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Answer the following question in essay format. It is to be typed, double spaced, 12 point Times New Roman font, 1 1/4 margins and three complete pages. We have ended our class in 1865 at the end of the Civil War, a bloody conflict fought to maintain the union of the United States. Although slavery is perhaps the most divisive issue that has confronted the nation, it is not the only issue that has divided the nation. Please discuss the many issues that have divided the nation dating back to the first arrival of Europeans in 1492. Please give examples, along with a brief explanation of divisions in the colonies and the United States based on race, class, gender and region. Remember, this is comprehensive and should include material from the entire quarter9
JACKSONIAN
AMERICA
LOOKING AHEAD
1. How did the electorate expand during the Jacksonian era, and what
were the limits of that expansion?
2. What events fed the growing tension between nationalism and states’
rights, and what were the arguments on both sides of that issue?
3. What was the Second Party System, and how did its emergence and
rise change national politics?
THE VERDICT OF THE PEOPLE (1855),
BY GEORGE CALEB BINGHAM This
scene of an election-day gathering is peopled
almost entirely by white men. Women and African
Americans were barred from voting, but political
rights expanded substantially in the 1830s and
1840s among white males. (© Courtesy of The Saint
Louis Art Museum)
SETTING THE STAGE
DURING THE YEARS OF ECONOMIC AND TERRITORIAL expansion in the early
nineteenth century, Americans pondered the future of their democracy. Some feared that the nation’s rapid
growth would produce social chaos and insisted that the country’s first priority must be to establish order and a
clear system of authority. Others argued that the greatest danger facing the nation was privilege and that
society’s goal should be to eliminate the favored status of powerful elites and make opportunity more widely
available. Advocates of this latter vision won control of the federal government in 1829 with the inauguration of
Andrew Jackson.
The “democratization” of government over which Andrew Jackson presided was accompanied by a lofty
rhetoric of equality and aroused the excitement of working people. But Jackson and his followers were not
egalitarians. They accepted economic inequality and social gradation. Jackson himself was a frontier aristocrat,
and most of those who served him were people of wealth and standing. They were not, however, usually
aristocrats by birth. They had, they believed, risen to prominence on the basis of their own talents and
energies, and their goal in public life was to ensure that others like themselves would have the opportunity to
do the same. For these national leaders the purpose of democratization was not primarily to aid farmers and
laborers or to assist the disenfranchised: African Americans (both slave and free), women, and Native
Americans. It was, rather, to challenge the power of eastern elites for the sake of the rising entrepreneurs of
the South and the West.
THE RISE OF MASS POLITICS
On March 4, 1829, an unprecedented throng—thousands of Americans from all regions of the country, including farmers, laborers, and others of modest social rank—crowded before the Capitol in
Washington, D.C., to witness the inauguration of Andrew Jackson. After the
JACKSON’S
ceremonies, the boisterous crowd poured down Pennsylvania Avenue, followINAUGURATION
ing their hero to the White House. There, at a public reception open to all, they
filled the state rooms to overflowing, trampling one another, soiling the carpets, ruining elegantly
upholstered sofas and chairs in their eagerness to shake the new president’s hand. “It was a proud
day for the people,” wrote Amos Kendall, one of Jackson’s closest political associates. “General
Jackson is their own President.” To other observers, however, the scene was less appealing. Justice
of the Supreme Court Joseph Story, a friend and colleague of John Marshall, looked on the inaugural levee, as it was called, and remarked with disgust: “The reign of King ‘Mob’ seems triumphant.”
THE EMERGENCE OF ANDREW JACKSON
Jackson, one of the most powerful presidents of the nineteenth century, was born in 1767 to modest
parents. They had moved from Ireland two years before Andrew was born in a small village in the
Carolinas. At the age of thirteen, he was captured by the British during the American Revolution.
When Jackson refused to clean the boots of a British officer, the officer cut Jackson with a sword,
leaving him with scars and an enduring hatred of the British. As he became older, Jackson received
only sporadic education and worked in various shops and on farms. As a young man, he studied law
and was admitted to the bar.
Most of Jackson’s early legal work involved disputed land-claims of which he soon tired. He was
elected as a delegate to the Tennessee constitutional convention in 1796 and, later that same year,
became a U.S. congressman. In 1797, he went on to become a U.S. senator but resigned within a year.
In 1798, he was appointed a judge of the Tennessee Supreme Court, a position he held until 1804.
Gradually, Jackson prospered as planter and merchant. He also bought slaves to help his growing plantation. In 1804, he acquired an elegant home, the Hermitage, a large plantation in
Davidson County, near Nashville. In time, he had one of the largest plantations in the state with
up to 300 slaves.
230

JACKSONIAN AMERICA

231
Jackson joined the Tennessee militia in 1801 and in the
next year was elected major general. He fought Indians in
Alabama and Georgia. In the War of 1812, he fought against
Britain. When the British threatened New Orleans, Jackson
took command. In the Battle of New Orleans, his soldiers won
a decisive victory over the British that ensured New Orleans
would be part of the United States. He developed the reputation for being as “tough as old hickory” and thus earned the
nickname “Old Hickory.” Jackson left the war with many
people calling for him to run for president of the United States.
EXPANDING DEMOCRACY
What some have called the “age of Jackson” did not much advance the cause of economic equality. The distribution of
wealth and property in America was little different at the end
of the Jacksonian era than it had been at the start. But it did
mark a transformation of American politics that widely extended to new groups the right to vote.
Until the 1820s, relatively few Americans had been permitted to vote. Most states restricted the franchise to white males
who were property owners or taxpayers or
BROADENING
both, effectively barring an enormous numTHE FRANCHISE
ber of the less affluent from the voting
rolls. But beginning even before Jackson’s election, the rules
governing voting began to expand. Changes came first in Ohio
and other new states of the West, which, on joining the Union,
adopted constitutions that guaranteed all adult white males
the right to vote and gave all voters the right to hold public
office. Older states, concerned about the loss of their population to the West and thinking that extending the franchise
might encourage some residents to stay, began to grant similar
political rights to their citizens, dropping or reducing their
property ownership or taxpaying requirements. Eventually,
every state democratized its electorate to some degree,
although some much later and less fully than others.
Change provoked resistance, and at times the democratic
trend fell short of the aims of the radical reformers, as when
Massachusetts held its constitutional convention in 1820.
Reform-minded delegates complained that in the Massachusetts
government the rich were better represented than the poor,
both because of restrictions on voting and officeholding and
because of a peculiar system by which members of the state
senate represented property rather than simply people. But
Daniel Webster, one of the conservative delegates, opposed
democratic changes on the grounds that “power naturally and
necessarily follows property” and that “property as such should
have its weight and influence in political arrangement.”
Webster and the rest of the conservatives could not prevent
the reform of the rules for representation in the state senate;
nor could they prevent elimination of the property requirement for voting. But, to the dismay of the radicals, the new
constitution required that every voter be a taxpayer and that
the governor be the owner of considerable real estate.
More often, however, the forces of democratization prevailed in the states. In the New York convention of 1821, for
ANDREW JACKSON This stern portrait suggests something of the fierce determination
that characterized Andrew Jackson’s military and political careers. Shattered by the death of his
wife a few weeks after his election as president—a death he blamed (not without reason) on the
attacks his political opponents had leveled at her—he entered office with a steely determination to
live by his own principles and give no quarter to his adversaries. (© Collection of the New-York
Historical Society, USA/The Bridgeman Art Library)
example, conservatives led by James Kent insisted that a taxpaying requirement for suffrage was not enough and that, at
least in the election of state senators, the property qualification should survive. But reformers, citing the Declaration of
Independence, maintained that life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness, not property, were the main concerns of society
and government. The property qualification was abolished.
The wave of state reforms was generally peaceful, but in
Rhode Island democratization efforts created considerable
instability. The Rhode Island constitution (still basically the old
colonial charter) barred more than half the adult males of the
state from voting. The conservative legislature, chosen by this
restricted electorate, consistently blocked all efforts at reform.
In 1840, the lawyer and activist Thomas W. Dorr and a group
of his followers formed a “People’s Party,”
THE DORR
held a convention, drafted a new constituREBELLION
tion, and submitted it to a popular vote. It
was overwhelmingly approved. The existing legislature, however, refused to accept the Dorr document and submitted a
new constitution of its own to the voters. It was narrowly defeated. The Dorrites, in the meantime, had begun to set up a
new government, under their own constitution, with Dorr as
governor; and so, in 1842, two governments were claiming
232 •
CHAPTER 9
Percentage
80.2
78.9
78.9
72.7
57.6
55.4
81.2
69.6
57.8
26.9
1824 1828 1832 1836 1840 1844 1848 1852 1856 1860
Year
PARTICIPATION IN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS, 1824–1860 This chart
reveals the remarkable increase in popular participation in presidential elections in the years
after 1824. Participation almost doubled between 1824 and 1828, and it increased substantially
again beginning in 1840 and continuing through and beyond the Civil War.
• What accounts for this dramatic expansion of the electorate? Who remained
outside the voting population in these years?
legitimacy in Rhode Island. The old state government proclaimed that Dorr and his followers were rebels and began to
imprison them. Meanwhile, the Dorrites made a brief and ineffectual effort to capture the state arsenal. The Dorr Rebellion,
as it was known, quickly failed. Dorr himself surrendered and
was briefly imprisoned. But the episode helped pressure the
old guard to draft a new constitution, which greatly expanded
the suffrage.
The democratization process was far from complete. In
much of the South, election laws continued to favor the planters and politicians of the older counties and to limit the influence of newly settled western areas. Slaves, of course, were
disenfranchised by definition; they were not considered citizens and were believed to have no legal or political rights. Free
blacks could vote nowhere in the South and hardly anywhere
in the North. Pennsylvania, in fact, amended its state constitution in 1838 to strip African Americans of the right to vote
they had previously enjoyed. In no state could women vote.
Nowhere was the ballot secret, and often voters had to cast a
spoken vote rather than a written one, which meant that political bosses could, and often did, bribe and intimidate them.
Despite the persisting limitations, however, the number of
voters increased far more rapidly than did the population as a
whole. Indeed, one of the most striking political trends of the
early nineteenth century was the change in the method of
THE DORR REBELLION The democratic sentiments that swept much of the nation in
the 1830s and 1840s led to, among many other events, the Dorr Rebellion (as its opponents
termed it) in Rhode Island. Thomas Dorr was one of many Rhode Islanders who denounced the
state’s constitution, which limited voting rights to a small group of property owners known as
“freeholders.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica/© UIG/The Bridgeman Art Library)
choosing presidential electors and the dramatic increase in popular participation in
the process. In 1800, the legislature had chosen the presidential electors in ten of the states, and the people
in only six. By 1828, electors were chosen by popular vote in
every state but South Carolina. In the presidential election of
1824, less than 27 percent of adult white males had voted. In the
election of 1828, the figure rose to 58 percent, and in 1840 to
80 percent.
DEMOCRATIC
REFORMS
TOCQUEVILLE AND DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA
The rapid growth of the electorate—and the emergence of political parties—were among the most striking events of the early
nineteenth century. As the right to vote spread widely in these
years, it came to be the mark of freedom and democracy. One of
the most important commentaries on this extraordinary moment
in American life was a book by a French aristocrat, Alexis de
Tocqueville. He spent two years in the United States in the
1830s watching the dramatic political changes in the age of
Andrew Jackson. The French government had requested him to
make a study of American prisons, which were thought to be
more humane and effective institutions than prisons in Europe.
JACKSONIAN AMERICA

233
These two unfortunate races have neither birth, nor face, nor language, nor mores in common; only their misfortunes look alike.
Both occupy an equally inferior position in the country that they
inhabit; both experience the effects of tyranny; and if their miseries are different, they can accuse the same author for them.
Tocqueville’s book helped spread the idea of American
democracy into France and other European nations. Only
later did it become widely read and studied in the United
States as a remarkable portrait of the emerging democracy of
the United States.
THE LEGITIMIZATION OF PARTY
ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE Renowned French printmaker and lithographer Honoré Daumier
created this caricature of Alexis de Tocqueville in 1849. Tocqueville, also a Frenchman, traveled
throughout the United States for two years in the 1830s witnessing the extraordinary growth of the
U.S. electorate. In his famous book Democracy in America, he examined and analyzed the political,
cultural, and social life of the United States. His work strongly influenced how many in France and the
rest of Europe would understand the young country’s experience of its emerging democracy. (© Sterling
and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA/The Bridgeman Art Library)
But Tocqueville quickly went far beyond the study of prisons
and wrote a classic study of American life, titled Democracy in
America. Tocqueville examined not just the politics of the United
States, but also the daily lives of many groups of Americans and
their cultures, their associations, and their visions of democracy.
In France in the early decades of the nineteenth century, the
fruits of democracy were largely restricted to landowners and
aristocrats. But Tocqueville recognized that traditional aristocracies were rapidly fading in America and that new elites could
rise and fall no matter what their backgrounds.
Tocqueville also realized that the rising democracy of
America had many limits. Democracy was a powerful, visible
force in the lives of most white men. Few women could vote,
although some shared the democratic ethos through their families. For many other Americans, democracy was a distant hope.
Tocqueville wrote of the limits of equality and democracy:
. . . he first who attracts the eye, the first in enlightenment, in
power and in happiness, is the white man, the European, man
par excellence; below him appear the Negro and the Indian.
The high level of voter participation was only partly the result
of an expanded electorate. It was also the result of a growing
interest in politics and a strengthening of party organization and,
perhaps equally important, party loyalty. Although party competition was part of American politics almost from the beginning
of the republic, acceptance of the idea of party was not. For
more than thirty years, most Americans who had opinions about
the nature of government considered parties evils to be avoided
and thought the nation should seek a broad consensus in which
permanent factional lines would not exist. But in the 1820s and
1830s, those assumptions gave way to a new view: that permanent, institutionalized parties were a desirable part of the political process, that indeed they were essential to democracy.
The elevation of the idea of party occurred first at the state
level, most prominently in New York State. There Martin Van
Buren led a dissident political faction (known as the “Bucktails”
or the “Albany Regency”). In the years after the War of 1812, this
group began to challenge the established political leadership—led
by the aristocratic governor De Witt Clinton—that had dominated the state for years. Factional rivalries were not new, of
course. But the nature of Van Buren’s challenge was. Refuting
the traditional view of a political party as undemocratic, they
argued that only an institutionalized party, based in the populace
at large, could ensure genuine democracy. The alternative was
the sort of closed elite that Clinton had created. In the new kind
of party the Bucktails proposed, ideological commitments would
be less important than loyalty to the party itself. Preservation of
the party as an institution—through the use of favors, rewards,
and patronage—would be the principal goal of the leadership.
Above all, for a party to survive, it must have a permanent opposition. Competing parties would give each political faction a
sense of purpose; they would force politicians to remain continually attuned to the will of the people; and they would check
and balance each other in much the same way that the different
branches of government checked and balanced one another.
By the late 1820s, this new idea of party was spreading
beyond New York. The election of Jackson in 1828, the result
of a popular movement that seemed to stand apart from the
usual political elites, seemed further to legitimize the idea of
party as a popular, democratic institution.
THE SECOND
PARTY SYSTEM “Parties of some sort must exist,” said a
New York newspaper. “‘Tis in the nature
and genius of our government.” Finally, in the 1830s, a fully
DEBATING THE PAST
THE “AGE OF JACKSON”
many Americans in the 1820s and 1830s, Andrew Jackson was a champion of democracy,
TO a symbol of a spirit of anti-elitism and egalitarianism that was sweeping American life. In the
twentieth and twenty-first centuries, however, historians have disagreed sharply not only in their assessments of Jackson himself, but also in their portrayal of American society in his era.
The “progressive” historians of the early twentieth century tended to see the politics of Jackson
and his supporters as a forerunner of their own generation’s battles against economic privilege and
political corruption. Frederick Jackson Turner encouraged scholars to see Jacksonianism as the
product of the democratic West: a protest by the people of the frontier against the conservative aristocracy of the East, which they believed restricted their own freedom and opportunity. Jackson
represented those who wanted to make government responsive to the will of the people rather than
to the power of special interests. The culmination of this progressive interpretation of Jacksonianism
was the publication in 1945 of Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s The Age of Jackson. Less interested in
the regio…
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