Jacksonian Democracy

Jacksonian Democracy


            In 1824, sectionalism was sweeping the nation.  The North, South, and West all wanted to control the Congress.  Control of the Congress would guarantee that any new laws passed would only benefit one section of the nation.  But the Congress was split.  As we have read before, the main differences were over tariffs, slavery, the sale of western lands, and Henry Clay’s American System that was building roads, bridges, and canals linking the west and north.  Since Congress was split, and no section could gain enough power in Congress to protect their section’s interests, the obvious answer was to control the presidency.

            In 1824, the presidential election was split between four candidates.  Sectionalism split the Democratic-Republican Party along sectionalist lines.  The North ran John Quincy Adams, son of the second president John Adams.  John Quincy Adams favored the north’s politics.  He favored the tariffs to pay for the American System and represented the goals of many industrialists.  The South’s candidate was William Crawford.  Crawford was from Georgia, a slave state.  Should Crawford be elected president, he would sign no bills into law that would hurt the south, or limit the expansion of slavery.  The Western states nominated two candidates.  Henry Clay, author of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the American System was the obvious choice for many westerners.  His compromises and American System helped the western states enormously.  The western states’ other candidate was Andrew Jackson of Tennessee.

            Andrew Jackson was a particularly good candidate for a number of reasons.  Jackson had become a hero in his battles against the Seminoles in Florida, and his actions, though against President Monroe’s wishes, had earned America Florida in the Adam’s-Onis Treaty of 1819.  Jackson won more military fame as the hero of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. 

            But what really made Jackson stand out was his heritage.  Jackson represented the “common man.”  Jackson was not, like other presidents before him, a rich northerner or Virginian.  Jackson was raised in poverty, his father dying shortly before his birth.  Jackson entered the militia at age thirteen to fight in the American Revolution.  Captured and imprisoned by the British Jackson showed courage even in captivity.  After being released, he lost his brother and mother to small pox that he himself almost died from after catching the disease in prison.    After the war, Jackson moved west, taught himself law, and became a successful lawyer and plantation owner. 

            To everyday citizens of America, Jackson embodied the American Dream.  Jackson was one of the people.  He had started with nothing, but though hard work had risen to be a success.  To the common people of America, he was one of them, and represented all their own hopes and dreams.

            When the votes were counted in the 1824 election, Jackson received the most popular votes.  However, Jackson failed to win a majority in the Electoral College.  According to the Constitution, when a tie occurs, or a majority in the Electoral College is not gained, the House of Representatives has to decide the winner.  Jackson was not liked by many members of the House of Representatives.  Jackson was too brash and rough around the edges for the elite of Washington, D.C.  Henry Clay, who had come in fourth in the election, gave his votes to John Quincy Adams, a man he admired, unlike Jackson who he detested.  This deal gave John Quincy Adams the presidency. 

            Jackson felt he had been robbed of the presidency due to Clay’s actions.  He immediately set out to win the election in 1828.  The election of 1828 was a bitterly contested election.  Rumors and stories, called mud-slinging, about both candidates made it one of America’s most scandalous elections.  Rumors about Jackson’s wife hurt the poor woman’s frail health.  Though Jackson would win the election of 1828, it was at the cost of his wife.  Jackson was inaugurated president in 1828, but he stood their alone, his wife died shortly before he arrived in Washington, D.C. to be sworn into office.

            One reason that Jackson was elected in 1828 was the increase in the numbers of people that could vote.  According to the Constitution, the states decide the voting qualifications for the people in their states.  By the 1830’s, most states had eliminated property ownership, or being rich enough to pay taxes, as a qualification to vote.  This meant that hundreds of thousands of “common men” were able to vote.  This extension of voting rights and democracy to more people is known as Jacksonian Democracy.  Jacksonian Democracy meant that more people than ever before could participate in the democratic experience of voting.  Also during this time, more judges and political officials were elected, rather than being selected by their state legislators.  This allowed for majority rule, or rule by the people who decided by voting, rather than rule by a few elite few.  Jackson’s election coincided with this rise in democracy.  When more of the “common people” were allowed to vote, they overwhelmingly voted for Jackson, who they considered one of their own.

            When Andrew Jackson took office, he immediately began to replace government officials with people who had supported him during his campaign.  This process of giving government jobs to people that supported a candidate’s campaign is called the spoils system.   

            Jackson next turned his attention to the National Bank.  Jackson distrusted the National Bank and believed it only benefited the rich.  To destroy it, he removed most of the federal funds, held in gold and silver, from the National Bank and placed the funds in state banks that Jackson’s opponents called “pet banks,” as it was Jackson’s pet project.

The state banks loaned out more paper money than they had in gold to back up the paper dollars.  The value of the dollar started to go down, as prices increased, a process known as inflation.  Soon, the banks began to go bankrupt and fail.  When people tried to get their money out of the banks in gold or silver, there was none to be had, the banks were empty.  The result was the Panic of 1837, a depression that spread across the country.  As people had no money, they could not buy factory made goods.  As a result, 90% of the factories in the North closed.  Without jobs, people in the North were unable to pay rent, or buy food.  Fortunately for Jackson, the depression did not happen until after he left office.  Instead of being blamed for it, his successor, Martin Van Buren would be blamed.


The Nullification Crisis


            The event that shaped Jackson’s presidency the most was the Nullification Crisis.  The southern states were paying the majority of the tariffs that were used to build the roads, bridges, and canals linking the west and north since they sold their cash crops to Europe, and bought their manufactured goods from Europe.  The south hated Henry Clay’s American System.  Why should they pay for something they received no benefit from? 

            In 1828, Congress raised tariffs again.  The south saw this as specifically designed to hurt their economy.  The south called the Tariff of 1828 the Tariff of Abominations, and abomination is something that is hateful and evil.  The new tariff hurt South Carolina especially hard.  Their economy was in a slump, and the citizens of the state were hard pressed to pay the tariffs when purchasing goods from overseas. 

            Andrew Jackson’s Vice-President was John C. Calhoun.  Earlier in his life, Calhoun had been a nationalist and supported the federal government.  But, now that his home state of South Carolina was effected, he changed his mind.  Calhoun became a supporter of state’s rights.  Calhoun believed that a state could nullify a federal law within the state’s borders, if the state thought the federal law hurt their state, in effect, declaring the law unconstitutional. 

            Many states, especially in the south, believed that they had the power to nullify a federal law.  Since the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions in 1798 that attempted to nullify Adam’s Alien and Sedition Acts, the states thought they could declare a federal law unconstitutional.  They were wrong.  Only the Supreme Court can declare a law unconstitutional.  However, South Carolina believed they could, and would try.

            In 1830, a debate was held in Congress.  Daniel Webster of Massachusetts and Robert Haynes argued the merits of states’ rights.  The Webster-Hayne Debate over state’s rights was printed in major newspapers and the readers of the nations began to take sides on the issue.  Daniel Webster argued that the states had no power to declare a federal law unconstitutional.  Hayne, on the other hand, argued that the states had to have sovereignty over the federal government to protect the rights of the states.  The debate did not settle the issue; it only fanned the flames of states’ rights in people’s minds and divided the nation. 

            Later that year, Andrew Jackson and his vice-president, John C. Calhoun met at a birthday party to honor Thomas Jefferson.  Jackson had not made any statements about his thoughts on state’s rights.  The nation had no idea where its president stood on the issue.  That all changed at Jefferson’s birthday celebration.  In what came to be called the “Clash of Toasts,” Jackson stood and made a toast.  He made it clear that he believed that the federal government’s law was supreme, and that the states had no right to nullify a federal law.  In response, Calhoun stood and replied that the federal law was not supreme, but subject to the will of the states.  Now, with even the president and vice-president were at odds over the issue of states’ rights.  It showed how divided the nation was over the issue.

            The Nullification Crisis began in 1832.  In that year, South Carolina’s state legislature passed a law nullifying the Tariff of Abominations.  Furthermore, South Carolina began to build up its militia to protect itself should the United States Army try to force it to pay the Tariff of Abominations.  The South Carolina legislature went so far as to threaten to secede, or withdraw, from the United States. 

            President Andrew Jackson was not about to allow the state of South Carolina to secede from the union, nor was he going to let a state chose to nullify any federal law.  Jackson had the Congress pass the Force Bill.  The Force Bill stated that the United States would use the military to force South Carolina, or any other state, to pay the tariffs and to obey the laws of the United States.  The Force Bill could also be used to keep a state from seceding from the union. 

            South Carolina refused to back down.  It looked like war might break out in 1832. Fortunately, Henry Clay, author of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the American System, offered a solution.  Clay proposed the Compromise Tariff Act of 1833.  The Compromise Tariff Act of 1833 lowered the tariff that South Carolina and the other southern states had to pay.  This was enough of a compromise ease tensions.  South Carolina backed down, and the Nullification Crisis was over.  There would be no war in 1833.  As a parting shot, however, the South Carolina legislature passed a state law nullifying the Force Bill!  Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, South Carolina paid their lower tariffs, and war was averted. 

The Trail of Tears

During Jackson’s presidency, many Americans were moving west in search of farm lands and opportunities.  However, not all of the land of the east was open to settlement.  Many Indian tribes still held desirable lands east of the Mississippi river.  Settlers wanted this land for themselves.

            Many of the Indian tribes had tried to adopt the ways of the white settlers.  Tribes like the Cherokees adopted the American style of dress, lived in homes that looked like American homes, farmed and ranched just like the white settlers, and even bought slaves and grew cotton.  The Cherokees even invented their own written language, printed newspapers and books, and opened up schools on their lands.  However, to many white settlers, this did not matter.  They still saw the Indians as barbarians, and wanted the Indian lands for themselves.

            Jackson had fought the several Indian tribes in the Seminole Wars as a general.  He believed that the Indians should be moved off the lands east of the Mississippi River, and that white settlers should settle the Indian lands there.  In 1830, Jackson had the Congress pass the Indian Removal Act.  The Indian Removal Act of 1830 stated that all Indians living east of the Mississippi River were to be forcibly moved to the Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River, in what is now Oklahoma, and parts of Kansas.

            Some tribes tried to resist this forced eviction of them from their ancestral homelands.  When the Indians took up arms against the eviction, the army was called out to force them to move west.  The Cherokee tribe took the matter to the Supreme Court.  Gold had been found on their lands, and miners wanted the gold for themselves.  Other settlers just wanted the Cherokees out so they could farm the lands.  Chief Justice John Marshall decided in favor of the Cherokee.  He stated that the state of Georgia had no right to evict the Cherokees from their lands.  Unfortunately, President Jackson disagreed.  As president, Jackson controlled the military, and Jackson used the military to evict the Cherokees as well.

            This forced migration of all the Indian tribes east of the Mississippi to the Indian Territory is known as the Trail of Tears.  The Trail of Tears was brutal.  Indians were marched through the winter of 1838-39 without adequate food or clothing.  Along the way, they were given blankets by the army.  The blankets were from a small pox hospital, and thousands died of the disease.  In all, roughly 125,000 Indians were moved to the Indian Territory.  Many died along the trail.  For example, of the 15,000 Cherokees moved west, over 4,000 died along the trail.