Jacksonian Democracy was a period in American history lasting from the start of Andrew Jackson's presidency in 1828 until approximately the 1840s. The impact of this period, however, extends well beyond these dates. The policies enacted during the Jacksonian era expanded voting rights and extended the country's borders, but also put in place the spoils system which would divide the country for many decades and even lead to the assassination of a future president, as well as a decentralized economic system that would lead to cyclical recessions.

Expanded Suffrage

The major policy of Jacksonian Democracy was the expansion of suffrage, or voting rights, to all white men over a gradual period of time. This policy was enacted to reflect Jackson's belief that the common (white) man should be more involved in the democratic process, something considerably at odds with the beliefs of the Founding Fathers, who put in place a complex electoral process specifically to avoid giving too much power to the common man. By expanding suffrage, Jackson infused the country with a more democratic ideology and character.

Westward Expansion

The second major impact Jacksonian Democracy had was westward territorial expansion. Under President James K. Polk, the U.S. annexed Texas in 1845, signed a treaty with Britain to split the Oregon territory in 1846 and fought a war with Mexico the same year to claim California and the Southwest. This territorial expansion provided the country with many new resources such as gold in California, as well as extensive land on which to settle, but had a negative impact on Native Americans, many of whom were forcibly relocated.

Spoils System

Jackson favored the spoils system, also known as patronage, a system where he rewarded those loyal to him and the Democratic Party with government jobs, despite their skill level. This system became popular among both parties, but in the 1870s the issue divided the Republican Party between those who supported patronage and those who supported a meritocracy. After President Garfield was assassinated in 1881 by a party loyalist who had been passed over for a government job, his successor Chester A. Arthur put the issue to rest by helping pass the Civil Service Act, which officially ended the system of patronage that Jackson had begun.

Economic Impact

Jackson was firmly against the Bank of the United States, a national bank that was part of a system conceived of by Alexander Hamilton, who believed in a centralized economic system. Jackson saw this system as benefiting wealthy investors over regular citizens, and so vetoed the bank's renewal in 1832. The lack of a centralized bank created the unstable conditions that led to economic panic and recessions in 1837, 1873 and 1896, and it wasn't until Woodrow Wilson passed the Federal Reserve Act in 1913 that the U.S. again had a national bank.