Jacksonian democracy is an era that began with the presidency of Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) and lasted through the 1840s with subsequent presidents Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler and Polk. The two-party system began in the Jacksonian era, and Jacksonian Democrats battled Whigs for supremacy. Jackson believed in a democracy ruled by the common man, and his policies of extended suffrage and anti-banking demonstrated this belief. Jacksonians also encouraged national expansion and hands-off economic policies.
Jacksonian Democrats fought the established wealthy elite for control. Prior to the Jacksonian democracy, typically only property-owning males were allowed to vote, and the wealthy tended to control elections. During the Jacksonian era, voting rights almost everywhere extended to all free males. However, women and slaves were still denied suffrage. Jackson also strongly advocated for direct voting of local and state officials, judges and presidential electors. In addition, reforms made it easier for the common man to vote, and the secret ballot became nearly universal.
Jackson felt that Congress represented the interests of the wealthy, and as leader of the common man it was necessary to increase the power of the presidency. Thus the Jacksonian democracy ushered in a rise in presidential power. To Jackson, the president was the only official to be elected by the entire country. This made the president the leader of the American democracy. Jackson increased the use of the veto, increased the power of the president to bend Congress to his will and put the president solely in charge of his cabinet by not asking the Senate to approve removal of members.
The Jacksonian democracy believed in national expansion, and Jackson endorsed a policy of removal of Native Americans to increase United States territory. In 1830, Jackson battled Congress to pass his Indian Removal Act, which enabled him to authorize removal of Native Americans to lands west of the Mississippi River. In particular, this act caused the relocation of thousands of Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws and others along the Trail of Tears, and American settlers began to pour into the former native lands. In the 1840s, expansion policies became enumerated as “Manifest Destiny,” a belief that the United States should extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts.
Economy and Banking
Jackson believed that the Constitution only gave the federal government limited means to manipulate the economy. As such, he largely adopted a hands-off economic approach. Jackson also protected trade tariffs in order to protect American manufacturing. These tariffs hurt the South as their economy depended on trade of natural resources to Europe. Jackson invoked the ire of the South by protecting the tariffs, but he eventually compromised during the 1832 Nullification Crisis. He also went to war with the national bank, the Second Bank of the United States. Jackson viewed the bank as a government monopoly and in direct conflict with his battles against the wealthy elite. In 1833, Jackson ordered the treasury secretary to withdraw federal funding of the Second Bank in direct opposition to Congress.
- College of Education University of Houston Digital History: Rise of Democratic Politics
- Public Broadcasting Service: Andrew Jackson: Good, Evil & The Presidency: The Power of the Presidency
- Public Broadcasting Service: Andrew Jackson: Good, Evil & The Presidency: The Veto
- Public Broadcasting Service: Andrew Jackson: Good, Evil & The Presidency: The Legislative Process
- Public Broadcasting Service: Andrew Jackson: Good, Evil & The Presidency: At the Pleasure of the President
- History Teaching Institute Ohio State University: Manifest Destiny and Westward Expansion
- Library of Congress: Nullification Proclamation