In the U.S. election of 1824, Andrew Jackson received the highest number of votes, but not a majority, sending the election to Congress. Speaker of the House Henry Clay, however, ensured that second-place finisher John Quincy Adams would win the Congressional vote in exchange for a cabinet position. Jackson used this incident, known as the "Corrupt Bargain," to rally the common people, ensuring not only his election four years later, but also launching an era known as Jacksonian Democracy, characterized by more democratic positions on voting, economics and patronage.
Democrats and Whigs
Jackson's new political party, founded with the help of his vice president, Martin Van Buren, was called the Democrats. In response, Henry Clay founded the Whig Party, which would oppose the Democrats on many significant issues throughout the Jacksonian Era. The Whigs in many ways were the intellectual successors of the Federalist Party, and in particular espoused the economic ideas of George Washington's Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. The Democrats, by contrast, had a very new agenda.
The primary characteristic of the Jacksonian Democratic period was the expansion of suffrage, or voting rights. Prior to Andrew Jackson, only men of with property were allowed to vote in an irregular system where requirements differed from state to state. Under President Jackson, suffrage was gradually expanded to include all white men, not just those with property. This goal reflected the new ethos of Jackson's Democratic Party, which emphasized "the people" as opposed to the elite.
The National Bank
Another major characteristic of Jacksonian democracy was its opposition to a national bank. Alexander Hamilton had helped create a national bank and an economic system based on deficit spending. This system benefited wealthy investors who could lend money to the national government. This economic system remained in place until Jackson dismantled the national bank on the basis that it benefited wealthy investors over "the people," once again reflecting the democratic ethos of the Jacksonian Era.
The Spoils System
Unlike his predecessors, Jackson rewarded party loyalty by giving his supporters government jobs, regardless of their qualifications, rather than reserving them for the elite. Though this "spoils system" did result in a large amount of unqualified government employees, it once again reflected Jackson's democratic and popular values. The issue of patronage would become a significant electoral issue after the Civil War and would even lead to the assassination of President James Garfield.
Jacksonian democracy had its limits. Universal suffrage only applied to white men, reflecting a racist undercurrent in the politics, as did westward expansion at the expense of Native American populations, many of whom Jackson forcibly relocated. Jackson also supported slavery, an issue which forced Democratic Party co-founder Martin Van Buren to split off and create the anti-slavery Free Soil Party, which eventually became the Republican Party and helped elect abolitionist Abraham Lincoln in 1860.