Taylor Milana December 5, 2013

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Taylor Milana

December 5, 2013


Mr. Newman

Jacksonian Democracy DBQ

Jacksonian Democrats viewed themselves as the guardians of the United States Constitution, political democracy, individual liberty, and equality of economic opportunity. However, this view was not entirely accurate, as the actions of Andrew Jackson and his party during the 1820’s and 1830’s did not always support their claims.

While the Jacksonian Democrats claimed to be guardians of the Constitution, they followed a president, Jackson, who, himself, acted unconstitutionally. During the nullification crisis, South Carolina had been considering voiding a federal law, something that Jackson viewed as unconstitutional, as states couldn’t override the decision of the federal government. He was even prepared to start a civil war in order to prevent the state from continuing its actions. In this instance, Jackson and his supporters were defenders of the Constitution; but there is a contradiction to this. Jackson had always fostered a mistrust of banks, so it was not to his liking that the Supreme Court had ruled them constitutional in the McCulloch v. Maryland case of 1819. Furthermore, the Constitution states that once the Supreme Court makes a decision, not even the president can override it. However, Jackson was determined to “kill” the bank, vetoing the re-charter for it in 1832. Seeing as this was the first veto ever used by a president, Jackson went as far as to expand the power of the president simply to outlaw something that the Supreme Court had already accepted, which is, in itself, unconstitutional (Doc. B). Jacksonian Democrats may have viewed themselves as guardians of the Constitution, but this was only true in situations where the document’s statements aligned with their own opinions.

Another title the Jacksonian Democrats gave themselves was defenders of political democracy. They were much more accurate in this description of themselves because of their views and actions. Jackson’s popularity widely came from the fact that he was the first “common man” to be elected to the presidential office; his story was one of failure to success. Although a somewhat corrupt system, Jackson believed in the spoils system, as evidenced by his replacement of politicians whose wives wouldn’t talk to his friend, Peggy Eaton, with his own acquaintances. This replacement of politicians demonstrated his belief that any common man could hold a political office. George Henry Evans, a Jacksonian Democrat, voiced his and Jackson’s beliefs that the common man should have a say in a government that was run by representatives of the people, and that if the government were to be filled with corrupt politicians, then the people should use constitutional means to reform it (Doc. A). Jackson largely succeeded in gaining power for the common man as he expanded suffrage to all white men, rather than just white landowners. After this change, America prospered, and Harriet Martineau made an observation that there was an absence of poverty and ignorance, as well every man being an independent landowner. She noticed the common man being eager to participate in politics and wondered how it was still a question of whether or not they should (Doc. D). Political democracy becoming a widespread empowerment to the common man was one of the great accomplishments of Jackson’s presidency.

Despite Jackson’s favor of common people, he and his supporters couldn’t have been more opposite on the subject of individual liberty. Sure, the individual liberties of white men were protected, but anyone of another ethnicity was in constant danger of having their rights infringed upon. It was noted that Jacksonian Democrats were hostile to blacks and indiscriminately persecuted all whose skin was darker (Doc. E). An excellent example of this was the Trail of Tears (Doc. G). Despite previous treaties with the Native Americans, Jackson forced thousands of them out of their homelands in Georgia to walk to Oklahoma in terrible conditions. Out of the 15,000 that he forced on the march, 4,000 died, all in the pursuit of fertile land on which to grow cotton. Jacksonian Democrats showed their affirmative position on keeping the tradition of extending the rights of the Constitution solely to the white population, as intended by the authors of the Constitution.

Lastly, Jacksonian Democrats viewed themselves as guardians of the equality of economic opportunity, something which was achieved during Jackson’s presidency. Jackson believed that the Bank of the United States was “a monopoly of the foreign and domestic exchange,” and would only benefit the richest class in the nation, thus strengthening their power and weakening the power of the common man (Doc. B). Jackson believed that the bank provided an advantage to the rich and the powerful to bend politics in their favor, which is why he made the decision to veto the re-charter of the Bank of the United States in 1832. Additionally, on the topic of Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, a Jacksonian Democrat, declares that the upper class has “no exclusive privilege” to use the area to their economic advantage (Doc. H). He eliminated monopolies of the elite. If nothing else, even the Trail of Tears was economic move to gain more land to grow cotton, a big industry among common men.

In conclusion, Jacksonian Democrats’ views of themselves were only partly accurate. They were, indeed, guardians of political democracy and equality of economic opportunity, but they fell short in their goal to be guardians of the United States Constitution and individual liberty, as well.

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