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Andrew Jackson: Document Based Questions: AP U.S. History
The Jacksonian Democrats, much like the followers of Samuel Adams before and during the Revolutionary War, used the media, and other information outlets of the time to manipulate the public in a way that favored their cause. The goals of the Jacksonian Democrats can be summarized as: Weakening New England’s influence in the government, strengthening their own business interests, smothering the Whig party, and protecting states’ rights. The section of the Jacksonian Democratic Party which claims that their goals centered around ensuring Constitutional justice, and individual liberty is one that is veiled with lies. The Jacksonian Democrats of the 1820’s and 1830’s who viewed themselves as the guardians of the Constitution, political democracy, individual liberty, and equality of economic opportunity were wrong in doing so, and should be seen for what they were, politicians concerned with their own personal gains.
President Andrew Jackson, often referred to as “Old Hickory” by his supporters because of his bravery and tenacity during the Battle of New Orleans, was seen as a national hero. Jackson was elected president in 1828 when he out-ran John Q. Adams. Jackson’s campaign for the presidency focused on passion, and rallying the public into a frenzy, then leading them in the direction that he desired. Jackson was well known for communicating with the common man, and knew the importance of voter turnout. Jackson was also well known for pitting the southern farmer, and the western frontiersman against the northern industrialist. By doing so, he was able to claim that he was fighting for the rights of the “common” man, which at the time meant either poor, or lived in an agrarian part of the country.
Jackson’s presidency can be described as one whose leaders set precedents at will. One precedent which was set was the precedent of the state overruling the objections made by businesses in order to protect states’ rights. Former Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court Roger Taney, in his opinion on the Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge Case says, “The interests of the great body of the people of the state, would, in this instance, be affected by the surrender of this great line of travel to a single corporation, with the right to exact toll, and exclude competition, for seventy years.” (DOC H) With this in mind, it can be inferred that from this point on, the states had the right to mediate trade.
During the early 1800’s, The Bank of the United States had become a popular topic of conversation, primarily in the west (it was also a prevalent issue in the north, and south). To many (primarily the south, and the west), The Bank had become another way for greedy northern industrialists to get rich. Much like our own situation with over speculation a few years ago, so too were the western frontiersmen over speculating when it came to their land in the 1820’s, and because Jackson was known to have favored the west, he vetoed the recharter of the Bank, stating that the Bank was “almost a monopoly of the foreign and domestic exchange.” (DOC B) Daniel Webster, a well known statesman during the Antebellum Period, was rather shocked to hear of Jackson’s veto. In his response to Jackson’s veto message, Webster states, “It raises a cry that liberty is in danger, at the very moment when it puts forth claims to powers heretofore unknown and unheard of. It effects alarm for the public freedom, when nothing endangers that freedom so much as its own unparalleled pretences.” (DOC C) Jackson replied to Webster’s comment by stating that he was acting to protect the rights of the people, but in reality, it is known that he was protecting his own interests (potential land owners in the west).
Although seen by many as a calm and collected president, Jackson did in fact have a short fuse, especially when it came to the Native Americans. Shortly after a decision was reached on the Cherokee Nation v. Georgia case, Jackson decided that since the executive branch (in his opinion) had greater power than the judicial branch, he would force the Indians out of their lands for the sake of the common man. The explosion that followed the lighting of Jackson’s short fuse came in the form of a mass migration of Indians, the Trail of Tears to be exact. As seen in the picture in document G, the Trail of Tears dragged many-a-thousand Cherokee Indians through harsh weather. (DOC G) They were a beaten people, and the blood which could be seen dripping from their wounds was not easily washed from Jackson’s hands. This example along with various other accounts of the Jacksonian Democrat’s mistreatment of blacks, immigrants, Indians, lower class citizens, and other undesirables shows that he, as well as his party, were not much of a “party of the people”. Jackson himself owned slaves! This lead to a disparity in the perception of the government, with some citizens crying help, and others praising the system. Many mistreated citizens, like George Henry Evans, tried to declare their grievances through literature (Evans says “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations take place, all invariably tending to the oppression and degradation of one class of society, and to the unnatural and iniquitous exaltation of another by political leaders, it is their right, their duty, to use every constitutional means to reform the abuses of such a government…” (DOC A)). But on the other hand, people like Harriet Martineau, a British author, tried to cover up the issues in America. Reporting on her visit to the United States, Martineau reports that “The striking effect upon a stranger of witnessing, for the first time, the absence of poverty, of gross ignorance, of all servility, of all insolence of manner cannot be exaggerated in description. I had seen every man in the towns an independent citizen; every man in the country a landowner.” (DOC D) The reality of the situation can be seen in Philip Hone, a New York City businessman’s journal of the riots in the east during the 1830’s. He states, “The spirit of riot and insubordination to the laws which lately prevailed in New York has made its appearance in the orderly city of Philadelphia, and appears to have been produced by causes equally insignificant--hostility to the blacks and an indiscriminate persecution of all whose skins were darker than those of their enlightened fellow citizens. . . .”(DOC E) This viewpoint obviously differs from that of Martineau in its lack of ignorance toward the mistreatment of individuals. If individuals are writing journals of distress, can this lead us to believe that Jackson was not a guardian of individual liberties?
The Acts and Resolutions of South Carolina (as presented in DOC F), which state that:
“But if this highly essential and protective policy be counteracted by Congress, and the United States mail becomes a vehicle for the transmission of the mischievous documents, . . . [we] expect that the Chief Magistrate of our state will forthwith call the legislature together, that timely measures may be taken to prevent [such mail] traversing our territory.”
These Acts can be seen as a result of Jackson’s actions. Let it be noted that Jackson, in a message to Congress, harassed the abolitionists and their provocative writings. He advised Congress to prohibit abolitionist writing from the federal mail system. By advocating for anti-abolitionist sympathizers, it is made clear that Jackson was clearly not an advocate for civil liberties. This, coupled with the fact that if his wishes were to be granted, it would violate the Constitutional right of freedom of speech, allows us to conclude that theories of Jackson being the guardian of the Constitution are false.
In reality, the Jacksonian Democrats made a name for themselves by acting to protect their own interests, while sailing under the “common man” flag. The overruling of the judicial branch, the fight to suppress the constitutional right of writers, and the mistreatment of nearly every group of people with a skin color a different shad than his own give us the ability to say with confidence that Jackson was not a guardian of anything, except his own personal wellbeing.