Jacksonian Democrats are often viewed as prompting political democracy, equal opportunity, and personal liberty. Based on your knowledge of the 1820s, to what extent do you agree with this view?
When Jackson took office in 1829 he led, with pride, a new band of politicians. These politicians, the Jacksonian Democrats, had not been born into aristocracy, but instead, had worked and earned their own positions. Jacksonian Democrats are often viewed as prompting political democracy, equal opportunity, and personal liberty, while in fact, these seeds had already been planted in Americans, and the Jacksonian Democrats had only just come to power when they were in full bloom. These ideas actually originated during the 1820s as new states emerged and new state constitutions were written, thus expanding suffrage, opportunity, and hope.
Between 1816 and 1821 six new states had been added to the union, five of which were to the west. In order for these new states to be able to distinguish themselves they needed people to populate them, therefore increasing their value. In order to encourage this necessary migration the new states wove new privileges into their constitutions, expanding suffrage and opportunities for the common white man. In these new constitutions there were no limits of property owning upon voting. Eastern states were then pressured to follow suit. They needed their residents to stay as much as the new states needed them to leave. Gradually they changed to allow for the same freedoms as the West, and most white men were given suffrage.
Trodding hand in hand with suffrage was the right to hold office. Prior to 1820 only rich aristocrats, owning a considerable amount of land, were permitted to do so. Again, the new states introduced a new concept, this time that every voter has the ability to run for a political office. The older states were forced to debate these new issues and some were reluctant to change. In Massachusetts’ constitutional convention of 1820, Daniel Webster opposed the idea of lifting property requirements. The result of the convention was that all voters were made taxpayers and were allowed to hold office except for that of governor. That position still required considerable land owning. With these new privileges, there was a lot more that the common white male could work towards, giving him new inspiration and confidence.
As people slowly began taking advantage of their new privileges their views and ideas were compiled with the more traditional. In New York, two parties emerged when Martin Van Buren went against the governor and led a small faction to write a new constitution. Though they were suppressed, their point got across and a new message came from their struggle. It was realized that parties were not the evil establishments they had originally thought them to be. Parties would enable the government to become more democratic. Politicians, with the competition of opposing parties, would be always mindful of the wishes of the people. They would keep each other checked, just as the branches of federal government did.
Jackson did not create these new forms of democracy. They had been set into motion ten years before he ran for office. He was credited with their effects, though, because it was not until the 1830s that these ideas really caught on and expanded. Though the bulk of the movements occurred while Jackson was president, he did very little to encourage them, because they needed little encouragement. The Americans, in their never-ending quest for freedom and democracy had stumbled upon these expansions all on their own. This had been the pattern prior to, and would prove to be the pattern henceforth of American society.