Jacksonian democracy was a political philosophy in the United States headed by the Democratic Party during the leadership of President Andrew Jackson and his followers in the 1820s and 1830s. The Jacksonians claimed to stand for the common people of America and proclaimed themselves protectors of the commoners against government favoritism of corporations and banks that helped only the wealthy. The ideas and practices of Jacksonian democracy forever changed politics in the U.S.

Party Structure

Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren built a pyramid-shaped organizational structure for the Democratic Party of the 19th century. The purpose of this structure was to coordinate efforts among Democrats throughout the political system, from the caucuses and conventions to the local and national committees. Modern-day political parties still follow this organizational structure. Jacksonian politicians positioned themselves as spokesmen for the common man in a fight against the more “aristocratic” Whig party supporters. Jackson initiated a “spoils system” after he was elected president, in which he awarded jobs to his supporters.

Expansion of Popular Voting

The Jacksonians supported universal white male suffrage and benefited greatly from the expansion of voting rights. The Jacksonians did not initiate the expansion of voting rights, but they supported the changes and capitalized upon them. By 1832, every state except for South Carolina had a popular vote for presidential electors. Jacksonians placed a high value on voter participation in the elections, using tactics such as parades to encourage voting. Voter turnout increased to nearly 80 percent of eligible voters by 1840.

Separation of Church and State

The Jacksonians supported a strong separation between church and state. Jacksonian leaders denounced the various religious crusades of the era that aimed at changing American society through political action. In their fight against the largely Protestant religious crusades, the Jacksonians gained many followers who were Catholics, minorities and religious dissenters. With their electoral successes during the 1820s through the 1840s, Jacksonian Democrats strengthened the separation between church and state in American politics.

Expanded Territories

Jacksonian democracy greatly expanded the geographical territories of the United States. The Jacksonians believed in Manifest Destiny, an ideology and movement to justify American expansion in the Western Hemisphere. The Seminole Wars, initially led by Andrew Jackson in 1818 before he was president, brought military forces into Florida against the Spanish forces and the Seminole Indians, pushing the Seminoles farther south. The Jacksonian President James K. Polk oversaw a major expansion of U.S. territory in the 1840s. Polk was the president during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), which concluded with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, giving the U.S. new territory in Upper California, New Mexico and present-day Arizona.