The election of 1828 is viewed by many as a revolution. Just as the French Revolution marked the end of aristocratic rule and the ascent of the lower classes, the election of Andrew Jackson as the seventh president of the United States likewise marked the end of the aristocratic “Virginia Dynasty” and the ascent of the common man. While Jackson was a hero of the people, having routed the British at the Battle of New Orleans and having clawed his way from poverty to wealth, he was elected primarily because his followers believed he stood for certain ideals.
The Jacksonian Democrats were self-styled guardians of the United States Constitution, political democracy, individual liberty, and equality of economic opportunity. As a strict constitutional constructionist, Jackson indeed guarded what he considered the spirit of the constitution. This is borne out in his handling of South Carolina’s Nullification Crisis. By passing the “force bill,” Jackson made a statement that the position of John C. Calhoun and his home state was unconstitutional, and that he, as president, was prepared to back his ideals with force if necessary.
Jackson further advanced his strict constructionist position through his handling of the “Bank War. ” Nowhere in Article I, section 8 of the Constitution is the authority to create a national bank given to congress. By allowing Roger B. Taney to assist in withdrawing the federal treasury from the Bank of the U. S. and subsequently depositing the funds into regional “pet banks,” Jackson effectively disassembled what he viewed as a “monopoly of the foreign and domestic exchange” which was not “compatible with justice, with sound policy, or with the Constitution of our country. (B) Jackson’s position on the Bank of the United States also illustrates his commitment to political democracy. The Bank re-charter of 1832, though designed by Webster and Clay to embarrass Jackson publicly, backfired on the opponent Whigs. In his bank veto message of 1832, he pointed out the dangers of control of the institution by foreigners and the American money-elite. After all, Jackson noted, “[i]s there not danger to our liberty and independence in a bank that in its nature has so little to bind it to our country”? B) This grassroots commitment resulted in a surge in reform movements throughout the nation. The Working Men’s Party, for example, espoused the enlightenment philosophy of the Declaration of Independence in its belief that “all men are created equal. ”(A) Harriet Martineau, a social observer, was indeed shocked at the absurdity of the debate “’whether the people should be encouraged to govern themselves, or whether the wise should save them from themselves. ’” Her amazement stemmed from the fact that she had observed “every man in the towns an independent citizen; every man in the country a landowner. (D) Political democracy, after all, had swept the nation. Just as his bank veto message had made apparent his support of political democracy, it also established Jackson as a champion of individual liberty; still, it must be made clear, that the only individuals who were beneficiaries of liberty were, in fact, white male “citizens. ” The painting “The Trail of Tears” serves as a painful reminder of Jackson’s prejudiced policy of Indian Removal and the Cherokee Nation v. Georgia and Worcester v. Georgia cases. G) Ironically, Jackson’s reputation as a hero and champion of the people stems, in part, from his legendary Indian battles such as Horseshoe Bend and those with Chief Osceola and the Seminole nation. The Seneca Falls convention, while accomplishing little in the way of reform, sadly points out the inequity which existed for American women. Philip Hone, a member of the opposition party, the Whigs, points out the inequality of immigrants. He recorded in his diary “the disgraceful scene which commenced the warfare….
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A band of Irishmen of the lowest class came out…armed with clubs, and commenced a savage attack upon all…. ”(E) Perhaps the most tragic disgrace of all—the enslavement African Americans—is pointed out by the Acts and Resolutions of South Carolina. The legislature of South Carolina requested that federal laws be passed to make it illegal to print or distribute material which had the “tendency to excite the slaves of the southern states to insurrection and revolt. (F) The final ideal of which Jacksonian Democrats considered themselves champions was equality of economic opportunity. Jackson’s veto of the Bank Bill vividly illustrates this point. “It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. ”(B) While Daniel Webster, a Whig opponent, publicly denounced Jackson’s veto as “executive pretension,”© Jackson firmly believed “that great evils to our country and its institutions might flow from such a concentration of power in the hands of a few men irresponsible to the people. (B) Jacksonian commitment to equality of economic opportunity is further espoused in the opinion of Jackson’s Supreme Court appointee, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, in the Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge case. While Jackson’s arch-nemesis John Marshall had cleared the way for competition in Gibbons v. Ogden, Taney pointed out in characteristic Jacksonian fashion, that charters, like the Constitution, must be interpreted strictly. “There is no exclusive privilege given to them over the waters of Charles River…. (H) Here, surely, is commitment to equal economic opportunity. So powerful was the figure Andrew Jackson that an entire era of American history bears his name. His administration marks a fundamental paradigm shift in American ideals. Despite his opponent’s branding him a tyrant and labeling him with such unflattering monikers as “King Andrew,” President Jackson left an indelible mark on history as a champion of the U. S. Constitution, defender of political democracy and—to some extent—personal liberty, and equality of economic opportunity.
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