiding slavery, and resorting to the language of popular sovereignty, the party and the nation might be held together. Led by men like Stephen A. Douglas, these mainstream compromisers held sway into the mid-1850s, but at the cost of constant appeasement of southern concerns, further exacerbating sectional turmoil. Jacksonian Democracy was buried at Fort Sumter, but it had died many years earlier.
There was a grim, ironic justice to the Jacksonians’ fate. Having tapped into the disaffection of the 1820s and 1830s and molded it into an effective national party, they advanced the democratization of American politics. By denouncing the moneyed aristocracy and proclaiming the common man, they also helped politicize American life, broadening electoral participation to include an overwhelming majority of the electorate. Yet this very politicization would ultimately prove the Jacksonian Democracy’s undoing. Once the slavery issue entered the concerns of even a small portion of the electorate, it proved impossible to remove without trampling on some of the very egalitarian principles the Jacksonians were pledged to uphold.
None of this, however, should be a source of self-satisfaction to modern Americans. Although the Jacksonian Democracy died in the 1850s, it left a powerful legacy, entwining egalitarian aspirations and class justice with the presumptions of white supremacy. Over the decades after the Civil War, that legacy remained a bulwark of a new Democratic party, allying debt-ridden farmers and immigrant workers with the Solid South. The Second Reconstruction of the 1950s and 1960s forced Democrats to reckon with the party’s past—only to see party schismatics and Republicans pick up the theme. And at the close of the twentieth century, the tragic mix of egalitarianism and racial prejudice so central to the Jacksonian Democracy still infected American politics, poisoning some of its best impulses with some of its worst.
The Spoils System: Definition and Summary
"The Spoils System" was the name given to the practice of hiring and firing federal workers when presidential administrations changed in the 19th century. It is also known as the patronage system.
The practice began during the administration of President Andrew Jackson, who took office in March 1829. Jackson supporters portrayed it as a necessary and overdue effort at reforming the federal government.
Jackson's political opponents had a very different interpretation, as they considered his method to be a corrupt use of political patronage. And the term Spoils System was intended to be a derogatory nickname.
The phrase came from a speech by Senator William L. Marcy of New York. While defending the actions of the Jackson administration in a speech in the U.S. Senate, Marcy famously said, "to the victor belong the spoils."
To his army of followers, Jackson was the embodiment of popular democracy. A truly self-made man of strong will and courage, he personified for many citizens the vast power of nature and Providence, on the one hand, and the majesty of the people, on the other. His very weaknesses, such as a nearly uncontrollable temper, were political strengths. Opponents who branded him an enemy of property and order only gave credence to the claim of Jackson’s supporters that he stood for the poor against the rich, the plain people against the interests.
Jackson, like most of his leading antagonists, was in fact a wealthy man of conservative social beliefs. In his many volumes of correspondence he rarely referred to labour. As a lawyer and man of affairs in Tennessee prior to his accession to the presidency, he aligned himself not with have-nots but with the influential, not with the debtor but with the creditor. His reputation was created largely by astute men who propagated the belief that his party was the people’s party and that the policies of his administrations were in the popular interest. Savage attacks on those policies by some wealthy critics only fortified the belief that the Jacksonian movement was radical as well as democratic.
At its birth in the mid-1820s, the Jacksonian, or Democratic, Party was a loose coalition of diverse men and interests united primarily by a practical vision. They held to the twin beliefs that Old Hickory, as Jackson was known, was a magnificent candidate and that his election to the presidency would benefit those who helped bring it about. His excellence as candidate derived in part from the fact that he appeared to have no known political principles of any sort. In this period there were no distinct parties on the national level. Jackson, Clay, John C. Calhoun, John Quincy Adams, and William H. Crawford—the leading presidential aspirants—all portrayed themselves as “Republicans,” followers of the party of the revered Jefferson. The National Republicans were the followers of Adams and Clay the Whigs, who emerged in 1834, were, above all else, the party dedicated to the defeat of Jackson.
23f. Jacksonian Democracy and Modern America
Andrew Jackson rose to national prominance as a General during the War of 1812.
The presidential election of 1828 brought a great victory for Andrew Jackson . Not only did he get almost 70 percent of the votes cast in the electoral college, popular participation in the election soared to an unheard of 60 percent. This more than doubled the turnout in 1824 Jackson clearly headed a sweeping political movement. His central message remained largely the same from the previous election, but had grown in intensity. Jackson warned that the nation had been corrupted by " special privilege ," characterized especially by the policies of the Second Bank of the United States. The proper road to reform, according to Jackson, lay in an absolute acceptance of majority rule as expressed through the democratic process. Beyond these general principles, however, Jackson's campaign was notably vague about specific policies. Instead, it stressed Jackson's life story as a man who had risen from modest origins to become a successful Tennessee planter. Jackson's claim to distinction lay in a military career that included service as a young man in the Revolutionary War, several anti-Indian campaigns, and, of course, his crowning moment in the Battle of New Orleans at the end of the War of 1812.
Jackson's election marked a new direction in American politics. He was the first westerner elected president, indeed, the first president from a state other than Virginia or Massachusetts. He boldly proclaimed himself to be the " champion of the common man " and believed that their interests were ignored by the aggressive national economic plans of Clay and Adams. More than this, however, when Martin Van Buren followed Jackson as president, it indicated that the Jacksonian movement had long-term significance that would outlast his own charismatic leadership.
Andrew Jackson is known to have harbored animosity for Native Americans. During his administration, many tribes were moved to reservations in the Oklahoma Territory.
Van Buren, perhaps even more than Jackson, helped to create the new Democratic party that centered upon three chief qualities closely linked to Jacksonian Democracy. First, it declared itself to be the party of ordinary farmers and workers. Second, it opposed the special privileges of economic elites. Third, to offer affordable western land to ordinary white Americans, Indians needed to be forced further westward. The Whig party soon arose to challenge the Democrats with a different policy platform and vision for the nation. Whigs' favored active government support for economic improvement as the best route to sustained prosperity. Thus, the Whig-Democrat political contest was in large part a disagreement about the early Industrial Revolution. Whigs defended economic development's broad benefits, while Democrats stressed the new forms of dependence that it created. The fiercely partisan campaigns waged between these parties lasted into the 1850s and are known as the Second Party System , an assuredly modern framework of political competition that reached ordinary voters as never before with both sides organizing tirelessly to carry their message directly to the American people.
A "mob" descended upon Andrew Jackson at the White House to celebrate his victory in the election of 1828. Public parties were regular occurrences during Jackson's administration.
A new era of American politics began with Jackson's election in 1828, but it also completed a grand social experiment begun by the American Revolution. Although the Founding Fathers would have been astounded by the new shape of the nation during Jackson's presidency, just as Jackson himself had served in the American Revolution, its values helped form his sense of the world. The ideals of the Revolution had, of course, been altered by the new conditions of the early nineteenth century and would continue to be reworked over time. Economic, religious, and geographic changes had all reshaped the nation in fundamental ways and pointed toward still greater opportunities and pitfalls in the future. Nevertheless, Jacksonian Democracy represented a provocative blending of the best and worst qualities of American society. On the one hand it was an authentic democratic movement that contained a principled egalitarian thrust, but this powerful social critique was always cast for the benefit of white men. This tragic mix of egalitarianism, masculine privilege, and racial prejudice remains a central quality of American life and to explore their relationship in the past may help suggest ways of overcoming their haunting limitations in the future.
What Is Jacksonian Democracy?
Jacksonian democracy is a political movement that cropped up in the United States between the 1820s and 1850s. It alludes to the democratic reforms that were symbolized by Andrew Jackson and his followers during the Second Party System. This democratic movement was dedicated to powerful and egalitarian ideals.
This was a political era tied to the subjugation of native Americans, slavery and the celebration of white supremacy. The origin of Jacksonian democracy can be traced back to the antifederalists, the American Revolution and the Jeffersonian Democratic Republicans. It was triggered by profound economic and social changes of the early-19th century.
The Jacksonian democracy promoted the powers of the executive and the presidency at the expense of the Congress. It also sought to broaden and influence public participation in government. The Jacksonians rewrote many state constitutions and demanded elected judges, instead of appointed officials, to reflect their new values.
Jacksonian democracy was mainly limited to Americans of European descent. Voting rights were only extended to white, male adults. There was little progress for Native Americans and African-Americans. Jackson's presidency also promoted racist legislation, including the Indian Removal Act. This democracy adhered to the following general principles: manifest destiny, strict constructionism, expanded suffrage, patronage and laissez-faire economics.
ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE
Perhaps the most insightful commentator on American democracy was the young French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville, whom the French government sent to the United States to report on American prison reforms (Figure). Tocqueville marveled at the spirit of democracy that pervaded American life. Given his place in French society, however, much of what he saw of American democracy caused him concern.
Alexis de Tocqueville is best known for his insightful commentary on American democracy found in De la démocratie en Amérique. The first volume of Tocqueville’s two-volume work was immediately popular throughout Europe. The first English translation, by Henry Reeve and titled Democracy in America (a), was published in New York in 1838. Théodore Chassériau painted this portrait of Alexis de Tocqueville in 1850 (b).
Tocqueville’s experience led him to believe that democracy was an unstoppable force that would one day overthrow monarchy around the world. He wrote and published his findings in 1835 and 1840 in a two-part work entitled Democracy in America. In analyzing the democratic revolution in the United States, he wrote that the major benefit of democracy came in the form of equality before the law. A great deal of the social revolution of democracy, however, carried negative consequences. Indeed, Tocqueville described a new type of tyranny, the tyranny of the majority , which overpowers the will of minorities and individuals and was, in his view, unleashed by democracy in the United States.
In this excerpt from Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville warns of the dangers of democracy when the majority will can turn to tyranny:
Take the Alexis de Tocqueville Tour to experience nineteenth-century America as Tocqueville did, by reading his journal entries about the states and territories he visited with fellow countryman Gustave de Beaumont. What regional differences can you draw from his descriptions?
THE CAMPAIGN AND ELECTION OF 1828
During the 1800s, democratic reforms made steady progress with the abolition of property qualifications for voting and the birth of new forms of political party organization. The 1828 campaign pushed new democratic practices even further and highlighted the difference between the Jacksonian expanded electorate and the older, exclusive Adams style. A slogan of the day, “Adams who can write/Jackson who can fight,” captured the contrast between Adams the aristocrat and Jackson the frontiersman.
The 1828 campaign differed significantly from earlier presidential contests because of the party organization that promoted Andrew Jackson. Jackson and his supporters reminded voters of the “corrupt bargain” of 1824. They framed it as the work of a small group of political elites deciding who would lead the nation, acting in a self-serving manner and ignoring the will of the majority (Figure). From Nashville, Tennessee, the Jackson campaign organized supporters around the nation through editorials in partisan newspapers and other publications. Pro-Jackson newspapers heralded the “hero of New Orleans” while denouncing Adams. Though he did not wage an election campaign filled with public appearances, Jackson did give one major campaign speech in New Orleans on January 8, the anniversary of the defeat of the British in 1815. He also engaged in rounds of discussion with politicians who came to his home, the Hermitage, in Nashville.
The bitter rivalry between Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay was exacerbated by the “corrupt bargain” of 1824, which Jackson made much of during his successful presidential campaign in 1828. This drawing, published in the 1830s during the debates over the future of the Second Bank of the United States, shows Clay sewing up Jackson’s mouth while the “cure for calumny [slander]” protrudes from his pocket.
At the local level, Jackson’s supporters worked to bring in as many new voters as possible. Rallies, parades, and other rituals further broadcast the message that Jackson stood for the common man against the corrupt elite backing Adams and Clay. Democratic organizations called Hickory Clubs, a tribute to Jackson’s nickname, Old Hickory, also worked tirelessly to ensure his election.
In November 1828, Jackson won an overwhelming victory over Adams, capturing 56 percent of the popular vote and 68 percent of the electoral vote. As in 1800, when Jefferson had won over the Federalist incumbent John Adams, the presidency passed to a new political party, the Democrats. The election was the climax of several decades of expanding democracy in the United States and the end of the older politics of deference.
Visit The Hermitage to explore a timeline of Andrew Jackson’s life and career. How do you think the events of his younger life affected the trajectory of his political career?
The Democratic Spirit of the Age
Given this complex picture, no glib generalizations about Jacksonian Democracy's democracy are sustainable. An alternative, suggested by Tocqueville and other contemporary commentators, is to view democracy as the reigning spirit of the age and to trace its workings in all areas of American life, both within and outside party politics. As Tocqueville famously observed, "the people reign in the American political world as the Deity does in the universe. They are the cause and the aim of all things everything comes from them, and everything is absorbed in them." To Tocqueville, Americans' energetic voluntarism, their enthusiasm for societies, associations, reforms, and crusades, their vibrant institutions of local government, the popular style and leveling spirit of their manners, customs, pastimes, art, literature, science, religion, and intellect, all marked democracy's pervasive reign. From this perspective, the fact that Andrew Jackson—a rough-hewn, poorly educated, self-made frontiersman—could ascend to the presidency spoke more than his policies in office. His rhetorical championship of the plain people against the aristocrats, whatever its substance or sincerity, was itself the sign and harbinger of a social sea change toward democracy, equality, and the primacy of the common man. Jackson stands in this view not as the leader of a party, but as the symbol for an age.
Seen thus, many of the particular phenomena that Andrew Jackson and his party treated with indifference or hostility seem themselves emanations of a broader Jacksonian democratic spirit. Within politics, Whigs as well as Democrats championed the common man and marshaled the masses at barbecues and rallies. Both parties appealed to ordinary voters with riveting stump speeches and by crafting candidates into folk heroes. Whigs answered the popularity of "Old Hickory" Andrew Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans, with figures like "Old Tippecanoe" William Henry Harrison, victor of the rousing "log cabin" presidential campaign of 1840. Close party competition enlivened voter interest, sending turnout rates spiraling upward toward 80 percent of the eligible electorate.
In the religious sphere, evangelical preachers, especially Baptist and Methodist, carried a message of individual empowerment and responsibility, sparking massive revivals and winning thousands of converts. Older, more staid denominations either modified their methods and message to compete in the contest for souls or saw their influence dwindle. Reform crusades from temperance to abolitionism likewise pitched their appeals toward every man and every woman, building networks of local affiliates and mounting massive membership and petition drives. Self-help and mutual-aid societies flourished experiments in popular education proliferated. Poets and philosophers celebrated the egalitarian ethic and the worth of the individual.
All these may be read as evidence of social democratization. Yet some historians emphasize opposing signs of growing stratification, inequality, and repression in these same years. Jackson's own symbolism can be turned many ways: spokesman for the plain people, he was also a wealthy slaveholder and Indian fighter. Scholars will continue to dispute the extent (and definition) of democracy in the era of Jacksonian Democratic ascendancy, along with the social reality underlying politicians' celebration of the common man. What does seem certain is that, rightly or not, during these years the United States became in both American and foreign eyes "the image of democracy itself" for generations to come.
Jacksonian democracy is the political movement during the Second Party System 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. Even before the Jacksonian era began, suffrage had been extended to (nearly) all white male adult citizens, a result the Jacksonians celebrated.
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.
3 Separation of Church and State
The Jacksonians supported a strong separation between church and state. Jacksonian leaders denounced the various religious crusades of the era that aimed at changing American society through political action. In their fight against the largely Protestant religious crusades, the Jacksonians gained many followers who were Catholics, minorities and religious dissenters. With their electoral successes during the 1820s through the 1840s, Jacksonian Democrats strengthened the separation between church and state in American politics.