Assessing Jacksonian Democracy

During the period from 1824 to 1840, the American political system came of age. Not only were more men eligible to vote, but an increasing percentage of the eligible were actually exercising their right to do so. Political parties, which the framers of the Constitution made no provision for and disdained, became an established fact of American life. Elements of the process by which presidents are chosen—the party convention and the party platform—were introduced. Even if the parties did not focus on the major questions of the day (most notably slavery), the campaigns they ran were geared to bring out as many people as possible to support a candidate.

Jackson probably viewed his two terms as president a success. He had resolved the problem of the Native American tribes east of the Mississippi River. The removal was nearing completion by the time he left office. He had forcefully met the challenge posed by nullification and, perhaps most important to him, had brought an end to the Second Bank of the United States. But the long‐term influence of Jackson was less in his specific policies and more in the way he carried them out. The Whig characterization of Jackson as “King Andrew I” contrasted sharply with the idea that he represented the common man, but more important, it demonstrated that the presidency had changed under him. In the nullification controversy, he made full use of the power granted him under the Constitution and discovered that the veto and the knowledge that a president would use it was an effective tool in shaping policy. Just as the Whigs and Democrats pioneered the techniques of modern two‐party politics, Jackson pointed the way toward the modern presidency.

The political system did not address the matter of equality outside the group of white males who were citizens of the United States. But movements calling for the abolition of slavery and for women's rights emerged before the middle of the century, while other reform programs addressed the social ills that came with an increasingly urban and industrial society.