The “Era of the Common Man”, through the 1820’s and 1830’s is also known as the “Age of Jackson”. The Jacksonian Democrats thought of themselves as saviors of the common people, the constitution, political democracy, and economic opportunity. To the extent that they attempted to support equal economic opportunity and some aspects of political democracy, I agree with their view of themselves. I cannot agree however, with the notion that Jacksonian Democrats were champions of individual liberties or the constitution. Overall, the Jacksonian Democrats high regard of themselves was clearly distorted.
To a degree, Jacksonian Democrats did uphold equal economic opportunity. For example, in the Supreme Court case, Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge, they encouraged economic competition. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the common man’s interests over private, wealthy individuals’ interests to monopolize, under the Jacksonian Democrats. (Doc. H) It can also be said that they championed equal economic opportunity with the veto of the Bank of the U.S., run by aristocrats and foreigners, even in light of the fact that the veto disregarded the Supreme Court decision upholding the Bank as constitutional. (Doc. B) To their credit, the Jacksonian Democrats upheld certain aspects of political democracy. They appealed to the common man (Doc A) and in the spirit of Jacksonianism, the right to vote was expanded, national nominating conventions replaced the secret caucus, and even the British were impressed with the democracy of American society. (Doc. D) Their accomplishments however, do not make up for their lack of loyalty to individual liberties and the constitution.
Jacksonian Democrats were in no way champions of the Constitution. Though at times they may have manipulated its meaning to suit their purpose, more often than not, they flouted it completely. For example, they completely failed to uphold the Supreme Court decision regarding the Cherokee Indians. The court ruled in favor of their rights, yet Jackson went so far as to express his opinion that he “could not come to agree” with the Chief Justice John Marshall. Furthermore, Jackson did nothing to enforce the decision; on the contrary, he enforced the Indian Removal Acts and uprooted the Cherokee from their ancestral land. (Doc. G) Another example of the Jacksonian Democrats against the Constitution is their veto of the Bank of the United States.
Despite the fact that the Bank was upheld as constitutional in the Supreme Court case of McCulloch v. Maryland, the Jacksonian Democrats were elated with its veto and demise by President Jackson. (Doc. B) States’ rights were even seen as threatening to the national government when the Tariff of 1832 provoked the nullification crisis in the South. When South Carolina declared a tariff null and void and threatened to secede (Doc F), President Jackson responded in an unconstitutional manner. Jackson threatened to send a militia to enforce the tariff collection and the Jacksonian Congress passed a force bill approving this military action if necessary. Finally, under the Jacksonian Administration, the U.S. post office suppressed abolitionist mail into the South. A clear violation of the 1st amendment, the Jacksonian Democrats made no move to uphold the Constitution in this case. (Doc. F)
With regards to upholding individual liberties, the Jacksonian Democrats barely pulled their weight. Granted, the common man was given the feeling that he was an “independent citizen” (Doc. D) who was an important part of the government. More voters turned out at the polls than ever before as voting requirements became practically non-existent, the common man became more involved in public policy, and political “families” no longer controlled the vote. But when the Jacksonian Democrats stated “all men are created equal” and said they wanted equality for all men of all classes (Doc A) the vote was still limited to white males only. The Jacksonian Democrats remained hypocritically silent on the issue of black suffrage. In addition, Jacksonian Democrats did next to nothing to help the condition of blacks, immigrants, and slaves, much less women. (Docs. F & G) Historical evidence even points out indications of racial violence in Northern Cities.
The facts remain that riots broke out amongst the lowest working classes, the blacks and the Irish, the commonest of the common men; the very people Jacksonian Democrats were supposedly supporting. (Doc. E) Tension among the working class is even revealed in “The Working Men’s Declaration of Independence”. They were provoked to speak out against abuses of their rights, in an age when their individual liberties should have felt secure with the support of the Jacksonians. (Doc. A), it is plain to see how the Jacksonian Democrats paid no mind to the individual liberties of the Cherokee when it came to the mass relocation of their independent nation. (Doc. G)
In conclusion, the Jacksonian Democrats were in no way the ultimate champions of democracy. They were instrumental in bringing the common man to a new position of importance in political society, yet they in no way lived up to all of their Jacksonian Democratic ideals. I cannot agree with their perception of themselves, which was to say the least, overly self-assured.
Courtney from Study Moose
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