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Jacksonian Democracy's Influence on Democracy

by Shock

Democracy is defined as “a form of government in which control resides in the people and is given directly to them or representative officials”. It is an idea that has been constantly reformed in America over the past 225 years. Reform started in the Jefferson Administration (1801 – 1809), where Thomas Jefferson experimented with different ideas based on his interpretation of democracy as defined by the Constitution. Jefferson’s view of democracy involved public participation in political affairs and making the government serve the interests of the people. No other president shared quite the same interpretations as Jefferson until Andrew Jackson took office. Christened “The People’s President”, Andrew Jackson played a pivotal role in opening up the government to the common man. During the Jackson Administration (1829 – 1837), his viewpoints and ideals constituted the founding of Jacksonian Democracy, which would guide the country’s leaders until about 1850, influencing not only his fellow Democrats, but also the future Whig Party. Through his economic and expansionist policy, Andrew Jackson greatly expedited the development of democracy by parlaying off the public’s political apathy brought on by previous administrations and thus brought the people back into democracy.

Jackson very much supported the public participation in the government affairs. He felt government jobs did not necessarily have to be run by the educated. In fact, his “Kitchen Cabinet”, composed of his close friends, was more often a factor in decisions than the Presidential Cabinet. Oftentimes, the only members of the government were the rich, who could afford to campaign, pay for lodging and similar expenses. As a result of the input of the Kitchen Cabinet, his economic policies often were beneficial to the common man.

Jackson displayed the input given to him by his friends in his multiple acts and bills. A notable one is the decision in the nullification controversy that arose during his tenure. Former President John Q. Adams had signed a bill increasing the tariffs on imported and exported goods. The adolescent industries were no longer merely infants; they needed increased protection from foreign competition and demand higher tariffs. Essentially, the South had to pay more for their imported manufactured goods from New England. Jackson, a native Southerner and slaveholder, knew exactly what the South’s best interests were. But, since his decisions affected the whole country, he had to keep in mind the Northerner’s interests as well. In response, Jackson proposed that the duties gained from this tariff would be distributed to the states evenly and also wanted to lower the sky-high tariff. Even during his early years as President, Jackson had the people’s interests at heart. It was apparent under Jacksonian Democracy that economic opportunities were ever present. In order to create these opportunities, Jackson wanted to eliminate the National Bank and make starting business capital available to all Americans.

The Bank was extremely controversial. It already had led to the Panic of 1819 and was viewed as an outlet for the extremely wealthy. Bearing in mind the interests of the states and the peoples in them, Jackson abolished the Bank in 1832 and placed all the money in state banks. Additionally, Jackson issued the Specie Circular and Deposit Act in order to control the conniving capitalists who fueled on this speculative economy by routinely withdrawing large sums of money. The Deposit Act increased the number of deposit banks and loosened federal control over them. The Specie Circular required all lands to be bought in specie, which were gold and silver pieces.

Had these two bills not been passed, it is very likely that the United States may have remained in a speculative economy for quite some time. A speculative economy is an economy where paper money has no set values and fluctuates with the successes and failures of the overseas and internal markets. Factory owners would receive most of the profits and employees would have next to nothing. This might have caused the government to be swayed by the very wealthy.

Consequently, if the rich swayed the government, then all citizens would not get their fair say. In effect, democracy would have died and plutocracy would have ruled the United States. A plutocracy would have in essence destroyed everything the United States, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson had been working for, a solid foundation of democracy.

Much like Jefferson, Jackson believed the government “should cater to the interests of the people”. Thanks in part to the Kitchen Cabinet’s advice, he often heard the average American’s point of view on several key issues. Jackson was also very adept at assessing the needs of the American public. Seeing that westward expansion was inevitable, Jackson did nothing to hinder the process. If anything, Jackson fostered the trail westward. He started the westward push by issuing an Indian Removal Act in 1830, which called for the removal of the Five Civilized Tribes (the Chippewa, Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw Indians) to reservations in modern-day Oklahoma. With the Indians out of the way, United States citizens were free to go as far west as they chose. Southerners were always on the move because of the rise of King Cotton and his soil-depleting effects, and Northerners often moved west to try to start a new way of life because of factory abuse or unemployment. The people were on the move, and Jackson was doing his best to accommodate their needs. Westward expansion also altered the economic situation. Since the National Bank was done away with, capitalists took out bundles of money and bought up large tracts of western land. These speculators often sold their land to farmers at inflated prices. Since Jackson dissolved the National Bank, he saw states were issuing too much paper money and not having the specie to back up their bank notes. In addition, “wildcat banks” were appearing everywhere. These banks would pop up for a short while, lend money that they never originally had, get repaid, and disappear forever. They also did not require the use of collateral, making them extremely popular. In order to prevent these banks from making money, Jackson issued the Specie Circular in order to make sure land was purchased in hard money. This intricate web of economics and expansion made Jacksonian Democracy intriguing and highly effective.

Jackson’s policies were so effective that they continued to influence leaders well beyond his tenure. When the Whig Party arose, they often targeted issues left behind by Jackson, such as the absence of a National Bank, which led to a return of the two-party system. The two-party system continues to remain in effect today, with the Republicans and Democrats leading the charge. In retrospect, the United States might have lagged behind were it not for the issues that stemmed from Jacksonian Democracy. Indeed, Andrew Jackson was “The People’s President”. He is a role model for this generation’s presidents by not only incorporating his ideas into the issues that arise in our time but also by making sure that the fundamental element of democracy does not go unheard: the people.

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