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Jacksonian America


Jacksonian America is associated with democracy. It was, after all, during this age (1820s to 1830s) that the right to vote was dramatically expanded while the percentage of voter turnout soared. During this time, the two-party system was revived (Democrat versus Whig), national party conventions began, and the “penny press” newspapers, with their specific appeals to the interests of the “common man,” first influenced elections. Andrew Jackson was a popular choice for president—if not for what he did and was, then certainly for what he said and was thought to be. It was not surprising, then, that General Jackson, the most renowned American military commander since Washington, became President Jackson, and that President Jackson was reelected by an overwhelming majority, becoming the only two-term executive between Jefferson and Lincoln. Jackson symbolized what Americans perceived (or wished) themselves to be: independent, stubborn, even defiant. The Jacksonian image may have been a bit contrived, but it was a powerful one, and the voters had the feeling that his enemies were their enemies. After all, at different times during his long life he had fought the British, the Spanish, and Indians.

As the first president of the Democratic Party, Jackson did everything he could to realize his vision of democracy. He sought to tear down the citadels of elitism and concentrated wealth. He forcefully used the power of his office to limit both state and federal authorities from taking action that he believed would limit opportunity and expansion for his countrymen. But Jackson’s democratic principles were leavened by other, less attractive, early nineteenth-century beliefs and attitudes. Foremost, the privilege of democracy was exclusive to white adult American males. Jackson saw no contradiction in slavery in America—he owned more than 100—nor did he feel it was anything less than necessary that Native Americans be brutally cleared out of lands sought by white Americans, whatever the consequences. Yet Jackson’s popularity was such that he was able to see his loyal ally and hand-picked successor, Martin Van Buren, become the next president. During his single term, Van Buren tried to be faithful to Jackson’s policies, but the veteran New York politician was soon mired in a severe national economic depression—ironically one that was triggered by Jackson shortly before he left office. This leaves important questions to be considered: Did the expansion of democracy result in voters choosing leaders based more on policies and abilities or on personality and rhetoric? Was the larger electorate more likely now to choose their presidents based on the candidates’ popularity and the effectiveness of their political campaigns? If it was a combination of these things, what was the relative weight between these factors? The election of 1840 might provide at least a glimpse of an answer into these questions.


A thorough study of Chapter 9 should enable the student to understand:
1. Andrew Jackson’s philosophy of government and the impact of his use of presidential power

2. The issues of the Webster-Hayne debate and its impact on party politics during the Jacksonian Era

3. The nullification theory of John C. Calhoun, President Jackson’s reaction to it, and the consequences of the political fight over putting nullification into practice

4. Martin Van Buren’s supplanting of Calhoun as Jackson’s likely successor and the significance of this change

5. President Jackson’s motives and reasoning behind his Indian removal policy, its impact on the “Five Civilized Tribes,” and Jackson’s subsequent battles with individual states and the Supreme Court concerning Indian removal issues

6. The reasons for Jackson’s war on the Bank of the United States and the effects on the American financial system stemming from his successful defeat of a re-chartering of the Bank

7. The differences among John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, and Daniel Webster; why they came to constitute the Great Triumvirate; and why each of them failed to reach the White House

8. The causes of the Panic of 1837, the depth of the depression, and its impact on the presidency of Martin Van Buren

9. The differences, philosophical and practical, between Democrats and Whigs; the reasons for the Whig victory in 1840; and the effect of that election on future political campaigns and campaigning in general

10. The negotiations that led to the Webster-Ashburton Treaty and the importance of that treaty for English–American relations


1. How mass participation became the hallmark of the American political system

2. How Andrew Jackson came to be a symbol for his era

3. The growing tension between nationalism and states’ rights during the age of Jackson

4. The rise of the Whig Party as an alternative to Jackson and the Democrats

5. The ways in which Jacksonianism did—and did not—survive the presidency of Andrew Jackson


1. It has been argued that the age of Jackson should be called the age of egalitarianism. After reading the text, do you agree with this assertion? What evidence supports it? What does not?

2. Describe Jackson’s views on the power of both government and the presidency. How did he go about translating his views into action? What were the apparent contradictions between his ideals and his actions as president?

3. Was Andrew Jackson really the “president of the people” that he thought himself to be? What can you find in Jackson’s political career that would support his contention? What evidence can you find that contradicts it?

4. Discuss the careers of John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, and Daniel Webster, and explain why each failed to win the presidency.

5. What caused the split between Jackson and Calhoun? Assess the various causes and speculate on the significance of the split for both the South and the Democratic Party.

6. Why did relations between whites and Native Americans deteriorate during the Jackson presidency? Why did Jackson not consider including Indians in the United States? Could removal have been prevented? What alternatives were there to Jackson’s Indian removal policy? Why did he not follow them?

7. Explain Calhoun’s theory of nullification and his defense of it. Why did Jackson oppose putting it into practice? What does this opposition tell us about Jackson’s attitude toward political authority?

8. What economic and political conditions contributed to the Panic of 1837? What role did President Jackson play in bringing on this “panic”? How did his successor try to deal with it? Why did he fail to deal with it?

9. What factors contributed to the emergence of the “second party system”? Compare and contrast the philosophies, constituencies, and leadership of the Whigs and Democrats during the 1830s.

10. Why did William Henry Harrison win in 1840? What issues worked against him, and how did he exploit those same issues? How did Jackson’s presidency influence Harrison’s campaign? How was Harrison’s candidacy presented to the American people?

11. How did the campaign of 1840 set a new pattern for presidential elections? Did this pattern persist? Does it persist today? How did the “penny press” influence elections?

12. Analyze the presidencies of Martin Van Buren and John Tyler. Was one more successful than the other? Why or why not? What does the elevation of each to the presidency tell you about the nature of each major party?


1. Identity the tribal lands of the southern Indians.

2. Note the removal routes (including towns and forts).

3. Locate the reservations and the forts within them.


1. Why did the states involved want the Indians removed? Look at the location of the tribal lands and explain why the lands’ continued occupation by the Indians represented not only the loss to the states of valuable territory but might also threaten westward movement.

2. How did the land to which the Indians were removed differ from that on which they had lived? Were whites aware of the significance of the difference? What does this suggest about white attitudes toward the Indians?

3. What geographic features made it possible for the Seminoles (and some Cherokees) to resist removal?

4. Note the removal routes. What geographic features were considered in determining where the Indians would travel? Do you think this made the trek easier or more difficult?

5. Note the location of the forts in or near the Indian Territory. Why were they placed as they were? What does this indicate about American Indian policy?


These questions are based on the preceding map exercises. They are designed to test students’ knowledge of the geography of the area discussed in this chapter and of its historical development. Careful reading of the text will help students answer these questions.
1. Which states benefited directly from the removal of the Indians from the South? Which states benefited indirectly? Explain.

2. Why was there so little opposition to the expulsion of the Indians from the South? What in Americans’ attitudes toward and experience with the Indians created this situation?

3. How was Jackson able to generate such a broad base of support in so many different regions? How was he able to appeal to regional interests and at the same time avoid being considered a regional candidate?


Irving H. Bartlett, John C. Calhoun: A Biography (1993)

Howard Bodenhorn, A History of Banking in Antebellum America: Financial Markets and Economic Development in the Era of Nation-Building (2000)

Duane Champagne, Social Order and Political Change: Constitutional Governments Among the Cherokee, the Choctaw, the Chickasaw, and the Creek (1992)

Tony Freyer, Producers Versus Capitalists: Constitutional Conflicts in Antebellum America (1994)

Daniel Walker Howe, The Political Culture of the American Whigs (1979)

Michael Kammen, Spheres of Liberty: Changing Perceptions of Liberty in American Culture (1986)

John Mayfield, The New Nation 1800-1845 (1981)

William McLoughin, After the Trail of Tears (1993)

John Niven, Martin Van Buren: The Romantic Age of American Politics (1983)

Edward Pessen, Riches, Class, and Power Before the Civil War (1973)

Robert V. Remini, The Jacksonian Era (1989)

_____, The Life of Andrew Jackson (1988)

_____, Andrew Jackson and the Bank War (1967)

Alexander Saxton, The Rise and Fall of the White Republic: Class Politics and Mass Culture in Nineteenth-Century America (1990)

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 2 vols. (1835)

Harry L. Watson, Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America (1990)

For Internet resources, practice questions, references to additional books and films, and more, see this book’s Online Learning Center at

Brinkley 5e, IM, Ch 09 | of

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