Andrew Jackson & the origins of the Democratic Party

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Expanded voting rights

The first two decades of the nineteenth century saw the extension of the right to vote in the US to almost the entire adult white male population. By 1824 significant voting restrictions still existed in only four states. One of the most important reforms was a change in the way presidential electors were chosen. Until the 1820s in many states the legislature, not the voters, picked the electors. By 1828 selection by the legislature had been abolished in every state except South Carolina.

The presidential elections of 1828 marked a watershed in US politics. The popular vote for president surpassed the one million mark for the first time, more than three times the 1824 total. This reflected both an increase in the number of eligible voters and a higher participation rate. A record 54.3 percent of those eligible actually voted, nearly double the percentage turnout of 1824. Under these conditions the Southern slaveholders and Northern commercial and manufacturing interests could no longer rule in the old way. In the early years of US politics, with the right to vote severely restricted by property requirements and other stipulations, debate had tended to be frank and candid. With the extension of the right of suffrage, however, the property owning classes tended increasingly to conceal their real aims from the masses by means of political campaigns which stressed personalities rather than program.

The Democratic Party, as shaped by Jackson, sought to combine the democratic ideals espoused by Jefferson with the defense of slavery. Born in South Carolina in 1767, Andrew Jackson rose from poverty to become a military hero and a wealthy planter. His rugged personality and successful generalship earned him the nickname "Old Hickory." He achieved national fame during the War of 1812 by defeating the Creek Indians at the battle of Horseshoe Bend in Alabama and routing the British at the battle of New Orleans. His lavish plantation, the Hermitage near Nashville, Tennessee, epitomized the aristocratic lifestyle of the slaveowners.

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