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How democratic was Jacksonian democracy?

Updated on February 16, 2014


The era started when Andrew Jackson stood for election from Tennessee, who was the hero of New Orleans. He stood in the election against John Quincy Adams from Massachusetts, who was secretary of state, William Crawford from Georgia, who was treasure secretary and Henry clay from Kentucky, who was the speaker of the House of representative. In this election no one candidate had clear majority against others. Because of this, according to the constitution the House of Representatives had to choose the President from the top three finishers .The House chose John Quincy Adams with help of Henry clay who had the influence in the House of Representatives. This foul play was recognized by Jackson and called it as “corrupt Bargain”. This made him to start a new party called the Democratic Party for the next election 1828. The methods he used made the public aware of the wrong doings of the government. As we can see in the essay “Antebellum Politics as raucous Democracy” by Mary P Ryan. She mentions many methods used by Democrats in the campaign election in the era which will be seen later in the essay. In the Election 1828, Andrew Jackson became a clear winner against John Quincy Adams for President Ship. Thus came to an end of “Good feelings era” and rise of Jacksonian era.

Andrew Jackson - Good Evil & The Presidency

What led to rise of Jackson Democracy?

Rise of Jackson is associated with strength of democracy. He first voted for the removal of property qualification as voting rights. He believed that the voting rights are very important in the democracy. He wanted more and more people to get involved in the government. That is why he used different methods in the election, like having rallies, demonstration partisan newspaper etc. He believed in Democratizing the Public. For example, the Municipal charter of New York had entrusted the public good to a common council that was composed of and elected by propertied citizens in the year 1820. The council rarely took the advice from the citizens. This changed at the time, when democratic came to power, the council became into pure democracy. This happened in many other stated too.

In office, Jackson enhanced the power and prestige of Presidency. He gave each seat of house of representative to each specific regional constituency. He also declared that only the president can be represented by people of all. Even the senate gets directly elected by the people, which are used till now. The president got many more powers during this period. This was related to nullification happened during this era. In the year 1828, congress passed a protective tariff which was used it to protect Americans from Europeans in tariff goods. This affected the price of good items in the south as they were export most of their goods outside. This affected the American exports. We can see this in one Jackson’s speeches where he condemns this policy. He mentions about one particular state which was affected by this. It was South Carolina who was export most of its goods outside is now has to add duty to actual price.

The tariff not only affected the goods but the land also. As we can see in the southern states, were most of the land is used for farming .So the land prices too increase drastically and during that time this was one of the condition used for election. This gave north more power than south in government. Jackson considers that tariff was unconstitutional. So he gave an ordinance of nullification in South Carolina in the year 1832. The ordinance created a rift between the president Jackson and vice president John C. Calhoun. In the same year vice president John C. Calhoun resigned his post make it more controversial. John C. Calhoun ran for the senate to defend the law of tariff which was later signed by the Jackson. The law lowered the existing tariff in the country. This caused many protest in the state where the president had to use his military powers to calm the situation. The latest law was supported by north and half of south. To solve this issue President Jackson passed The Force Bill (1833) in House of Representatives. The bill gave the president to force only necessary tariffs to the people. In the same year South Carolina passed a Compromise Tariff of 1833 to nullify the crisis. This crisis was similar to Jefferson democracy plan which we will discuss later.

Next crisis which occurred in this period is the Bank crisis. Jackson distrusted the bank of United States. In the year 1816, government passed charter called “the Second Bank of the United States”. This was in effort to control the notes issued by the state bank. The government thought by demanding payment gold or silver they could discipline private banks with help of the National Bank. This idea was unpopular and many thought that this was the reason for panic in 1819. Others thought it was a political influence For example; Senator Daniel Webster was both the bank's chief lobbyist and a director of the bank's Boston branch. Wage earners and small-business owners blamed it for economic fluctuations and loan restrictions. Private Banks resented its privileged position in the banking industry. After the re-election of President Jackson, he vetoed the Bank bill in 1532. He says in the “Veto of the Bank Bill (1832)” that the “A bank of the United States is in many respects convenient for the Government and useful to the people.” He considered the bank as privileged. He ordered that the federal money should be transferred from Bank of United States to selected state bank which is also called as pet banks. This brought much opposition from Henry Clay and secretary of the Treasury. This caused a Panic in the year 1837 where the previous charter died out in 1836.

These entire factors helped the opponent of Jackson to unite and form another party called the Whigs. This created an evolution of second party system. The turf war began with 2 party systems, one is the Democrats and the other is the Whigs.

The Force Bill (1833)


Limitations of Jackson democracy

As we seen the above few paragraphs about the democratic side of Jackson’s democracy, no we will see the limitation of it. Firstly, Jackson tried to act as a guardian of the constitution. He set his eyes on the popular issues which angered his party members and opponents like the vice president John Calhoun in the tariff reform and Henry Clay in Banking crisis. This led to 2 party system .Jackson also tried to appease the south cities in his reforms which worked disastrous in some ways. Like in the tariff issue in South Carolina. The methods he used for campaigning for election to be a manipulation. Glenn C.altschuler and Stuart T M.Blumin mentioned in their essay on “Antebellum Politics as Political manipulation” that “the spectator feels it to be fool’s play with all the banners and drums near their alleys”. They mention that campaign and rallies has become a large part of their life in the political engagement.Jackson concentrated his policies in benefit for white male people. He was a slave owner and encouraged slavery in the south. He himself kept some slave in his plantation. His attitude to women too was nothing different from that of slaves. He did not encourage women to vote and have a say in the government. He also did not encourage women to take part in campaign or get involved in the government policies. These prove he was concentrating on certain type of people which is one of the major limitations. Jacksonian democracy policies also led to major economic crisis. First he tried to oppose the tariffs which created lot of opposition from the people. This affected many people who are paying lots of duties in export. This also led to increase in land prices in the country which deepen the crisis. Then came with banking crisis, which Jackson vetoed the charter by making the farmers fool by transferring federal money from the National to states, which led to panic in 1837.

Final limitation in Jacksonian democracy is the removal of Indians from the state. When Jackson took office many native Indian have settled near Mississippi river. Many of them have become part of the state in the southern cotton kingdom of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. With the expansion of the American states, the Indians were forced to give up land and move away. One of the native tribes who live in these regions is the Cherokee. Since Jefferson period, the Cherokee was forced to live like an outsider. The government had plans for removing them from land for some time. By 1820, the Cherokee had shown demonstration getting in to lives of whites. They have learnt to adapt the new condition of civilisation. They have learnt to grown cotton and other items in their fields. They have learnt their religion and starting practice them too. They have got education to survive in the life style. They have set up religious institution, schools and hospitals in the region. When the Americans started expanding the Cherokee were forced to give up their land. The situation worsened when they found gold in Cherokee’s land. This forced the white settlers to encroach their land. In 1831and 1832, two important cases came up in the Supreme Court, one was Cherokee Nation v. Georgia and Worcester v. Georgia .The ordered that states could not pass laws conflicting with federal Indian treaties and that the federal government had an obligation to exclude white intruders from Indian lands. This angered Jackson and decided to use a removal policy to force them out of the country. By 1838, Cherokee were forcibly removed from their lands which were called Trail of tears. A quarter of them died on their way.


Although there were many limitations in the Jacksonian Democracy, there were many similarities with Jefferson’s democracy. Initially Jackson followed the Jefferson’s democracy. Both Jackson and Jefferson were both fighting for the interests of farmers against the commercial interest of the country. The both democracy had stress on common man. As we seen in Jacksonian, Jefferson too hated Bank of United States charter. They both stressed on voting rights for common man. Like Jackson, Jefferson to preferred public meeting and shown strong leadership skills in their period.

Overall, the Jacksons democracy has shown strong democratic skill to the white male people. Because of all these he called himself “the champion of Common man”. This era we saw the rise of common man in politics and in the government. This led to many changes in government like the voting rights, people voting directly to the government etc.

How democratic was Jacksonian democracy?

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