Jacksonian Democracy Era Case Study
Jacksonian democracy is an era that started with the presidency of Andrew Jackson (1828-1837) and extended to 1840s with subsequent US presidents Tyler, Harrison, Polk and Van Buren. The two party leadership system started in the Jacksonian era, and the Jacksonian Democrats fought Whigs for supremacy. Jackson’s central belief was in a democracy which is governed by the people, and his approaches of anti-banking and extended suffrage manifested this belief. Jackson also spearheaded hands-off economic policies and national expansion (Whaples 545). The Jacksonian Democrats fought themselves to be strict enforcers of political democracy, equal economic opportunity, United States Constitution and individual liberty.Ideally, democracy refers to a form of government in which the ultimate power is bestowed on the people and practiced directly by them or by those elected in a free and fair election to represent them. On the other hand, research has proven that in aristocratic systems, power is held by a small group of people in the country or society. This essay mainly tries to evaluate whether the balance between aristocracy and democracy shifted in the US with the adoption of Jacksonian democracy and whether the Jacksonian Democrats lived up to their democratic ideals.
The adoption of Jacksonian Democracy gave the US a more democratic leadership system than before. To start with, Andrew Jackson’s election as the seventh president of the US signaled the end of the political regime ruled by the commercial aristocracy of New England and the planter aristocracy of Virginia. Although Jackson was an aristocrat, he was from a humble family as compared to his predecessors (Whaples 546). He tirelessly fought his way into the presidency, and his success crowned a bond between him and the common people. Therefore, peasant farmers, casual laborers, laborers, mechanics and many other Americans struggling to make ends meet looked to Jackson for leadership.
Unlike his predecessors, Jackson represented the common people. He and his followers did not support the aristocrats, but instead favored the interests of the urban laborers and the farmers. As explained by Ratcliffe (220), when the Jacksonian Democrats rose to power, they brought about great efforts in attaining a more democratic and economically equal society.Jacksonian Democrats had a belief that any American citizen was capable of holding a government position. Specifically, as expounded by Ratcliffe (221), Jackson also said that if a person were to hold an office for an extended period, then he would be capable of which an unpracticed person would oppose. They, therefore, advocated for rotation of state officers in an attempt to promote democracy and prevent power from being concentrated on the elites
Alongside rotation, the Jacksonian followers also established the spoils system. Jackson fired all the officeholders who were not loyal Democrats and then appointed Democrats to hold those positions (Ratcliffe 223). The rotation and spoils system were critical advances towards achieving a greater political democracy in the US as they demonstrated that one person is just as good as another person is.
Another change that Jackson brought was a much more democratic voting system. Before the adoption of Jacksonian democracy, only property-owning men could vote, and the electoral process was controlled by the wealthy. However, during the Jacksonian era, the voting rights were extended to all free men and not just those that were rich (Ratcliffe 228). This move demonstrated the new ethos of Jackson’s Democratic approach, which concentrated on empowering the people as opposed to the elites.
Also, to establish a more democratic country, Jackson tried to develop equal economic opportunities for the Americans. A perfect example as given by Ratcliffe (228), is the vetoing of the Second Bank of the US’ charter. According to Jacksons, the bank was a huge monopoly run by aristocrats, most of which hailed from England. At that time, the president of the bank was Nicholas Biddle who often used to lend funds to the members of the Congress to massage their sympathy.In his message, instructing for the charter withdrawal from the US Bank, Jackson indicated that it was sympathizing that the powerful and the rich were used to bending the acts of the government to favor their selfish interests. This was an accurate statement as the bank was used by its managers to satisfy the interests of the rich and not the poor people like the urban workers and the farmers.
After evaluating how Jackson and his Democratic followers made efforts in rescuing the US from an aristocratic regime and trying to bring democracy in leadership, it is prudent also to analyze whether the Jacksonians fully lived up to their democratic ideals. Many scholars have attempted to explain the successes and failures of Jacksonians. These successes and weaknesses can be used to evaluate whether the Jacksonians fulfilled their objectives. Primarily, Jacksonians believed that they were guarding individual liberty, equality of economic opportunity, political democracy and upholding the provisions of the US constitution (The Week). In my opinion, the Jacksonian Democrats were to some extent protectors of the US. However, they also did have some flaws that are worth evaluating.
As a way of starting, Jacksonians supported the white men suffrage and derived significant benefits from the expansion of the voting rights. They did not conduct the extension of the voting rights but supported the changes that dwelt upon them. By 1832, all the states except South Carolina had a popular vote for the presidential voters. However, it is worth noting that in his attempt to promote electoral democracy, the women, Africans, and other non-native Americans were not given voting rights (The Week). This shows the Jacksonians were biased and did not include the rights of all the citizens in advocating for voting privileges.Jacksonians also managed to expand the geographical territories of the United States of America. As expounded by Cheathem (326), they believed in an ideology that justified the American expansion into the Western Hemisphere. The Simnole wars that were initially led in 1818 by Jackson brought the military forces against the Simnole Indians and the Spanish troops pushing the Simnoles towards the south. On the other hand as the president of the US, Jackson reversed the alternately malign and benign neglect of the affairs of the Indians by his predecessors and conducted a forceful removal of the Indians from the South. This culminated in the Trail of Tears. This was a significant failure since if Jacksonians were dedicated to political prosperity, and equity, they were supposed to formulate policies that would encourage peaceful coexistence between the natives and the American whites.
In what was referred to as Bank Wars, Jacksonians halted the government’s use of the 2nd Bank of the US, which was the State’s national bank. The bank was a reserve for the rich and was operated by a board of management which had connections to the industry and big businesses. In Jacksons, view, as explained by Cheathem (327) he saw the banks as a replica of the affluent classes flexing their might to oppress the will of the people. He also felt that with the rich people will use their strength to suppress northern states and cities. This was a stride towards inclusivity and ensuring equal employment opportunity.
Besides, the move to stop the renewal of the Charter of the 2nd Bank of the US weakened the US economy considerably. This was partly due to the issuing of paper bank notes that did not have a backup of silver or gold reserves. It also led to the growth of state debts and inflation in the US. Also, as per the statements in “The Working Men’s Declaration of Independence” some men still objected that the government was not promoting equal opportunity (Cheathem 327). This document reasserted that the common people could still reform and bring changes to the state should it be defeated to protect “specific unavoidable rights like liberty, the pursuit of happiness and life” The Jacksonians successfully spearheaded the process of separation of church and state. Its leaders denounced the various religious crusades of the period that aimed at altering the American society by using political actions (Cheathem 328). They intensified their fight against the Protestant religious movements and gained more followers who were religious deserters, Catholics, and minorities.
The separation of the church from the state politics can be viewed as one of the successes of the Jacksonians. However, there was a notable crisis in the US that The Jacksonians failed to address. This was the nullification crisis that occurred between 1828 and 1832 as a result of issues relating to disagreement over tariffs. The South Carolina was bitter at Andrew’s failure to urge a significant downward cut of tariff rates (Cheathem 329). Protective tariffs were viewed as inequitable, unconstitutional and inexpedient throughout the South. South Carolina opposed the tariffs to the extent that they nullified the 1832 tariff. Jackson then directed the Congress to formulate a “Force Bill” to direct the military to enforce the taxes, but the bill later reduced to a compromise tariff which reduced tensions among the US. Although Jackson managed to reduce anxiety among states, the incident of nullification acted as a precursor of the positions that would emanate to Civil War.It is also hard to accurately predict Jackson’s guiding principles- whether he was a federal power expansionist or a strict constructionist. He went ahead and destroyed the Second Bank of the US in a Jeffersonian rage and vetoed the development strategies like the Maysville Road (Cheathem 329). But he was also fearless in finding the views of the Congress on the tariff policies and used threats to protect it from opposition by the South Carolina.
In a nutshell, Jacksonian Democrats were to make the US more democratic through the promotion of voting rights, uplifting of the common people, and general weakening of aristocracy. However, they figuratively brought the US closer to monarchy or even dictatorship through their failure to promote peaceful coexistence, equal voting rights for the natives and women, weakening of the economy and administration of unfair tariffs among other shortcomings discussed in this essay.