Before Andrew Jackson's 1828 campaign, American presidents never appealed to the average voter to win election. Often considered the first modern president, Jackson promoted his humble origins as proof that he understood the concerns of the people. As the figurehead of the Democratic Party, he attempted to unite the nation in an era of increasing political divide. The Jacksonian Democracy was to be one of “equality of opportunity,” where all people had access to the path to success. In reality, though the Democrats, from 1828 to 1850, expanded the vote, provided access to land in the West and resisted large economic interests, many of their policies adversely affected or ignored many people in the United States.
Much of the American population had no chance to enjoy the opportunities promised by the Jacksonian Democracy. Around 90 percent of all African Americans toiled as slaves in the Southern states. They held no rights as citizens, despite performing much of the labor that sustained the national economy. Rather than pushing the nation toward freeing the slaves, the Democratic Party supported the right for states and territories to choose whether to allow slavery, as well as the expansion of slavery into Western lands.
The Native Americans had secured a victory in the Supreme Court that seemingly guaranteed them certain lands. In the 1832 Worcester v. Georgia case, the court declared the Native Americans living in Georgia a separate nation entitled to its land inside the state. President Jackson refused to honor this decision, instead enforcing the 1830 Indian Removal Act. In 1838, the Cherokee remaining in Georgia were put on a forced march to Oklahoma on the infamous Trail of Tears. This removal led to the death of 4,000 of the 17,000 Cherokee who took the march.
Jacksonian Democracy promised, and delivered, to give the right to vote to more people. The Democrats worked to limit restrictions that kept the poor from voting. Previously, states required voters to earn a certain amount of property. Nevertheless, this expansion of the vote remained limited to white males. No women could vote. The right to vote also excluded most African American and Native American men, especially in the South.
The Democratic Party, throughout the 1830s and 1840s, promoted the expansion of the nation into Western lands. Many Americans considered the spread of the nation from coast-to-coast a God-given right, known as Manifest Destiny. Ardent proponents of expanding further into the West generally ignored the people already living there, including Mexicans and Native Americans. This push toward inhabiting the entire continental United States helped lead to the War with Mexico in 1846. After the defeat of Mexico in 1848, the United States controlled the Western territory from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
- The Frontier in American History; Frederick Jackson Turner, Ph.D.
- Fathers and Children: Andrew Jackson and the Subjugation of the American Indian; Michael Paul Rogin, Ph.D.
- PBS: Indian Removal
- American Constitutional Law; Otis Hammond Stephens and John M. Scheb, Ph.D.
- The Transformation of the American Democratic Republic; Stephen M. Krason, Ph.D.
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