Mr. Madison’s War

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POLITICAL PARTIES & WAR OF 1812 (called “Mr. Madison’s War” by angry Federalists)

  1. Political & Economic Arguments Before the War of 1812

    1. Federalists were still unhappy with Democratic-Republicans for the successful acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase (1803). Federalists were upset because they realized that the land purchase arrangement would allow the agrarian West to grow stronger and thus dilute the political power of merchant and maritime-trade-oriented New England.

    2. Democratic-Republicans, on the other hand, had begun to shed themselves of the strict constructionism their party was formed to defend in the 1790s. Democratic-Republicans rather conveniently endorsed the plan to radically increase the national debt and double the nation’s land area by “loosely” interpreting the Constitution to purchase Louisiana.

    3. Democratic-Republicans in Congress were even willing (during Jefferson’s presidency!) to fund, with federal tax revenue, construction of the National Road from Fort Cumberland, Maryland to Wheeling on the Ohio River. This road was later extended all the way to Vandalia, Illinois. Democratic-Republicans were reacting to the political pressures of their western, agrarian voters who desired internal improvements to connect back East. They justified federal funding by arguing that it was “necessary & proper” for Congress to build the road for military troop transport and for easier delivery of the mail (recall that D-Rs had strongly opposed Federalist Hamilton’s similar “necessary & proper clause” argument supporting the establishment of the first Bank of the United States in 1791).

  2. Challenges to American Neutrality

    1. Washington, John Adams, and Jefferson all tried to keep the United States out of the European conflicts triggered by the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars (the three Presidents established the policy of isolationism).

    2. American profits from trade with Europe were high enough, however, to risk trade with France and England even though US ships were frequently attacked and naturalized American citizens/sailors were subjected to British impressment.

    3. The Embargo Act of 1807 was Jefferson’s reaction to the British attack on the USS Chesapeake. The law, however, hurt America (especially Federalist and merchant New England- maritime trade was completely halted) as much as it hurt the belligerents in Europe.

    4. Congress tried to alter the Embargo Act by passing the Nonintercourse Act and eventually Macon’s Bill No. 2. The Nonintercourse Act permitted US merchants to trade with any nation except France & England. This law was, however, not much of a remedy since 90% of all US trade was directed to France & England.

  3. Declaring War Against Great Britain

    1. Officially, the US declared war against England over the issues of impressment and perceived British support of American Indian groups like Tecumseh’s Red Stick Confederacy (recall the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811).

    2. The mid-term Congressional elections of 1811, however, probably provide a better explanation for the declaration of war. Militaristic, hyper-patriotic Democratic-Republican “War Hawks” from the agrarian South & West rose to power in Congress. Men like Felix Grundy (TN), Henry Clay (KY) (who became Speaker of the US House of Representatives in 1811 at the age of 32), and John C. Calhoun (SC) were elected.

    3. Southern and western “War Hawk” Democratic-Republicans were expansionists who dreamed of capturing Canada, Florida, and perhaps even Cuba and Mexico. These lands would open a lot of farmland and continue to increase agrarian power in the United States.

  4. Opposition to the War of 1812

    1. Federalists in New England strongly opposed declaring war on the United States’ primary trade partner (Britain) because they realized that the war would completely ruin the New England merchant business.

    2. The re-election of Democratic-Republican James Madison in 1812 was very close (Pennsylvania was the swing state once again).

    3. New Englanders refused to buy war bonds, disrupted recruitment campaigns, and even traded with the enemy.

    4. Daniel Webster, a young New England Federalist member of the US House of Representatives delivered his first important Congressional speech opposing the “unconstitutional and objectionable character” of an 1813 law authorizing the drafting of men from state militias (Webster will, of course, shed himself of such sectional partisanship and “states’ rightism” when he later becomes the spokesperson of Federal authority during the 1830 debate over the Abominable Tariff).

    5. The Hartford Convention of December 1814 represented the climax of Federalist opposition to the war. Federalists, at this meeting, demanded several Constitutional Amendments to preserve their power in Congress for the future. New Englander’s wanted to amend the Constitution to make sure no single state could elect two Presidents in a row (this would eliminate the “Virginia Dynasty” which elected Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and James Monroe). New Englander’s also wanted to require a 2/3rds “super majority” in Congress to decide important national issues like declaring future wars and admitting of new states to the Union. The proposed amendments of the Hartford Convention can be compared to the sectional protests and states’ rights views expressed by Southerners at the 1787 Constitutional Convention and later demands to protect slavery in the 1860 Crittenden Compromise before the Civil War.

    6. Federalists at the Hartford convention never officially endorsed a secessionist statement but they clearly were headed in that direction. Fortunately, the war ended before the Hartford Convention proposals were ever seriously considered and possibly rejected by the Democratic-Republic majority controlling both houses of Congress. Voters, however, remembered the “disloyalty” of the Federalists and the Federalist Party was basically wiped out of existence during the heightened mood of nationalism following the War of 1812.

  5. The “Era of Good Feelings” (1817-1824)

    1. Federalists lost many remaining seats in Congress in 1816 and the Federalist Party eventually became so disorganized that it did not even nominate a candidate to oppose re-election of Democratic-Republican James Monroe in 1820. Monroe benefited from the great post-War surge in nationalism (discussed in-depth in the next section) and from the decline of the Federalist Party. Monroe’s years in office after the War of 1812 were characterized by remarkable national unity.

    2. The Era of Good feelings, however, did not last forever. Political arguments over the federal government’s economic policies (Clay’s American System) gradually became more intense. Sectionalism, tension between northerners and southerners, returned as the political arguments evolved into a fundamental debate between those favoring stronger federal power and those seeking to preserve government power at the state level. A new two-party political system, originally directed by several strong political personalities (Jackson, Clay, Calhoun, Van Buren, JQ Adams, Webster, Hayne, and others) also developed as sectional tensions and economic arguments increased. At least 4 things can be identified to explain why the Era of Good Feelings ended:

      • Panic of 1819: The economic panic of 1819 was similar to the economic panics of 1837 and 1857 in that all three were the natural result of the “boom-bust” business cycle. The economy “boomed” after the War on 1812 as Americans rushed to open new western farmland (Indian resistance delaying western settlement was eliminated or severely weakened by military actions during the War of 1812). The rush West, however, was accompanied with over-speculation and the business cycle eventually was “corrected.” The most important result of the panic of 1819 was to rekindle class-consciousness and resentment of the “common man” against the economic power of the Second Bank of the United States (the 2nd BUS was part of Henry Clay’s American System and chartered to “live” between 1816 and 1836). Richard Hofstader writes in The American Political Tradition: The trend toward popular activity in politics was heightened by the panic of 1819, which set class against class for the first time since the Jeffersonian era. A result of the rapid expansion and wild speculation, the depression fell especially on the South and West, where men had thrown all their resources into reckless buying of land. The [local] banks which grossly overextended themselves, were forced to press debtors to the wall, and through the process of foreclosure the national bank particularly became a great absentee owner of Western and Southern property. Hofstadler also describes how the panic of 1819 gave birth to the working class concept of the “Monster Bank” or aristocratic institution that harms the “common” public. Hofstadler quotes Thomas Benton, a contemporary observer of the public’s attitude toward the 2nd BUS immediately after the 1819 panic, “All of the flourishing cities of the West are mortgaged to this money power. They may be devoured by it at any moment. They are in the Jaws of the monster!” Andrew Jackson was one of many Southerners and Westerners who lost fortunes during the Panic of 1819. The depression forced Southern and Western voters to contemplate sectional priorities, question federal power, and re-evaluate the proper role of government in economic affairs.

      • McCulloch v Maryland (1819- this case is explained in the next section). The decision to support the second National Bank and not the state of Maryland reinforced many peoples’ views (especially those of southerners and westerners) that federal power may have been growing too rapidly. The fact that the Supreme Court reached its decision during the same year as the Panic of 1819 only reinforced public suspicions of “federal power” and “aristocratic influence.”

      • Tallmadge Amendment (1819): Important sectional, North-South compromises were developed at the 1787 Constitutional Convention to deal with the issue of slavery (recall the Slave-Trade and 3/5ths Compromises). The 1819 Tallmadge Amendment re-ignited the public and nasty debate over slavery for the first time since 1787. The Amendment was basically a revision of the original statehood application bill Missouri submitted to Congress for approval in 1819. NY congressman Tallmadge proposed allowing Missouri to enter the Union as a slave but to require, within one generation, the state of Missouri to gradually abolish slavery. The debate over the Tallmadge Amendment and Missouri statehood bill marked the first time slave owning interests and abolitionist interests clashed over federal policy on the floor of Congress. Henry Clay (called the Great Compromiser because he offers several compromises to heal section wounds: Missouri in 1820; tariffs in 1833; California in 1850) developed the Missouri Compromise eventually used to resolve the heated dispute in 1820. Elements of the Missouri Compromise included allowing Missouri to enter as a permanent slave state and balancing congressional slave-free state power by admitting Maine (formerly part of Massachusetts) into the Union as a free state. The 36-30 line was established to divide the remainder of the Louisiana Purchase between free and slave territory.

      • The “Corrupt Bargain” Election of 1824: The details of this election are described later. Remember for now that this election help re-ignite the two-party system that ceased to exist after the Federalist Party died. Anger over the election results contributed to the split in the Democratic-Republican Party. Jackson’s supporters started, during the election of 1828, calling themselves plain old “Democrats” to distinguish themselves from supporters of John Quincy Adams who began calling themselves “Nationalist-Republicans.” This rift would intensify with the formal rebirth of the two-party system when Nationalist-Republicans and Democrats held separate national nominating conventions and published separate political party platforms during the election of 1832. The anti-Jackson Whigs eventually evolved from being Nationalist-Republicans and captured the White House with William Henry Harrison’s “log cabin” campaign to defeat Democrat Martin Van Buren in 1840.


  1. The Economic Transformation Of America Between The Jeffersonian & Jacksonian Eras:

    1. The Northeast: The merchant economy was basically destroyed by Jefferson’s Embargo Act and the British blockade during the War of 1812. The disruption in trade, however, encouraged manufacturing and sparked the beginning of the industrial revolution in the United States. Think of the embargo and war as a 100% tariff. It is a bit ironic that agrarian loving Jefferson, hater of urbanism and industrialism, contributed significantly to helping jump-start the American industrial revolution with his embargo policy. The Boston Associates funded the development of the Lowell textile mill operation which spun its own thread, wove its own cloth, and dyed material all under the same roof (a major operation!).

    2. The West: Tecumseh’s Red Stick Confederacy was destroyed at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. Andrew Jackson had wiped out Creek resistance at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. Lands east of the Mississippi were basically open to white settlement. Cyrus McCormick patented the mechanical reaper in 1834. John Deere patented the steel plow in 1837. These two devices did much to make wheat farming profitable and the Mississippi and Ohio rivers provided economical transport of farm products. The Erie Canal, funded by the state government of New York, established a commercial link between the Great Lakes region-Buffalo to Albany-and New York City. Other state financed canal projects were quickly started after the success of the Erie Canal. Construction of the Baltimore-Ohio Railroad (tracing basically the path of the National Road mentioned earlier) began in 1828. The West surged in population, economic output, and in political importance.

    3. The South: The cotton gin, invented by Eli Whitney in 1793, made the crop profitable to grow (Whitney also introduced the concept of interchangeable parts which revolutionized mass production and the factory system in the northeast). The demand for slaves was reinvigorated by the cotton gin. The institution of slavery, consequently, failed to “die out” as many Founding Fathers felt it would. Instead, slavery grew in economic, social, and political importance. Prices for cotton were initially very high early on as the textile industry in New England and Britain expanded to meet demand. Cotton prices, however, declined substantially by the 1830s as farmers in the South, Southwest (Alabama-Texas), and overseas (Egypt, India) rushed into the market. The decline of the cotton economy in the early 1830s aggravated the economic and political situation in South Carolina in the early 1830s (recall the Nullification struggle) and contributed the Panic of 1837.

  2. The Overall Growth of American Nationalism

    1. Americans felt like they won the War of 1812 - especially after General Andrew Jackson’s major victory at New Orleans.

    2. The decline of trade during the War of 1812 era contributed to the rise of nationalism and American economic (especially industrial) self-sufficiency.

    3. Washington Irving’s adaptation of European tales to the American setting (Rip Van Winkle) is an example of Literary Nationalism. Noah Webster’s “Blue Backed Speller” and his dictionary of “American” language also promoted a unique national identity.

    4. Monroe Doctrine (1823): often regarded as an example of America’s first real diplomatic effort to influence international politics. The Monroe Doctrine specifically warned European nations keep out of the western hemisphere. The US was able to maintain the Monroe Doctrine only because Britain, who also desired direct trade routes to Latin American markets, enforced it.

    5. The American System. The Democratic-Republicans of 1816 strongly supported (except internal improvements) Henry Clay’s economic program that was ironically very similar to the Federalist/Hamiltonian program they had vigorously opposed during the 1790s. Clay’s American System proposed:

        • Tariff of 1816 (a potent 23% and substantially “protective” tariff) Signed into law by President Madison. Recall that Madison and Jefferson were co-founders of the Democratic-Republican Party. Madison’s support for the Tariff, consequently, is a good example of just how much the Democratic-Republican Party had evolved toward becoming more nationalistic and Hamiltonian by the end of the War of 1812. The tariff of 1816 also demonstrated a rather interesting political debate: New England congressional delegate Daniel Webster argued strongly in opposition to raising the tariff (New Englander’s, like Webster, originally- and somewhat ironically opposed protective tariffs before the factory system was fully developed because tariffs would reduce foreign trade and merchant oriented economic activities that were the mainstay of the region’s economy). Nationalist War Hawk John C. Calhoun of South Carolina supported the “moderate” (Calhoun understood the need to protect the developing American industrial base from European manufacturers who had been in business much longer and were much stronger than the infant American firms). Calhoun and Webster did, of course, completely reverse positions on the tariff issue during the Nullification Crisis of 1830-32 (described in-depth later).

        • Internal Improvements- Clay planned to use revenue generated by the tariff to have the federal government fund and construct internal improvements for states. Clay was from Kentucky and the notion of having the federal government, and not the states, pay for roads connecting “back East” was very popular with western voters. Northerners also, by the 1820s, begin to support or at least tolerate the concept of using federal funds to connect roads to the West because they realized that funding for the roads would come from tariffs which protected the Northeast’s increasingly manufacturing-based economy. New York (home state of Martin Van Burnen) was one exception. New York voters, after funding the Erie Canal with state taxes, were not supportive of paying federal taxes to construct internal improvements to compete with their massive and expensive (and state financed) Erie Canal project (the Canal opened in 1825). Southerners also generally resisted Federal funding of internal improvements. Southerners did not have as great a need for transportation improvements because they had access to a substantial network of navigable rivers. They also grew the nonperishable crop of cotton which did not require quick transport. Democratic-Republican (and Virginian) President James Madison (1817-1821) vetoed bills to use federal funds to construct internal improvements. Madison’s rejection of plans to federally fund internal improvements was significant because it demonstrated that while certainly much more nationalistic and increasingly Hamiltonian, the Democratic-Republican Party still did not completely support the “big government” philosophy of the Federalists (President James Madison did, however, support in a very un-Jeffersonian manner, the 1816 Tariff and charter of the 2nd BUS). Later presidents were either unable to get Congress to provide funding (JQ Adams for example) or were unwilling (Jackson for example) to wholly support federal funding for internal improvements. Internal improvements were, consequently, generally funded by state governments for most of the antebellum period. Clay’s dream of federal support for internal improvements would, however, be realized when Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Act (1862) during the Civil War. The National Defense Highway Act passed by the Eisenhower Administration during the Cold War is a more modern example. The transportation links that did develop tended to link the Northeast to the West and contributed, over time, to a sort of combining of regional economic, political, and social interests. Consider the social effects of the Erie Canal constructed by the State of New York: the canal opened in 1825 and encouraged the rapid development of upstate and western New York during the Jacksonian period. The region, after being populated, became home to the Second Great Awakening’s “Burned Over District” and many reformers like Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony (Rochester), Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Seneca Falls). John Humphrey Noyes “perfectionist” utopian community also flourished in the region at Oneida.

        • Second Bank of the United States- Clay wanted a nationalized banking system to coordinate and streamline the currency supply and economic activity. The bank was chartered in 1816 for 20 years. Its re-charter and the experience of Americans during the Panic of 1819 later evolved as a defining issue during Andrew Jackson’s re-election campaign in 1832.

    6. Judicial Nationalism: Chief Justice John Marshall increased federal power over state governments and the prestige of the high court in the early 19th Century. MARBURY v. MADISON (1803)- First use of judicial review. Judiciary Act of 1789 declared unconstitutional. This case is described in detail in Unit 3 internet class notes. Many of the Marshall decisions expanded federal power while limiting that of the states:

        • McCULLOCH v. MARYLAND (1819)- Marshall’s decision supported the use of the Constitution’s “elastic clause” (recall this is what Hamilton argued when he debated Jefferson over the chartering of the first Bank of the United States in 1791). The case evolved after the state of Maryland passed laws to tax the business conducted by the state's branch of the 2nd National Bank of the United States. Marshall cited the "necessary & proper" or “elastic” clause to rule that the 2nd B.U.S. was in fact Constitutional. Marshall, in other words, agreed with Hamilton's original "loose interpretation." States' rights advocates (later called Jacksonian Democrats) were outraged at this decision because Marshall also ruled against the "compact theory" and the “origin” of federal power. Marshall ruled that state authority was subordinate to federal power because federal power was derived from "the people" (Daniel Webster would later argue the same thing during his famous 1830 debate with Robert Hayne). The state of Maryland, consequently, had no right to harass (through unfair taxation) the second National Bank created by the federal Congress. Marshall’s ruling clarified that Maryland's “attack” on the 2nd BUS through state taxes was an unconstitutional state effort to essentially "nullify" the federal decision to establish the bank in the first place. Marshall stated, "the power to tax involves the power to destroy." States' Rights advocates saw a sort of "slippery slope" in Marshall’s ruling. If Congress could impose a bank against the will of states, what else might federal power be used to do???? Southerners feared that, under worse circumstances, abolition might be imposed if northerners gained control of Congress. This court case, the economic “Panic of 1819,” and the debate over Missouri statehood (the 1819 Tallmadge Amendment) are often regarded as being three issues that ended the period of national unity called the Ear of Good Feelings. This case, in other words, was sort of one of the “first battles” in the time period between 1820 and 1860 that was filled with economic, political, and sectional conflicts and eventually erupted into the Civil War.

        • DARTMOUTH COLLEGE v. WOODWARD (1819)- Marshall supported the "sanctity of contracts." Dartmouth was originally chartered by George III in 1769. New Hampshire native and Big Green (Dartmouth College) alumnus Daniel Webster argued the case for Dartmouth. Webster said, "It is, sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet there are those who love it." The state of New Hampshire attempted to revoke the royal charter and make the college a state institution. Marshall ruled that the state of New Hampshire had no such power to discard the original contract.

        • GIBBONS v. OGDEN (1824)- Recall the economic problems (trade disputes, interstate trade) that resulted under the Articles of Confederation when states had the authority to regulate interstate trade. The 1787 "Philadelphia" Constitution stripped the states of the power to regulate interstate trade to prevent anarchy. Marshall used the Constitution's supremacy clause and commerce clause to uphold the federal government's right to regulate interstate trade. Steamboat inventor John Fulton (recall his invention of the Clermont, 1807) received a charter from the New York state legislature to obtain the exclusive right to provide steamboat ferry service in New York in 1808. Aaron Ogden purchased from Fulton the right to provide steamboat service on the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey. Thomas Gibbons challenged Ogden's monopoly of ferry service between New York and New Jersey. Marshall sided with Gibbons. Marshall ruled that only the federal level of government has the right to regulate trade between states. The New York legislature had no authority to grant Ogden exclusive ferry trade rights on a route which connected New York to New Jersey.

  1. The Impressive Rise of The “Common Man”

    1. Historians often describe the trend toward democracy in the US during the post-War of 1812 period as being a product of the growth of the West and industrialization of the Northeast (frontier farmers and early factory workers often referred to as “mechanics”).

    2. Historians like Frederick Jackson Turner who focused (Turner wrote in the 1890s) on the “frontier’s influence” in developing democracy described how life on the frontier could be considered democratic: most frontier settlers moved West because they were poor but willing to work hard to improve their status in life; settlers on the frontier also experienced the same general problems and difficulties; frontier settlers were also, because of their difficult situation, forced to adopt a very practical “no frills” approach to life. The democratic frontier spirit, the theory goes, filtered back continually from the frontier and helped refresh and democratize the older, more settled parts of the country. Certainly, it is true that the state constitutions of the frontier states were generally more democratic than the original 13 Atlantic seaboard states. Vermont, the 14th state was the first abolish slavery in its state constitution adopted in 1791. The first states to adopt universal white manhood suffrage were also from the West. Women’s suffrage was also first adopted by states in the far West during the late 19th Century.

    3. The “common man” was taming the wilderness and also producing ever increasingly technologically advanced items in the industrial workshops. Certainly, people began to feel during this time period, members of society who played such an important economic role could also be trusted with the responsibility of governing the nation. A spirit of egalitarianism, consequently, increased along with the growth of the nationalistic-patriotic mood of the nation. It was as if the natural rights Jefferson identified in the Declaration of Independence (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) were amended during the period between the War of 1812 and Civil War: Americans also began to look at equal opportunity (the opposite of special privilege) and the franchise (the ability to vote, hold office and participate in the political process) as a fundamental and basic human rights.

    4. It was during this period of transition between Jefferson’s America and Jackson’s that the “common man” began to play a more active and decisive role in politics. Americans became less satisfied to be governed by a small, albeit arguably benevolent, aristocracy. They began to demand, and obtain, government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

    5. Historians with rather romantic versions of American democracy (Howard Zinn not being one of these) also point toward the relative (when compared to feudal and aristocratic Europe) fluidness of the American social structure. America was, relatively speaking, a nation where hard working and lucky pioneers and inventors could make huge fortunes and become “upwardly mobile” by making huge fortunes even though they may have been born into poor families. Even more pessimistic views argue that Americans could at least rise from “rags to respectability” or at least into the middle class. The relatively fluid class structure ensured that the economic and political elite in America was continually refreshed with elements from the lower or “common” classes. The elite ruling class was, consequently (or at least as the theory goes), more responsive to the “will” and “desires” of the “common man.”

    6. Of course, the great majority of common men continued to be common men during the Jacksonian period and the fact that the power and influence of the mass of common men increased while they continued to be common men makes this time period peculiarly significant politically. Examples of Political Changes, Mass Politics, & “Increased Democracy” During The Age of Jackson:

        • Universal White Manhood Suffrage (elimination of property requirements for voting- campaigns and elections changed dramatically as the vast -and sometimes ignorant- “masses” were allowed to vote).

        • Direct Election of Presidential Electors (As of 1828, state legislatures- with the exception of South Carolina- no longer voted to select the Electoral College)

        • The Anti-Masons organized the 1st third party political movement in US History. Adding a 3rd party to the two-party system of American politics is essentially democratic and the Anti-Masons also embraced the basic democratic belief in opposing “secret societies” like the Masons (recall the controversy associated with the post-Revolutionary War Society of the Cincinnati). Andrew Jackson, of course, was a mason and the Anti-Masons were, as you might expect, also anti-Jackson in many ways. Anti-Masons tended to be evangelical Protestants who wanted increased government power to be used to “purify” society of evil while Jacksonian Democrats tended to follow the Jeffersonian policy of favoring limited federal power (the Democrats were- despite Jackson’s enforcement of the Tariff of Abominations- the States’ Rights party before the Civil War). Other notable 3rd Party movements during the Jacksonian period include: the Liberty Party (1844), Free Soil Party (1848), the “nativist” Know-Nothing Party and early Republican Party during the 1850s.

        • National Nominating Conventions: First used in 1832. The nominating conventions replaced the old Caucus System where candidates were basically selected by the party leaders in Congress (Down with “King Caucus” was a major campaign issue in 1828). Review this concept in your text.

        • Abolition of the National Bank: The recharter of the Second Bank of the United States was a central issue during the 1832 election. Jackson’s re-election and the “killing” of the 2nd BUS are often regarded as being symbolic of the “anti-special privilege” and “anti-government” laissez-faire political trend of the time period.

        • Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge (1837): This case relaxed standards by which states would incorporate businesses (allowing all qualified individuals to enter business rather than reserving the right to incorporate for elites with good political connections). The Charles River Bridge Company sued the state of Massachusetts from authorizing the construction of a new bridge (the Warren Company) across the Charles River. States in the 1790s and early 1800s had a rather aristocratic habit of providing charters only to the elite class with political connections. The consequence was the development of aristocratic monopolies in many segments of the economy. Mechanic workingmen and the yeoman farmer class detested exactly this kind of special privilege and treatment- and the higher costs monopolies often charged. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (Taney was appointed by Jackson and replaced John Marshall, he later became famous for the 1857 Dred Scott decision) in his first major significant decision, ruled that no charter granted to a private corporation permanently vested rights that might harm the public interest; that is the state of Massachusetts had the right to charter another bridge company to compete with the original Charles Bridge company because building another bridge would positively impact the public. This court case ushered in a more democratic economic landscape where all qualified interests- not just the elite- could obtain licenses to operate businesses from state governments. Andrew Jackson, hater of special privilege later supported similar “general incorporation” policies.

        • Mass Appeal & Nearly Carnival-like Atmosphere of the “Common Man’s” Elections of 1828 and 1840: Campaigns and elections changed as Universal White Manhood Suffrage opened the door to voting to more and more “common men.” Personalities of candidates and their public images began to become more important (critics call this Demagoguery = “Politics of the Man” vs. “Politics of “the Issues”). Jackson was victorious in 1828 with the help of the organizing political machinery of the “little Magician” Martin Van Buren from the state of New York. Jackson’s supporters loved “Old Hickory” for being the “Hero of New Orleans” and champion of the common man who “made it big” in America (Jackson was born in poverty and became, despite losing vast sums during the Panic of 1819, a wealthy planter and slave owner. He was a “fighter” who succeeded to achieve the contemporary “American dream” of the time period). Whig insurgents copied Van Buren’s recipe for success and out-maneuvered the Democrats in 1840 (the terrible economic depression following the Panic of 1837 had probably already doomed the democrats anyway). Whig’s elected, in 1840, a wealthy descendent of Virginia planter society by advertising William Henry Harrison, their candidate, as a “log cabin” frontiersman and for being the “Hero of Tippecanoe” (wiping out American Indian resistance was popular with frontier voters and most Americans in general). Harrison’s catchy campaign slogan rolled off the tongues of the new mass electorate: “Tippecanoe & Tyler Too!” Critics of the Jacksonian era take a less positive view of the widening of democracy during this time period and point to how easily the mass voting population was “manipulated” by the slick campaign techniques of Harrison’s Whig handlers and Van Buren. Jackson is also criticized by cynics as being a “demagogue” or someone who leads by popularity and charisma but not always in the nation’s best interest (demagoguery = appeal of the emotions of the public rather than to the intellect of logical reasoning. Hitler and most dictators are or were demagogues who sell their personalities while crafting broad, political agendas that appeal to the masses of largely ignorant and easily duped masses). Supporters of Jackson would, of course, argue that the “masses” could in fact be trusted to be wiser than most of the elite realize; that is true Jacksonians had “faith” in the common man’s ability to make wise political decisions at the ballot box. Thus the great question must be asked: Can you really trust the common man to make wise decisions or should (as Alexander Hamilton would’ve argued) important decisions be left to the elite to determine?

        • Rotation in Office” (also known as the “Spoils System”): The “Era of Good Feelings” (1816-1824) had produced next to no turnover in the federal bureaucracy. Jackson fired many federal bureaucrats (1 in 5) and replaced them with his own political supporters. Doing this, he felt, would ensure that there was enough “turnover” in the federal bureaucracy to ensure that an elite class of federal government employees did not develop. “Refreshing” the federal bureaucracy in this manner would ensure that the federal government would not loose touch with the interests and concerns of the average American. One could argue, of course, that Jackson was, ironically, developing a new pattern of special privilege by endorsing the Spoils System. The pattern of patronage (trading jobs for political support) would haunt the government until passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883 and well into the Progressive Era.

    7. Often, the spirit of the common man also fought for the equal opportunity in the struggle for material (economic) success. The notion was that the common man’s hard work and innate virtue should succeed. The common man supporters increasingly disliked inherited wealth and special privilege (Consider Andrew Jackson’s hostility toward JQ Adams- the son of a President- and the “petticoat war” to support Peggy Eaton against Mrs. Calhoun and the women of Washington, DC’s “high society”).

THE ELECTION OF 1824 (Jacksonians are angered by the aristocrat’s victory over the common man!)

  1. John Quincy Adams was elected President even though Andrew Jackson received the most popular votes.

  2. Jackson was not elected because, despite his popularity for being the “Hero of New Orleans,” Jackson did not win a majority of the electoral vote.

  3. The Constitution specifies that the House of Representatives should vote to decide who becomes President when no single candidate wins a majority of the electoral college vote. The Constitution also specifies that the House must decide who will be elected by selecting one of the top THREE electoral vote recipients.

  4. Henry Clay of Kentucky was a fairly distant third in the 1828 election’s electoral vote but qualified for consideration by the House of Representatives because he finished third in the general election. Clay was the architect of the American System who favored strengthening government power to build roads (funded by an increase in the tariff) to connect the West to the East. Clay also favored the National Bank. Clay controlled enough votes and influence to determine who would become President. He realized that he could support his fellow westerner Andrew Jackson or support John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts.

  5. The state legislature of Kentucky actually passed a resolution demanding Clay support the western candidate Andrew Jackson. Clay, however, favored John Quincy Adams because JQ Adams (the son of Federalist President John Adams) also favored strengthening federal power and supporting the American System. Clay, in other words, had legitimate political reasons to support JQ Adams even if Clay wasn’t offered the opportunity to be Secretary of State.

  6. Clay’s decision to support and elect JQ Adams angered many. Some called Clay the “Judas of the West” for his apparent betrayal of Jackson. Others complained of a “corrupt bargain” when JQ Adams was appointed to serve as his Secretary of State. The office of Secretary of State was known for being a “stepping stone” to the presidency (Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and JQ Adams were all Secretary of State). Suspicious Jacksonian supporters figured that an aristocrat like John Quincy Adams (his father John was the 2nd President of the US who was strongly opposed by States’ Rights Jeffersonians) had bribed Clay for his support in a shady backroom deal.


  1. Jackson was the first Westerner (West of the Appalachians at least- he was from Tennessee) and first Democrat elected president.

  2. Jackson’s campaign strategy revolved around his popularity as a “common man” who achieved the American Dream (he was the first American president to come from a nonaristocratic family and achieved the American dream by becoming a wealthy planter).

  3. Jacksonians charged that JQ Adams was a no-good aristocrat and election thief (recall the 1824 result).

  4. JQ Adams and his “Nationalist Republicans” charged that Jackson was a rowdy, uneducated, unrefined, backwoods buffoon who could not be trusted with the highest office of the land. JQ Adams’ men, in charging that Jackson was a “backwoods idiot” drew attention to Jackson’s personal life and “political skeletons in the closet.” Nationalist-Republicans happily supported their charges that Jackson was unfit for High Office by informing voters of Jackson’s dueling past (he shot and killed at least one man) and charged Jackson with committing Adultery (both were serious personal attacks). The charge of Adultery stemmed from the fact that Jackson’s original marriage to Jackson’s wife, Rachel Robards, took place before Rachel had officially been granted a divorce from her original deadbeat husband. Jackson had in fact remarried Rachel legally and loved her deeply. He was personally offended by the mudslinging of JQ Adams’ Nationalist-Republicans and held them responsible for Rachel’s “death by slander” (Rachel died during the campaign and Jackson, a Southern man who respected the notion of fighting for one’s “honor” blamed Rachel’s death on the impolite, snobbish, “New England Yankee” campaign of JQ Adams).

  5. Jackson won the election despite the charges levied by JQ Adams’ men. His campaign manager and Jackson’s second Vice President (John C. Calhoun was Jackson’s first Vice President between 1829 and 1833. Van Buren served from 1837-1841) was the “Little Magician” Martin Van Buren. Van Buren was an excellent political organizer and helped organize New York’s democratic political machine. Jackson emerged victorious during this election thanks to his support from the following groups (observe how Jackson, like all successful Democrats, was able to unite through rhetoric or policy rural and urban voters):

    1. Eastern Working Men: JQ Adams defeated Jackson by a ratio of 2 to 1 votes in New England and in parts of New York. The “working class” voters of the region, however, supported Jackson. Universal white manhood suffrage enabled these nonpropertied “mechanics” to vote for the first time in 1828. This group shared the antimonopoly feelings of Jacksonians (review the 1837 Charles River Bridge decision described earlier). This group also supported the Jacksonian idea of “Rotation in Office.” These were workingmen who, like Jackson, detested special privilege.

    2. Small farmers in the South & West: Jackson carried the South 2 to 1 votes against JQ Adams and 3 to 1 votes against JQ Adams in the Southwest (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama). Many small farmers in these regions opposed JQ Adams for the same reason as the working class in the Northeast- they were suspicious of official bureaucracy and special privilege. Small farmers also greatly resented the power of wealthy land speculators and bankers whom they often owned large sums of money. Farmers were, consequently, often debtors who generally favored inflationary monetary policy (as did the Populists and their drive for silver coinage in the 1890s) and also resented the generally restrictive monetary policy of the 2nd Bank of the United States (recall the “Monster Bank” called in loans during the Panic of 1819 and ruined many western land investors- including Andrew Jackson). JQ Adams was also unpopular because he indicated that he was willing to use federal power to support the land rights of Creek and Cherokee Indians against the State of Georgia. Jackson, enforcer of the Trail of Tears and signer of the 1830 Removal Act understood the western voters’ thirst for new farmland. Recall Jackson even defied the Supreme Court’s protection of Cherokee land in the 1833 Worcester v. Georgia case (Jackson quipped: Marshall has made his decision now let him enforce it).

    3. Southern Planters: The tobacco growers of the Upper South and cotton growers of the Deep South believed that JQ Adams, Henry Clay and others were discriminating against the South through the tariff proposals of the “American System.” They understood the difference between “mild protective tariffs” and “price gouging.” They resented the gradual rise in tariffs after 1816. The 1816 tariff of 23%, to protect the infant US textile industry to develop and become competitive with European manufacturers, and help America’s economy become self-sufficient, was acceptable. The continued rise in tariffs in 1824 (import taxes were increased to 34%) and 1828 (import taxes were increased to 45%), however, was considered unacceptable. Planters were also slave owners who were becoming increasingly cautious about strengthening federal power. They reacted negatively to JQ Adams’ plan to increase federal power. JQ Adams wanted to increase federal power by establishing, amongst other things, a national university and national scientific research facility. Planter/slave owners wanted to preserve states’ rights to protect the institution of slavery. Despite his humble origins, Jackson was a slave-holding aristocrat by 1828 and planters saw him as “their man” (Southern planters felt Jackson was their kind of “states’ rights” man).

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