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Friday, September 16, 2011

Jacksonian Democrats viewed themselves as the guardians of the United States Constitution, political democracy, individual liberty, and equality of economic opportunity.

After the Battle of New Orleans, Andrew Jackson (“Old Hickory”) first became publicly recognized as a war hero and an Indian fighter.  Very few people, if any, probably predicted he would one day become the president of the United States; but he did!  In the election of 1828, Jackson campaigned as an authentic man of the people and was elected president by a landslide.  During the campaign, Jacksonians created a new political party—the Democrats, the first modern one created, that supported Jackson and his run for office.  Upon Jackson entering office, America saw the birth of a new era of mass democracy.  Jacksonian Democrats viewed themselves as the guardians of the United States Constitution, political democracy, individual liberty, and equality of economic opportunity.  This was true to an extent, but Jackson and his followers did have some flaws.   
   
    When it comes to the Unites States Constitution, Jackson attempted to act as a guardian; but he only protected its content when it benefited his popularity or ran parallel with his stances on governmental issues.  Jackson was most definitely disappointed with his vice president, John Calhoun, when he emerged as the leader of the states’ rights uprising in South Carolina.  As outlined in document F, they were ready and willing to deny enforcement of any federal law or the upholding of any constitutional right that negatively affected their state.  Most Jacksonians denounced South Carolina’s demand for the right to nullify federal laws as treasonous.  When South Carolina mentioned nullification of the “tariff of abominations,” Jackson tried to appease the Southerners, by loosening the tariff so as to make it more favorable for the South, in order to avoid their future use of nullification.  This illustrated his attempt to uphold the federal powers outlined in the constitution and prevent individual states from claiming rights not granted to them.  In addition, Jackson followed strict construction of the constitution when he vetoed a major internal improvements bill in 1830, denying federal funds for the building of Maysville Road in Kentucky.  But when it came to Indian removal and the “killing” of the Bank of the United States, Jackson and his followers disregarded the constitution.  Jacksonians were strongly in favor of the speedy removal of all Indians to reservations west of the Mississippi.  The constitution states that dealing with Indian relations is a responsibility of the federal government; however, when Southern states began removing the Indians with their own “state sponsored” programs, Jackson failed to halt these actions or punish the state administrations for their actions.  He even overlooked Georgia’s defiance of the Supreme Court decision in Worcester vs. Georgia that denied state jurisdiction over tribal land.  The states not only went against the Constitution, they also violated some specific treaties.  The Bank of the United States was a chartered monopoly, and was therefore protected by the constitution because it upheld the validity of a contract/charter.  As shown in document B, Jackson’s veto (of the Bank of the United State’s recharter request) message, Jackson claimed that the Bank charter, which was previously designated constitutional by Congress, was not compatible with the U.S. constitution.  For this reason, along with a petty personal feud with Bank president Biddle, Jackson “killed” the Bank by having his new secretary of treasury Roger B. Taney remove federal funds and place them in state “pet banks,” leading to the deterioration and demise of the Bank.  As Daniel Webster states in Document C, Jackson went way beyond the executive branch’s constitutionally granted powers.

    Jacksonians also had some achievements and some failures in their attempt to stabilize political democracy in the United States.  Jacksonians greatly encouraged total white male suffrage; and Jackson was a strong advocate for removing land ownership restrictions.  He also encouraged the presence of a two-party system.  He felt this system better incorporated public opinion into government policy because each party had to compete for public support by satisfying their wants and needs.  In fact, he was the foundation for the formation of the modern Democratic Party.  British visitor to the United States Harriet Martineau described this in Document D (Society in America), “I had witnessed the controversies between candidates for office on some difficult subjects, of which the people were to be the judges.”  Furthermore, when Jackson first entered office, he used the “spoils system,” or rotation of major governmental officeholders, as a legitimate use of political democracy.  He supported his veto of the Bank charter, although unconstitutional, by pointing out that the Bank directors were not chosen democratically.  Instead, as Document B (paragraph 3) illustrates, the government chose five directors and the a few, wealthy citizen stockholders chose the remaining 25.  These directors were obviously not chosen in a democratic manner; and when Jackson “killed” the Bank, he also got rid of this undemocratic election process.  Yes, Jackson did make sure to protect white male suffrage, but rather than conferring with the popularly elected officials, he listened mainly to the advice of close friends and unofficial advisers, also known as his “Kitchen Cabinet,” including Amos Kendall and Francis P. Blair.  This almost defeated the purpose of popular elections.  Although he protected political democracy in the above manners, Jackson failed to grant everyone the right of suffrage, which a truly democratic president would do.  As a whole, Jacksonians were quite racist and detested both Indians and black, viewing them as inferior to the white man.  Indians were denied completely of the right to vote in national elections.  African Americans could not cast their own votes, but they did count as three-fifths of a vote for whomever their owner voted for.  Furthermore, white women couldn’t even vote for a candidate.  While Jackson did encourage the democracy friendly two-party system, he did not really like or accept the competitive aspect of the system and often sought revenge when made out to be flawed.  When Jacksonians supported a high tariff to swing critical votes in Jackson’s direction, Southerners became angered with the substantial increase in duties and the complex plot basically backfired.  This was also an example of how special-interest groups achieved their goals in democratic politics by logrolling, or a process of trading votes through legislative bargaining, just another way Jacksonians failed to protect or respect political democracy in the United States.

    When it comes to protecting individual liberties, Jacksonians did a somewhat adequate job with the average white male but, once again, overlooked the other races.  As aforementioned, Jacksonians were quite racists, especially when it came to Indians.  They wanted the quick, immediate relocation of all Indians occupying eastern lands to west of the Mississippi River.  When states began moving Indians themselves, Jackson endorsed their actions because he felt Indians were children when they listened to the white man’s request and savage beasts when they resisted.  Jacksonians also believed that Indians were an economic and expansion roadblock.  Obviously feeling that Indians were inferior to the whites, Jackson denied the Indians of all their freedoms and independency.  Jacksonians in Congress introduces an Indian removal bill.  Opponents defended the tribes’ rights, especially the Cherokees who were quite civilized and willing to adapt to the white man’s lifestyle as to not interrupt the country’s people or progress.  Even after his opponents claimed the he had disobeyed the Constitution by removing federal protection from southeastern tribes, Jackson and supporters held strong against humanitarian and constitutional objections.  The bill passed the House and Senate by a narrow margin.  The Indians’ land was basically stolen right out from under their feet. When Cherokees refused to leave in 1833, Jackson used military pressure to force them into marching to Oklahoma.  The Trail of Tears, illustrated in Document G, took the lives of almost 4000 Cherokees, exposing the prejudice and greediness of Jacksonian democracy.  Jackson’s killing of the Bank also demonstrates his damage to personal liberties, in this case, the wealthy class.  In Document C, Daniel Webster voices his opinion on the issue, “It raises a cry that liberty is in danger…It manifestly seeks to inflame the poor against the rich; it wantonly attacks whole classes of people, for the purpose of turning against them the prejudices and the resentments of the other classes.”  This is very true, for by killing the bank, Jackson also economically hurt the stockholders.  Jackson took away these men’s liberties simply because they were wealthy; who, in Document B, he inappropriately labeled “irresponsible to the people.”  The angry response of the citizens to laws dealing with individual liberties is reflected through the riots in eastern cities during the 1830s.  Philip Hone describes the insignificance of the causes for these arguments in The Diary of Philip Hone, “…hostility to the blacks and an indiscriminate persecution of all whose skins were darker than those of their enlightened fellow citizens…”  If Jackson would have initiated a chain of legislation that would have gradually freed all slaves, these riots could have been prevented.  Southerners would have been angry, but the forceful, militarily directed, orderly freeing of all slaves would have most likely solved more problems than it would create; yet, Jackson did not take any action to free the slaves.  This is another example of how Jackson failed to grant everyone in America with individual liberties. 

    The final major claim of the Jacksonians was that they were guardians of equal economic opportunity.  This was somewhat true, just like their claim to protection of individual liberties.  When Jackson was running for president of the United States, the major campaign theme was that he was a self-made man of the people.  He was from a backwoods upbringing, was a military hero, was an Indian fighter, and had a lack of education.  When Jackson unconstitutionally killed the Bank, he claimed in his veto message (Document B) to have done it partially because it only benefited the small richest class in America.  This was true, and by killing the Bank, Jackson did spread equal economic opportunity to the lower classes by taking away special privileges from the wealthiest class.  In Harriet Martineau’s Society in America, she recalls “the absence of poverty, of gross ignorance, of all servility, of all insolence” and that “every man in the towns an independent citizen; every man in the country a landowner” on her visit to America.  This definitely shows the new and widened equal economic opportunity in the United States that Jacksonians helped to bring about and guarded.  As shown in Document H, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (a major Jacksonian) felt that the Supreme Court case of Charles River Bridge vs. Warren Bridge in 1837 should favor equal economic opportunity.  He recognized the charter granted to the proprietors of the Charles River bridge in 1785, but he also emphasized that “there is no exclusive privilege given to them over the waters of Charles River, above or below their bridge; no right to erect another bridge themselves, nor prevent other persons from erecting one…”  This declaration really showed that Jacksonians supported equal economic opportunity.  On the other hand, Document A, “The Working Men’s Declaration of Independence,” shows some men’s belief that the government was not promoting equal economic opportunity.  This document was written by the average to lower class citizens, or the workingmen party, and reminded the federal government of the existing poor working conditions, the few benefits and suffering of employees, and the oppression and degradation of one class of society for the benefit of another.  The document reminds the government that “‘it is their right, it is their duty,’ to use every constitutional mean to reform the abuses of such a government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”  The governmental officers have obviously failed in some way when the citizens of their own country have to remind them to protect equal economic opportunity.

    Jacksonian Democrats introduced a new era of democracy to America throughout the 1820s and 1830s.  They believed in the strength of the people of the United States and made a genuine attempt to protect United States Constitution, political democracy, individual liberty, and equality of economic opportunity.  They did achieve this to some extent, but they did have quite a few flaws, including: the unconstitutional “killing” of the bank, logrolling, extreme racism, and a few others.  Flaws like these are not unique to the Jacksonian administration and their supporters though, not one presidential administration in the history of America was perfect.

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