Kathy Dai M. Galvin AP USH Period 1 Jacksonian Democracy DBQ The Jacksonian democracy of the 1820s-1830s is often associated with an expansion of the political influence, economic opportunities, and social equality available to “the common man,” a concept of the masses which President Andrew Jackson and his newly founded Democratic party came to represent. The new administration certainly saw gains for the majority; namely, public participation in government increased to unprecedented levels, and several economic decisions were made to favor the people over monopolies.
Beginning with their exaggerated portrayal of the “corrupt” 1824 election however, the Jacksonian democrats also left a legacy of substantial miscalculations in policies and acts of hypocrisy that conflicted with their claimed intents to promote and protect popular democracy. In particular, the dangerous implications of various political and economic policies, along with the deliberate disregard of social inequality, are aspects of the Jacksonian age that most clearly demonstrate discrepancies between Jacksonian ideals and realities.
The political field saw the first advances accredited to the Jacksonian democracy in the forms of extended suffrage and increased government participation, but it also involved many questionable federal acts that conflicted with the vision of political democracy. With Andrew Jackson’s election in 1828 introducing the first president from West of the Appalachians, the common men that Jackson championed naturally arose to the political stage as well.
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States all across the country adopted universal suffrage for white males on their own in the 1820s, but Jackson indeed bolstered the democratic trend through influence in newspapers, popular campaigning, and even a huge inauguration party at the White House open to the masses. In terms of campaigning however, the election of 1828 was the first in which the political parties directly attacked each other’s candidates through the press.
The increase in voter participation led to a negative pattern of smear campaigning that aimed more to sway the masses than convey the truth that a healthy democracy needs. Furthermore, Jackson’s presidency was characterized by use of the spoils system and the systematic rotation of officeholders. These stipulated that federal jobs were strictly given to loyal Democrats and that federal offices could be held for only one term. While these practices were meant to emphasize equal political opportunities and build party loyalty, they inherently promoted government corruption.
In fact, the power that Jackson wielded by trading federal positions for party loyalty both overextended his executive power and practiced the same corrupt bargaining of office that the Democrats accused John Quincy Adams of in the election of 1824. Thus, the Jacksonian democrats dealt clear detriments and hypocrisies to the system of popular democracy that they so strongly advocated, despite their encouragement of universal white male suffrage and participation in office.
Similarly, the Jacksonian age affected the economy both in accordance with the Jacksonian ideal of equal economic opportunity and against it; an executive branch act and a judicial branch decision were made with the intent of favoring the people, but substantial opposition highlighted the negative side effects that undermined the Jacksonian goal. President Jackson represented the executive branch with his bold move of vetoing a bill which proposed a rechartering of the Second Bank of the United States.
As conveyed by Jackson’s dramatic veto message on July 10, 1832 the democrats maintained that the national bank’s monopoly on trade catered too frequently to foreign and wealthy stockowners, thus posing a threat to the ideal of equal economic opportunity that they claimed to protect (B). The Jacksonians stuck with their vision of themselves in this sense, but opposing reactions to the veto pointed out that the attack on the bank was unnecessary and dangerous.
Daniel Webster’s reply to the veto correctly asserted that by raising the alarm about an encroachment of economic freedoms, the Democrats were really harming the stability of the economy needlessly (C). Webster’s analysis was proven accurate by the Panic of 1837, during which a bubble of inflation caused by the end of the national bank was abruptly burst, and several years of depression followed. The recession and unemployment caused indirectly by Jackson’s cancelation of the national bank did more harm to public economic opportunities than good, despite the Jacksonians’ passionate belief in the threat that the Bank posed.
Also in 1837 however, Chief Justice Roger Taney’s Supreme Court decision of Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge was a decisive victory for the Jacksonian ideal of equal economic opportunity. Taney interpreted a 1785 charter for a bridge on the Charles River loosely so that a new bridge could be erected across the same river, thus dispelling a monopoly and financially benefitting the people (H).
The Jacksonians evidently believed in their roles as the protectors of economic equality, but the results of the changes their administration made were again varied in agreement with their ideals. Finally, the Jacksonians most clearly drifted from their claimed ideals in the social sphere, as they actively neglected to guard the individual liberties of minority groups and women. The Jacksonian’s rosy call for extended suffrage only applied to white males, and the issue of slavery was deliberately avoided to prevent unwanted conflicts between the states.
In fact, the Jacksonian administration even put in place a “gag rule” in 1836 that allowed Congressmen to file away abolition petitions without discussion because the Acts and Resolutions of South Carolina threatened independent state action if SC did not receive national and sectional support in controlling its slaves (F). The slaves quickly lost any support from the proclaimed Jacksonian ideal of individual liberty when pitted against the preservation of the Union.
Likewise, the administration did not hesitate to pass the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which revealed that grandiose Jacksonian ideals yielded to the American desire for new land as well. The Act forced thousands of Native Americans to resettle in the West, with no regard for their personal liberties either. Even President Jackson outright denied to protect the ideal when he refused to enforce the Supreme Court’s decision on Worcester v. Georgia in 1832; John Marshall had ruled that the Cherokee had a right to their land, but Jackson would not stop the army from pushing the Cherokee out of Georgia regardless.
The only evidence of any agreement with the Jacksonians’ vision of guarding liberties is a romanticized painting of the Cherokee migration. The painted Cherokees appear comfortable, unified, and still dignified, implying that the painter must have either imagined this as the reality of the situation or painted an ideal version of the scene (G). The painting actually contrasts sharply with the chaos and tragedy of the Cherokees’ “trail of tears,” but it is important that the Jacksonian intent is present. Although the mixtures of realized and neglected Jacksonian ideals in the political and economic ields were more even, the Jacksonians’ goal to preserve individual liberty was not entirely lost in the social issues of the age. In conclusion, the Jacksonian democrats certainly believed in their roles as guardians of political democracy, equality of economic opportunity, and individual liberty, but their intentions were often misguided or secondary in the face of greater challenges. The few clear strides made by the Jacksonian age were interspersed with instances of failure in realizing its democratic ideals, particularly in the social sphere.
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