Democracy During the Jacksonian Era
The seventh president, Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), had a profound effect on American government and society. His presidency lasted from 1829 to 1837, but the era he created, known as the Jacksonian era, lasted until the Civil War. Jacksonian Democracy ushered in the two party system, widened suffrage to include all white male citizens, saw America become unabashed about Manifest Destiny and changed American banking and business.
1 Democrats and Whigs
Jackson is the father of the Democratic party, and he viewed his party as the inheritors of Jeffersonian government. His Democrats believed in stepping out of the way of business and industry, but at the same time Jackson also believed that government should protect the common people from the wealthy elites. The Democrats also firmly believed in the separation of church and state. Jackson's opponents, the Whig party, were stereotyped as wealthy elites in the back pocket of business tycoons, and the Democrats became the party of rural farmers and working poor. The Whigs advocated a strong federal government, but Jackson and the Democrats sought instead to increase the power of the states.
2 Suffrage and Slavery
Before the War of 1812, only white, male landowners could vote. After the war, many states began to allow all white, male citizens to vote. President Jackson became a strong advocate of widening suffrage, or voting rights, beyond the land-holding elite. This also served to increase the numbers in his Democratic party. However, African Americans and women were still denied suffrage. Also during the Jacksonian era, a split began to form within the Democratic party between those who sought the abolition of slavery and southern Democrats who favored the institution.
3 Manifest Destiny
Although the term "Manifest Destiny" was not used during Jackson's presidency, it is often associated with the Jacksonian era. The term applied to one of Jackson's successors, Democrat James K. Polk, who in the 1840s sought to annex Texas and vastly increase the size of the United States. Advocates of Manifest Destiny believed that it was America's destiny to extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, and Polk accomplished this through the Mexican War in the Southwest along with treaties with Great Britain in the Northwest. Manifest Destiny proved disastrous to Native Americans, and the country continued the Indian removal policies begun by Jackson.
4 Business and Banking
Although Jackson believed in the laissez-faire concept that government should stay out of business, he supported federally protected transportation tariffs, or fees on imported goods, during the nullification crisis of 1832. This strengthened the federal government's ability to influence business and economic development at odds with the needs of individual states. However, Jackson could only go so far, and he detested the notion of a national bank chartered by Congress. To Jackson, a national bank only existed to serve the needs of wealthy elite. He very much supported state-run banks over a federally-run system, which had profound effects beyond the Jacksonian era.
- 1 The White House: Andrew Jackson
- 2 Ohio Historical Society Ohio History Central: Whig Party
- 3 University of Houston Digital History: Rise of Democratic Politics
- 4 TeachingHistory.org: Manifest Destiny: Creating an American Identity
- 5 Public Broadcasting Service: Freedom: A History of US Manifest Destiny
- 6 National Endowment for the Humanities: King Andrew and the Bank