Jacksonian Democracy

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Topic: Jacksonian Democrats viewed themselves as the guardians of the United States Constitution, political democracy, individual liberty, and equality of economic opportunity.
In light of the following documents and your knowledge of the 1820's and 1830's, to what extent do you agree with the Jacksonians' view of themselves?

Andrew Jackson began a whole new era in American history. Amongst his greatest accomplishments were evoking the "common man" to be interested in government and tailoring democracy to satisfy the same "common man's" needs. Of course, Jackson could not go about making such radical changes without supporters, but that never surfaced as a problem. Jacksonian Democrats, as they came to be called, were great in number during the 1820's and 1830's. They advocated all of the issues that President Jackson did, and did so with great vigor. They thought of themselves very highly because they recognized their responsibilities as American citizens. They realized that as political leaders they had a true purpose- to protect and serve the American people. The Jacksonians justified their view of themselves in their sincere attempts to guard the United States Constitution by both promoting equality of economic opportunity and increasing political democracy, but they had their downfalls with issues of individual liberties.

A main characteristic of the Jacksonian Era was the fight for the common man. As the United States grew in size and age, the stratification of society was inevitable. In the 1820's class distinctions became major issues, greatly due to an unchanging and small upper class. This greatly detracted from the American ideal of equality when it came to economic opportunities. The upper class used their status and government power to push themselves further from the lower classes, making the rich richer and the poor poorer. The Jacksonians arose from these issues and others, as is evidenced in writings of the time, such as "The Working Men's Declaration of Independence" by George Henry Evans. They began to call the public's attention to an oppression by the upper class through many different issues of the time, which was looked down upon by some, such as Daniel Webster in response to Jackson's bank veto. This dealt with the Bank War which was the primary economic dealing of the time in which President Jackson vetoed the recharter of the Bank of the United States. He did so because he found the bank unconstitutional and thought that it was a near-monopoly that only benefited the rich. This stirred public support and brought the class issue to the forefront for many people. Although some looked upon Jackson's decision on the Bank as a bad one, the Jacksonians supported him because they saw it as an attempt to support equality and eliminate a monopoly in the hands of the elite rich. Another such instance that dealt with monopoly and equality of economic opportunity was the Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge case in 1837. In it, Chief Justice Taney ruled that new enterprises could not be confined by the implied privileges of old charters, in an effort to allow for competition and free enterprise.

Political democracy was one of the resurfacing interests during the Jacksonian Era. Jacksonian Democrats saw it as their duty to protect the government run by the people, as the Constitution had intended it, the results of which could be seen everywhere. Government had been thought of as something for the few aristocrats, not the general population. This notion ended when Jackson's "spoils system" accompanied by his policy of rotation in office allowed more people to become involved in government by rewarding political supporters with offices. This heightened the interest of the general population in government in both good and bad ways. Voter turnout doubled in the election of 1828, but some elections, for example those in the accounts in The Diary of Philip Hone, resulted in riots over heated issues. During Jackson's time, democracy took on a much fuller meaning of rule by the people when almost all property requirements for voters were eliminated, allowing for even more involvement. As Harriet Martineau evinces in her work, Society in America, the majority of America during the Jacksonian time period was one of prosperity and was a magnificent example of success for democracy. Rule by the people had taken off, but under Jackson, it began to soar.

Although Jacksonians wanted to be seen as protectors of individual liberties, they could not truly complete this picture because of the discrimination that they often showed towards Native Americans and blacks, in particular. During their time, the rights of white men were respected greatly, and in regard to issues such as the vote, rights were even expanded. During the 1830's especially, western expansion exploded. As the American population grew, so did the need for farmland and living space. Americans looked west and only saw a few obstacles in their way, one of which was the Native Americans. President Jackson decided to ignore Supreme Court rulings that recognized the Indians' rights and to push for the movement of the Indians farther west. In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act allowing him to do so. The journey of the Native Americans became known as the "Trail of Tears" and has often been well depicted in paintings, such as the one shown in Document G, as a sad time of hardship, sickness, and death. The Native Americans were not the only ethnic group to be discriminated against during this time. African Americans were still held in the "peculiar institution" of slavery in many states in America. The United States had not followed suit with other countries in the abolition of slavery, such as Mexico in 1830. Obviously, slavery could not be ignored as a violation of individual liberty. Slavery was still acceptable in the eyes of many, including the Jacksonian Democrats. Even government authorized establishments lent a hand in the continuation of slavery, such as the Post Office. It honored a request from the South Carolina legislature in 1835 to prevent the transmission of anti-slavery propaganda into the state. The Jacksonian Democrats, in attempts to guard the Constitution, had missed some points, such as "all men are created equal."

The Jacksonian Democrats had at least one misconception about themselves; they did not strive to guard the individual liberty of all Americans. They were yet to break away completely from the old beliefs that one race was superior to another. However, they did have some clear perceptions of the purpose they served. They protected the Constitution and the rights it gave to Americans by promoting equality of economic opportunity and by advancing political democracy.

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