Jacksonian Democracy

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Jacksonian Democracy was the political philosophy of the Second Party System in the United States in the 1820s to 1840s, especially the positions of President Andrew Jackson and his followers in the new Democratic Party. Historians coined the term to recognize Jackson's primary role, and to include both democracy (the rule of the people) and Democracy (a common name for the Democratic Party). The Jacksonians supported the expansion of slavery.


Jackson's Democratic Party and it philosophy was resisted by the rival Whig Party, led by Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. More broadly, the term refers to the period of the Second Party System (1824-1854) when Jacksonian philosophy was ascendant as well as the spirit of that era. It can be contrasted with the characteristics of Jeffersonian Democracy, which dominated the First Party System. The Jacksonian era saw a great increase of respect and power for the common man; before the era began the electorate had already been expanded to include all white male adult citizens,[1] but now they exercised decisive political power. Turnout rose as new campaign techniques were used to mass the party-as-army at the polls on election day, with the victor getting the "spoils" of lucrative public office.

Broadly, Jacksonian democracy, in contrast to the Jeffersonian era, promoted the strength of the executive branch and the presidency at the expense of Congressional power, while also seeking to broaden the public's participation in government. Jacksonians believed in enfranchising all white men, rather than just the propertied class, and supported the patronage system that enabled politicians to appoint their supporters into administrative offices, arguing it would reduce the power of elites and prevent aristocracies from emerging. They demanded elected (not appointed) judges and rewrote many state constitutions to reflect the new values. In national terms the Jacksonians favored geographical expansion, justifying it in terms of Manifest Destiny. There was usually a consensus among both Jacksonians and Whigs that battles over slavery should be avoided. The Jacksonian Era lasted roughly from Jackson's election until the slavery issue became dominant after 1850 and the American Civil War dramatically reshaped American politics and the Third Party System emerged. Historian Charles Sellers argued in The Market Revolution (1991) that the movement toward democracy was neutralized and overwhelmed by the coming of capitalism in what he called "The Market Revolution."

The philosophy


Jacksonian democracy comprised several principles:

Expanded suffrage
The Jacksonians believed that every white man should be able to vote -- and should be mobilized by the party to actually vote. By 1820, before Jackson, almost all the restriction regarding property ownership had been dropped.
Manifest Destiny
Jacksonians wanted new lands for new farms and talked about a "destiny" that Americans would settle the West all the way to the Pacific. President James K. Polk, a leading Jacksonian, achieved this result in 1845-46, acquiring Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Oregon Territory (modern Oregon, Washington State and Idaho). However one group of Free Soil Jacksonians, led by Martin Van Buren, however, argued for limitations on expansion to avoid the expansion of slavery. The Whigs generally opposed Manifest Destiny and expansion, saying the nation should build up its cities.
The spoils system was the policy of placing political supporters into appointed government offices, and rotating them out after 4 years so the next group could get their share. Patronage was not only the right, but also the duty of winners in political contests.
Strict construction of the Constitution
Like the Quid or Old Republican factions of the Jeffersonian Republicans, who strongly believed in states rights and wanted to keep the federal government weak, Jacksonians initially favored a federal government of limited powers. Jackson said that he would guard against "all encroachments upon the legitimate sphere of State sovereignty". However, when South Carolina tried to cancel ("nullify") the tariff, Jackson denounced the move and threatened to send in the army until South Carolina retreated.
No banks. The Jacksonians distrusted all banks, especially the "Monster", the Second Bank of the United States. Jackson did manage to shut it down. In the states most Jacksonians resisted laws favorable to banks, which were pushed by Whigs.
Laissez-faire economics
Some Jacksonians called for minimal government involvement in the economy, meaning no subsidies. The leader was William Leggett of the Loco-Foco movement in New York City in the 1830s.

The Market Revolution

In The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846 (1991), Charles Sellers argued that the greatest transformation of the first half of the nineteenth century—indeed, the defining event in American and even in world history—was a revolution from an agrarian to a capitalist society. “Establishing capitalist hegemony over economy, politics, and culture, the market revolution created ourselves and most of the world we know,” Sellers concluded. Howe (2007) makes three objections to Sellers’s thesis. First, the market revolution happened much earlier, in the eighteenth century. Second, it was not the tragedy of modernity replacing traditionalism that Sellers makes it out to be, because “most American family farmers welcomed the chance to buy and sell in larger markets,” and they were right to, since selling their crops made their lives better. Stuff was cheaper: a mattress that cost fifty dollars in 1815 (which meant that almost no one owned one) cost five in 1848 (and everyone slept better). Finally, retorts Howe, the revolution that really mattered was the “communications revolution”: the invention of the telegraph, the expansion of the postal system, improvements in printing technology, and the growth of the newspaper, magazine, and book-publishing industries. In a debate with Sellers, Howe asked. "What if people really were benefiting in certain ways from the expansion of the market and its culture? What if they espoused middle-class tastes or evangelical religion or (even) Whig politics for rational and defensible reasons? What if the market was not an actor (as Sellers makes it) but a resource, an instrumentality, something created by human beings as a means to their ends?" Sellers summarized Howe’s argument as "Market delivers eager self-improvers from stifling Jacksonian barbarism" as against his own summary, "Go-getter minority compels everybody else to play its competitive game of speedup and stretch-out or be run over."[2]


Election by the "common man"

John Quincy Adams was the first president ever to be partially elected by the common citizenry, as the 1824 Presidential election was the first in which all free white men without property could vote. Issues of social class have been much discussed by historians (Wilentz 1982).

The Anti-Masonic Party, an opponent of Jackson, introduced the national nominating conventions to select a party's presidential and vice presidential candidates, allowing more voter input.

Jackson, a hero of the War of 1812, was a rough-hewn, dueling frontiersman who rejected the norms of polite Eastern society.

Factions 1824–32

The legacy of Jacksonian Democracy.

The period 1824–32 was politically chaotic. The Federalist Party was dead. With no effective opposition, the old Jeffersonian Republican party withered away. Every state had numerous political factions, but they did not cross state lines. Political coalitions formed and dissolved, and politicians moved in and out of alliances.

Many former Democratic-Republicans supported Jackson; others, such as Henry Clay, opposed him. Most former Federalists, such as Daniel Webster, opposed Jackson, although some, like James Buchanan, supported him. In 1828, John Quincy Adams pulled together a network of factions called the National Republicans, but he was defeated by Jackson's coalition.

The system stabilized in 1832-34, as the National Republicans joined with other anti-Jacksonians, especially the Anti-Masonic Party, to form the Whig party. The Democrats and Whigs now battled it out nationally and in every state, with the Democrats have a slight edge before 1848, and after that a larger advantage so the Whigs seldom won.


Jackson fulfilled his promise of broadening the influence of the citizenry in government, although not without controversy over his methods.

Jacksonian policies included ending the bank of the United States, expanding westward, and removing American Indians from the Southeast. Jackson was denounced as a tyrant by Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. Jacksonian democracy had a lasting impact on allowing for more political participation from the average citizen, though Jacksonian democracy itself largely was taken over by the Copperheads and became the outsider faith, as practiced by William Jennings Bryan in the 1890s. The mainstream of politics, starting with the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln was the new Republican Party.

Jacksonian democracy was blamed for the economic Panic of 1837, which ruined the presidency of Martin Van Buren and led to the Whig victory in 1840.

Jackson created a system to clear out elected officials in government of an opposing party and replace them with his supporters as a reward for their electioneering. With Congress controlled by his enemies Jackson relied heavily on the power of the veto to block their moves.

Jacksonian Presidents

Martin Van Buren, Jackson's second vice president and the key organizer of the Democratic party, followed Jackson to the White House. Because the Democrats took the blame for the nationwide economic depression that followed the Panic of 1837, Van Buren was ousted by Whig William H. Harrison in 1840 in a campaign marked by very high turnout nationwide. The Whigs learned they could appeal to the average (or above average) voter successfully. Harrison died just 30 days into his term, and his vice president, John Tyler was an ex-Democrat who was expelled by the Whig Party for abandoning its principles. Tyler was succeeded by James Polk, a staunch Jacksonian. After the Mexican War, both parties were troubled by the slavery issue, and the Whigs collapsed in 1852 and vanished by 1854. They were replaced in the North by the new Republican party, formed in 1854.

External links


  • Altschuler, Glenn C. and Stuart M. Blumin, "Limits of Political Engagement in Antebellum America: A New Look at the Golden Age of Participatory Democracy," Journal of American History, 84 (Dec. 1997), 878-79. in JSTOR
  • Baker, Jean. Affairs of Party: The Political Culture of Northern Democrats in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (1983).
  • Benson, Lee. The Concept of Jacksonian Democracy: New York as a Test Case (1961). Rejects the economic determinism of Charles Beard and Frederick Jackson Turner; incorporates such Marxist elements as a belief in the science of history and the possibility of overarching explanatory theories for human behavior.
  • Brown, David. "Jeffersonian Ideology and the Second Party System." Historian 1999 62(1): 17-30. Issn: 0018-2370 Fulltext: Ebsco
  • Bugg Jr. James L. ed. Jacksonian Democracy: Myth or Reality? (1952), short essays online edition
  • Cave, Alfred A. Jacksonian Democracy and the Historians (1964)
  • Cole, Donald B. Martin Van Buren And The American Political System (1984)
  • Cole, Donald B. A Jackson Man: Amos Kendall and the Rise of American Democracy (2004) excerpt and text search
  • Cole, Donald B. Jacksonian Democracy in New Hampshire (1970), uses quantitative electoral data
  • Doutrich, Paul E. Shapers of the Great Debate on Jacksonian Democracy: A Biographical Dictionary. Greenwood, 2004. 360 pp.
  • Formisano, Ronald P. "Toward a Reorientation of Jacksonian Politics: A Review of the Literature, 1959-1975," The Journal of American History Vol. 63, No. 1 (Jun., 1976), pp. 42–65 in JSTOR
  • Formisano, Ronald P. "The Invention of the Ethnocultural Interpretation," The American Historical Review, Vol. 99, No. 2 (Apr., 1994), pp. 453-477 in JSTOR
  • Formisano, Ronald P. The Birth of Mass Political Parties: Michigan, 1827-1861 (1971), uses quantitative electoral data
  • Formisano, Ronald P. The Transformation of Political Culture: Massachusetts Parties, 1790s-1840s (1983), uses quantitative electoral data
  • Formisano, Ronald P., "The Party Period Revisited". The Journal of American History 86.1 (1999): Online through JSTOR
  • Formisano, Ronald P., "Political Character, Antipartyism, and the Second Party System," American Quarterly, 21 (Winter 1969), 683-709; in JSTOR
  • Formisano, Ronald P., "Deferential-Participant Politics: The Early Republic's Political Culture, 1789-1840," American Political Science Review, 68 (June 1974), 473-87. in JSTOR
  • Gienapp, William E. "The Myth of Class in Jacksonian America," Journal of Policy History 6 (1994): 232–59.
  • Hammond, Bray. Andrew Jackson's Battle with the "Money Power" (1958). ch 8, an excerpt from his Pulitzer-prize-winning Banks and Politics in America: From the Revolution to the Civil War (1954).
  • Hammond, Bray. "Jackson, Biddle, and the Bank of the United States" The Journal of Economic History Vol. 7, No. 1 (May, 1947), pp. 1–23 in JSTOR
  • Hammond, The history of political parties in the state of New-York (1850) history to 1840 from MOA Michigan
  • Hofstadter, Richard. The American Political Tradition (1948), chapter on Jackson
  • Hofstadter, Richard. "William Leggett, Spokesman of Jacksonian Democracy," Political Science Quarterly Vol. 58, No. 4 (Dec., 1943), pp. 581–594 in JSTOR
  • Hofstadter, Richard. The Idea of a Party System: The Rise of Legitimate Opposition in the United States, 1780-1840 (1969)
  • Holt, Michael F. The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War (1999), 1000 pp online edition
  • Holt, Michael F. Political Parties and American Political Development: From the Age of Jackson to the Age of Lincoln (1992)
  • Howe, Daniel Walker. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (2007), the most important book on the era; takes a pro-Whig, anti-Jackson approach excerpt and text search; Pulitzer prize
  • Howe, Daniel Walker. "The Evangelical Movement and Political Culture during the Second Party System," Journal of American History, 77 (March 1991), 1216-39. in JSTOR
  • Kearns, Daniel Francis. "Immigrant Catholics, the Market Revolution, and the Creation of Jacksonian Democracy." PhD dissertation U. of Kentucky 2003. 319 pp. Citation: DAI 2003 64(5): 1818-A. DA3092313 Abstract at ProQuest Dissertations & Theses
  • Kohl, Lawrence Frederick. The Politics of Individualism: Parties and the American Character in the Jacksonian Era (1989) online edition
  • Kruman, Marc W. "The Second Party System and the Transformation of Revolutionary Republicanism," Journal of the Early Republic, 12 (Winter 1992), 509-37. Online through JSTOR
  • Leonard, Gerald. The Invention of Party Politics: Federalism, Popular Sovereignty, and Constitutional Development in Jacksonian Illinois (2002). online edition
  • McCormick, Richard L. The Party Period and Public Policy: American Politics from the Age of Jackson to the Progressive Era (New York, 1986)
  • McCormick, Richard P. The Second American Party System: Party Formation in the Jacksonian Era (1966) influential state-by-state study
  • McCoy, Colin. "Democracy in Print: The Literature of Persuasion in Jacksonian America, 1815-1840." PhD dissertation U. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign 2001. 435 pp. DAI 2002 62(8): 2863-A. DA3023140 Fulltext: ProQuest Dissertations & Theses
  • Mayo, Edward L. "Republicanism, Antipartyism, and Jacksonian Party Politics: A View from the Nation's Capitol," American Quarterly, 31 (Spring 1979), 3-20. Online through JSTOR
  • Marshall, Lynn. "The Strange Stillbirth of the Whig Party," American Historical Review, 72 (Jan. 1967), 445-68. in JSTOR
  • Myers, Marvin. The Jacksonian Persuasion.- Politics and Belief (1957)
  • Pessen, Edward. Jacksonian America: Society, Personality, and Politics (1978)
  • Pessen, Edward, ed. The Many-Faceted Jacksonian Era: New Interpretations (1977). essays by scholars. online edition
  • Remini, Robert V. The Life of Andrew Jackson. Abridgment of Remini's 3-volume biography, (1998)
  • Remini, Robert V. Martin Van Buren and the Making of the Democratic Party (1959) online edition
  • Schlesinger, Arthur M. Jr. The Age of Jackson. (1945). Pulitzer Prize for History, intellectual history focused on Eastern labor spokesmen like William Leggett; downplays West. The book strongly endorsed liberal ideas and made Schlesinger famous
  • Sellers, Charles. The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846 (1991), influential reinterpretation excerpt and text search; online complete edition
  • Sellers, Charles. James K. Polk, Jacksonian, 1795-1843 (1987) online edition
  • Sellers, Charles. "Andrew Jackson Versus the Historians," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 49 (1958), 615-34, review of historiography in JSTOR
  • Shade, William G. “The Second Party System” in Paul Kleppner et al., Evolution of American Electoral Systems (1983) uses quantitative electoral data
  • Sharp, James Roger. The Jacksonians Versus the Banks: Politics in the States after the Panic of 1837 (1970). Uses quantitative electoral data
  • Silbey, Joel H. The American Political Nation, 1838-1893 (1991) online edition
  • Silbey, Joel H. Political Ideology and Voting Behavior in the Age of Jackson (1973)
  • Syrett, Harold C. Andrew Jackson: His Contribution to the American Tradition (1953) online edition
  • Taylor, George Rogers, ed. Jackson Versus Biddle: The Struggle over the Second Bank of the United States (1949), excerpts from primary and secondary sources online edition
  • Van Deusen, Glyndon G. The Jacksonian Era: 1828-1848 (1963) standard scholarly survey
  • Wallace, Michael . "Changing Concepts of Party in the United States: New York, 1815-1828," American Historical Review, 74 (Dec. 1968), 453-91. in JSTOR
  • Ward, John William; Andrew Jackson, Symbol for an Age (1962) online edition
  • Wilentz, Sean. "On Class and Politics in Jacksonian America" Reviews in American History, Vol. 10, No. 4, The Promise of American History: Progress and Prospects (Dec., 1982) pp. 45–63. [2]
  • Wilentz, Sean. The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (2005), highly detailed scholarly synthesis.
  • Wilson, Major L.; Space, Time, and Freedom: The Quest for Nationality and the Irrepressible Conflict, 1815-1861 (1974). Intellectual history of Whigs and Democrats online edition
  • Wilson, Major L."Republicanism and the Idea of Party in the Jacksonian Period," Journal of the Early Republic 8 (Winter 1988), pp. 419–442; in JSTOR

Primary sources


  1. Except in Rhode Island, which had a revolt called the Dorr War against franchise restrictions.
  2. See Jill Lepore, "Vast Designs: How America came of age," New Yorker (10-29-07) online at [1]

See also