Jacksonian democracy

Last updated
Jacksonian Democrats
Historical leaders Andrew Jackson
Martin Van Buren
James K. Polk
Thomas Hart Benton
Stephen A. Douglas
Founded1825 (1825)
Dissolved1854 (1854)
Split from Democratic-Republican Party
Ideology Agrarianism
Manifest destiny
Populism
Spoils system
Social conservatism
National affiliation Democratic Party
Colors     Blue

Jacksonian democracy was a 19th-century political philosophy in the United States that expanded suffrage to most white men over the age of 21, and restructured a number of federal institutions. Originating with the seventh U.S. president, Andrew Jackson, and his supporters, it became the nation's dominant political worldview for a generation. The term itself was in active use by the 1830s. [1]

Contents

This era, called the Jacksonian Era (or Second Party System) by historians and political scientists, lasted roughly from Jackson's 1828 election as president until slavery became the dominant issue in 1854 and the political repercussions of the American Civil War dramatically reshaped American politics. It emerged when the long-dominant Democratic-Republican Party became factionalized around the 1824 United States presidential election. Jackson's supporters began to form the modern Democratic Party. His political rivals John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay created the National Republican Party, which would afterward combine with other anti-Jackson political groups to form the Whig Party.

Broadly speaking, the era was characterized by a democratic spirit. It built upon Jackson's equal political policy, subsequent to ending what he termed a "monopoly" of government by elites. Even before the Jacksonian era began, suffrage had been extended to a majority of white male adult citizens, a result which the Jacksonians celebrated. [2] Jacksonian democracy also promoted the strength of the presidency and the executive branch at the expense of the United States 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 expansionism, 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 European Americans, and voting rights were extended to adult white males only. There was little or no progress (and in some cases, a regression) for the rights of African Americans and Native Americans during the extensive period of Jacksonian Democracy, spanning from 1829 to 1860. [3] Jackson's biographer Robert V. Remini argues:

[Jacksonian Democracy] 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. [4]

Philosophy

General principles

William S. Belko in 2015 summarizes "the core concepts underlying Jacksonian Democracy" as:

equal protection of the laws; an aversion to a moneyed aristocracy, exclusive privileges, and monopolies, and a predilection for the common man; majority rule; and the welfare of the community over the individual. [5]

Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. argued in 1945 that Jacksonian democracy was built on the following: [6]

Portrait of Andrew Jackson by Thomas Sully (1824) Andrew Jackson.jpg
Portrait of Andrew Jackson by Thomas Sully (1824)

Election by the "common man"

An important movement in the period from 1800 to 1830—before the Jacksonians were organized—was the gradual expansion of the right to vote from only property owning men to include all white men over 21. [19] Older states with property restrictions dropped them, namely all but Rhode Island, Virginia and North Carolina by the mid 1820s. No new states had property qualifications although three had adopted tax-paying qualifications—Ohio, Louisiana and Mississippi, of which only in Louisiana were these significant and long lasting. [20] 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, although the subsequent reform included a significant property requirement for any resident born outside of the United States. However, free black men lost voting rights in several states during this period. [21]

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 1830s, reaching about 80% of adult male population in the 1840 presidential election. [22] Tax-paying qualifications remained in only five states by 1860 – Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Delaware and North Carolina. [23]

One innovative strategy for increasing voter participation and input was developed outside the Jacksonian camp. Prior to the presidential election of 1832, the Anti-Masonic Party conducted the nation's first presidential nominating convention. Held in Baltimore, Maryland, September 26–28, 1831, it transformed the process by which political parties select their presidential and vice-presidential candidates. [24]

Factions

The period from 1824 to 1832 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. [25]

Most former Republicans supported Jackson, while 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. [26]

Formed the Democratic Party

Jacksonian democracy

1837 cartoon plays on "Jackson" and "jackass", showing the Democratic Party as a donkey, which remains its cartoon symbol into the 21st century The modern balaam and his ass.jpg
1837 cartoon plays on "Jackson" and "jackass", showing the Democratic Party as a donkey, which remains its cartoon symbol into the 21st century

The spirit of Jacksonian democracy animated the party from the early 1830s to the 1850s, shaping the era, with the Whig Party the main opposition. [27] The new Democratic Party became a coalition of poor farmers, city-dwelling laborers and Irish Catholics. [28]

The new party was pulled together by Martin Van Buren in 1828 as Jackson crusaded against the corruption of President John Quincy Adams. The new party (which did not get the name Democrats until 1834) swept to a landslide. As Mary Beth Norton explains regarding 1828:

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. [29]

The platforms, speeches and editorials were founded upon a broad consensus among Democrats. As Norton et al. explain:

The Democrats represented a wide range of views but shared a fundamental commitment to the Jeffersonian concept of an agrarian society. They viewed a central government as the enemy of individual liberty and 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. [30]

Jackson vetoed more legislation than all previous presidents combined. The long-term effect was to create the modern strong presidency. [31] Jackson and his supporters also opposed reform as a movement. Reformers eager to turn their programs into legislation called for a more active government. However, Democrats tended to oppose programs like educational reform and the establishment of a public education system. For instance, they believed that public schools restricted individual liberty by interfering with parental responsibility and undermined freedom of religion by replacing church schools.

Jackson looked at the Indian question in terms of military and legal policy, not as a problem due to their race. [32] In 1813, Jackson adopted and treated as his own son a three-year-old Indian orphan—seeing in him a fellow orphan that was "so much like myself I feel an unusual sympathy for him". [33] In legal terms, when it became a matter of state sovereignty versus tribal sovereignty he went with the states and forced the Indians to fresh lands with no white rivals in what became known as the Trail of Tears.

Among the leading followers was Stephen A. Douglas, senator from Illinois, who was the key player in the passage of the compromise of 1850, and was a leading contender for the 1852 Democratic presidential nomination. According to his biographer Robert W. Johanssen:

Douglas was preeminently a Jacksonian, and his adherence to the tenets of what became known as Jacksonian democracy grew as his own career developed. ... Popular rule, or what he called would later call popular sovereignty, lay at the base of his political structure. Like most Jacksonians, Douglas believed that the people spoke through the majority, that the majority will was the expression of the popular will. [34]

Reforms

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!" 1832bank1.jpg
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!"

Jackson fulfilled his promise of broadening the influence of the citizenry in government, although not without vehement controversy over his methods. [35]

Jacksonian policies included ending the bank of the United States, expanding westward and removing American 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, Clay's home state. 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. [36]

Carl Lane argues "securing national debt freedom was a core element of Jacksonian democracy". Paying off the national debt was a high priority which would make a reality of the Jeffersonian vision of America truly free from rich bankers, self-sufficient in world affairs, virtuous at home, and administered by a small government not prone to financial corruption or payoffs. [37]

What became of Jacksonian Democracy, according to Sean Wilentz was diffusion. Many ex-Jacksonians turned their crusade against the Money Power into one against the Slave Power and became Republicans. He points to the struggle over the Wilmot Proviso of 1846, the Free Soil Party revolt of 1848, and the mass defections from the Democrats in 1854 over the Kansas–Nebraska Act. Others Jacksonian leaders such as Chief Justice Roger B. Taney endorsed slavery through the 1857 Dred Scott decision. Southern Jacksonians overwhelmingly endorsed secession in 1861, apart from a few opponents led by Andrew Johnson. In the North, Jacksonians Stephen A. Douglas and the War Democrats fiercely opposed secession, while Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan and the Copperheads did not. [38]

Jacksonian Presidents

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 Henry 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 K. Polk, a Jacksonian who won the election of 1844 with Jackson's endorsement. [39] Franklin Pierce had been a supporter of Jackson as well. 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. Finally, Andrew Johnson, who had been a strong supporter of Jackson, became President following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, but by then Jacksonian democracy had been pushed off the stage of American politics.

See also

Notes

  1. The Providence (Rhode Island) Patriot 25 Aug 1839 stated: "The state of things in Kentucky..is quite as favorable to the cause of Jacksonian democracy." cited in "Jacksonian democracy", Oxford English Dictionary (2019)
  2. Engerman, pp. 15, 36. "These figures suggest that by 1820 more than half of adult white males were casting votes, except in those states that still retained property requirements or substantial tax requirements for the franchise – Virginia, Rhode Island (the two states that maintained property restrictions through 1840), and New York as well as Louisiana."
  3. Warren, Mark E. (1999). Democracy and Trust. Cambridge University Press. pp. 166–. ISBN   9780521646871.
  4. Robert V. Remini (2011). The Life of Andrew Jackson. HarperCollins. p. 307. ISBN   9780062116635.
  5. William S. Belko, "'A Tax On The Many, To Enrich A Few': Jacksonian Democracy Vs. The Protective Tariff." Journal of the History of Economic Thought 37.2 (2015): 277-289.
  6. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Age of Jackson (1945)
  7. Engerman, p. 14. "Property- or tax-based qualifications were most strongly entrenched in the original thirteen states, and dramatic political battles took place at a series of prominent state constitutional conventions held during the late 1810s and 1820s."
  8. Engerman, pp. 16, 35. "By 1840, only three states retained a property qualification, North Carolina (for some state-wide offices only), Rhode Island, and Virginia. In 1856 North Carolina was the last state to end the practice. Tax-paying qualifications were also gone in all but a few states by the Civil War, but they survived into the 20th century in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island."
  9. Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States (2nd ed. 2009) p 29
  10. David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, Manifest Destiny (Greenwood Press, 2003).
  11. M. Ostrogorski, Democracy and the Party System in the United States (1910)
  12. Forrest McDonald, States' Rights and the Union: Imperium in Imperio, 1776–1876 (2002) pp 97-120
  13. William Trimble, "The social philosophy of the Loco-Foco democracy." American Journal of Sociology 26.6 (1921): 705-715. in JSTOR
  14. Louis Hartz, Economic Policy and Democratic Thought: Pennsylvania, 1776–1860 (1948)
  15. Richard Hofstadter, "William Leggett, Spokesman of Jacksonian Democracy." Political Science Quarterly 58.4 (1943): 581-594. in JSTOR.
  16. Lawrence H. White, "William Leggett: Jacksonian editorialist as classical liberal political economist." History of Political Economy 18.2 (1986): 307-324.
  17. Melvin I. Urofsky (2000). The American Presidents: Critical Essays. Taylor & Francis. p. 106. ISBN   9780203008805.
  18. Bray Hammond, Banks and Politics in America, From the Revolution to the Civil War (1957)
  19. Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States (2009) ch 2
  20. Engerman, p. 8–9
  21. Murrin, John M.; Johnson, Paul E.; McPherson, James M.; Fahs, Alice; Gerstle, Gary (2012). Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People (6th ed.). Wadsworth, Cengage Learning. p. 296. ISBN   978-0-495-90499-1.
  22. William G. Shade, "The Second Party System". in Paul Kleppner, et al. Evolution of American Electoral Systems (1983) pp 77-111
  23. Engerman, p. 35. Table 1
  24. William Preston Vaughn, The Anti-Masonic Party in the United States: 1826–1843 (2009)
  25. Richard P. McCormick, The Second American Party System: Party Formation in the Jacksonian Era (1966).
  26. Michael F. Holt, Political Parties and American Political Development: From the Age of Jackson to the Age of Lincoln (1992).
  27. Lee Benson in 1957 dated the era from 1827 to 1853, with 1854 as the start of a new era. Lee Benson (2015). The Concept of Jacksonian Democracy: New York as a Test Case. p. 128. ISBN   9781400867264.
  28. Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (2005).
  29. Mary Beth Norton; et al. (2014). A People and a Nation, Volume I: to 1877. Cengage Learning. p. 348. ISBN   9781285974675.
  30. Mary Beth Norton; et al. (2007). A People and a Nation: A History of the United States, Volume I: To 1877. Cengage Learning. p. 327. ISBN   978-0618947164.
  31. John Yoo, "Andrew Jackson and Presidential Power." Charleston Law Review 2 (2007): 521+ online.
  32. Prucha, Francis Paul (1969). "Andrew Jackson's Indian policy: a reassessment". Journal of American History . 56 (3): 527–539. doi:10.2307/1904204. JSTOR   1904204.
  33. Michael Paul Rogin (1991). Fathers and Children: Andrew Jackson and the Subjugation of the American Indian. Transaction Publishers. p. 189. ISBN   9781412823470.
  34. Robert Walter Johannsen (1973). Stephen A. Douglas. University of Illinois Press. p. 137. ISBN   9780252066351.
  35. Donald B. Cole, The Presidency of Andrew Jackson (1993)
  36. Wulf, Naomi (2001). "'The Greatest General Good': Road Construction, National Interest, and Federal Funding in Jacksonian America". European Contributions to American Studies. 47: 53–72.
  37. Carl Lane, "The elimination of the national debt in 1835 and the meaning of Jacksonian democracy." Essays in Economic & Business History 25 (2012) pp. 67-78.
  38. Sean Wilentz, "Politics, Irony, and the Rise of American Democracy." Journal of The Historical Society 6.4 (2006): 537-553, at p. 538, summarizing his book The rise of American democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (2006).
  39. "James K. Polk: Life in Brief". Miller Center. Archived from the original on June 13, 2016. Retrieved June 16, 2016.

References and bibliography

Primary sources

  • 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

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