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Jacksonian democracy is the political philosophy of United Statesmarker President Andrew Jackson and his supporters. Jackson's policies followed the era of Jeffersonian democracy which dominated the previous political era. Prior to and during Jackson's time as President, his supporters (the beginnings of the modern Democratic Party) were resisted by the rival Adams and Anti-Jacksonian factions, which later gave rise to the Whigs. More broadly, the term refers to the period of the Second Party System (1824-1854) when Jacksonian philosophy was ascendant as well as the spirit of that era. 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. The Jacksonian era saw a great increase of respect and power for the common man, as the electorate expanded to include all white male adult citizens, rather than only land owners in that group.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. They demanded elected (not appointed) judges and rewrote many state constitutions to reflect the new values. In national terms the Jacksonians 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. The Jacksonian Era lasted roughly from Jackson's 1828 election until the slavery issue became dominant after 1850 and the American Civil War dramatically reshaped American politics as the Third Party System emerged.

The Philosophy

Jacksonian democracy generally was built on several principles:
; Expanded Suffrage: The Jacksonians believed that voting rights should be extended to all white men. During the Jacksonian era, white male suffrage was dramatically expanded throughout the country.
; Manifest Destiny: This was the belief that white Americans had a destiny to settle the American West and to expand control over all of North America from the Atlantic Oceanmarker to the Pacificmarker at the expense of the indigenous population. The Free Soil Jacksonians, notably Martin Van Buren, however, argued for limitations on expansion to avoid the expansion of slavery within the Union. The Whigs generally opposed Manifest Destiny and expansion, saying the nation should build up its cities.
; Patronage: 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 did lead to the hiring of incompetent and sometimes corrupt officials in the place of competent ones from the other party.
; Strict Constructionism: 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". This is not to say that Jackson was 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 National Bankmarker. As the Jacksonians consolidated power, they more often advocated a more expansive construction of the Constitution and of Presidential power.
; Laissez-faire Economics: Complementing a strict construction of the Constitution, the Jacksonians generally favored a hands-off approach to the economy. 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, which was a central bank known as the Second Bank of the United Statesmarker. Jackson fought to end the government monopoly to the Bank and got great opposition from Nicholas Biddle, the bank chairman. Biddle first dismissed Jackson efforts, but as the initiative gained popular support, he got more concerned. There was an attempt to murder Jackson at that time but the pistols failed. Jackson would later claim that he had proof the bankers were behind this attempt. Jackson was able to gain popular support because the Bank money manipulations and inflation had created a big recession, and it had inflated land prices, benefiting big land owners and stoping economical development. In a last attempt to stop Jackson, Biddle burst the bubble his inflationary policies had created, and brought about a deflationary correction. This put pressure on Jackson, but after a year of recession, the economy was clean by the deflationary correction, and the Bank was out of "ammunition". Jackson had won the battle. The Bank continued his operations as a state bank, but had to close years after. Once retired, everytime Jackson was asked what was his biggest achievement as president he answered: "I killed the Bank".

Election by the "Common Man"

Though elected by the United States House of Representatives, John Quincy Adams was the first president ever to be voted for by the common citizenry, as the 1824 United States Presidential election was the first in which all free white male citizens without property could vote (with the exception of 6 states). Issues of social class have been much discussed by historians (Wilentz 1982). For more details, see Social Class in American History.

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.

Factions 1824–32

The period 1824–32 was politically chaotic. The Federalist Party was 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.

Many former Democratic-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.


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

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. Jacksonian democracy had a lasting impact on allowing for more political participation from the average citizen, though Jacksonian democracy itself largely died off with the election of Abraham Lincoln and the rise of the Republican party.

Jackson created a 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. 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.

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 H. Harrison. Harrison died just 30 days into his term, and his vice president, John Tyler, quickly reached accommodation with the Jacksonians, and was then succeeded by James Polk, a staunch Jacksonian, who was the last of the true Jacksonian presidents. During and just after Polk's term, both the Democratic Party and the Whig Party were split by the slavery issue, with the Whig Party dissolving and ultimately being replaced by the Republican Party.


Secondary Sources

  • Blau, Joseph L. Social Theories of Jacksonian Democracy: Representative Writings of the Period 1825-1850 (1954) online edition
  • Short essays.
  • Uses quantitative electoral data.
  • Eaton, Clement ed. The Leaven of Democracy: The Growth of the Democratic Spirit in the Time of Jackson (1963) online edition
  • Uses quantitative electoral data.
  • Uses quantitative electoral data.
  • Chapter 8, an excerpt from his Pulitzer-prize-winning Banks and Politics in America: From the Revolution to the Civil War (1954).
  • Chapter on AJ.
  • Influential state-by-state study.
  • Important scholarly articles.
  • Abridgment of Remini's 3-volume biography.
  • Influential reinterpretation
  • Uses quantitative electoral data.
  • Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History.
  • Uses quantitative electoral data.
  • Excerpts from primary and secondary sources.
  • Standard scholarly survey.
  • Highly detailed scholarly synthesis.
  • Intellectual history of Whigs and Democrats.

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