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Jacksonian Democracy

After the contentious election of 1824 in which John Quincy Adams was elected by the House of Representatives over Andrew Jackson and three other candidates, Jackson succeeded in defeating President Adams in another bitter race in 1828.

During the campaign, the long and distinguished government career of John Quincy Adams was described as "feeding at the public trough" and of padding his expense account. He was called a "pimp" for providing an American girl as "gift" for the Czar of Russia. He was charged with turning the White House into a "gambling den" after bringing a billiard table into the White House. Jackson was portrayed as a "drunk," a brawler and an adulterer because his wife Rachel’s divorce had not been final when they first got married. See Campaign of 1828, Dirty Campaigning, Rachel & Andrew Jackson: A Love Story, The bitterness continued after the results were known; Adams declined to participate in the Inauguration of his successor.

Jackson's supporters effectively exploited his humble birth, his status as a war hero in the Battle of New Orleans and popular resentment at the so-called "corrupt bargain" of 1824 in which Adams secured his election by alleged promise of a cabinet position to Henry Clay, one of the other candidates.

The election of 1828 also marked the expansion of the voting franchise, perhaps partly due to the uproar following the election conducted by the House in 1824. Jackson won by 647,000 votes to 507,000 and by 178-83 in electoral college. Many more people voted for president than in 1824 since some states were beginning to let voters, rather than the legislatures, select presidential electors. The former strict eligibility standards to vote, usually based on property ownership or some equivalent of assets, also were being lowered or abolished.

cartoon about Pres. Jackson
Cartoon lampooning President Jackson's imperious style in vetoing Congressional legislation. Image Source: University of Virginia

The framework for the contemporary two-party system also emerged in the Jacksonian era. After 1828, the parties would run tickets for both president and vice president. The modern Democratic Party was founded under Jackson and held its first national convention, under the name of the Democratic-Republican Party, when he ran for a second term in 1832; an anti-Jackson opposition party--the Whig Party — also soon organized, with many of its members united in criticism of Jackson's populist policies and his imperious style. When the Whigs disappeared in the early 1850s over regional divisions on slavery, it was soon replaced by the Republican Party, establishing the basic partisan structure that continues today.

As President, Jackson cultivated his reputation as defender of the "Common Man". At his Inaugural, he allowed large numbers of citizens into the White House, leading to the destruction of many of its furnishings, and Jackson left the building though a window to avoid the mob. In his Inaugural Address, he proposed the abolition of the Electoral College. During his two terms, he vetoed more bills than all his predecessors combined, challenging the view that the only grounds for a presidential veto were a bill's constitutionality. He also set the model for political patronage, awarding government jobs which required no special expertise to friends and supporters.

Jackson's populism also was illustrated in the controversy over the rechartering of The Bank of the United States. In 1832, four years prior to the expiration of its charter, Nicholas Biddle, the Bank's president, sought legislation to extend the length of the Bank's charter. When Congress passed the bill, Jackson vetoed it, framing the issue primarily in terms of the economic divisions of rich and poor, as well as the resentment toward the high proportion of its stock held by foreigners. See From Revolution to Reconstruction: Andrew Jackson: A Brief Biography, The End of the Bank War, Department of Humanities, University of Groningen, The Netherlands. Yet Jackson's motivation also may also have been influenced by other political considerations since the dissolution of the Bank, which was closely aligned with the financial and political interests of the Philadelphia financial community where it was based, would benefit the emerging New York investment market centered on Wall Street where some of Jackson's supporters had personal interests, as well as state banks and settlers in the West, who argued that the Bank's restrictive lending policies adversely affected development of the frontier. See The Destruction of the Second Bank of the United States: Rationale and Effects, Gareth Davis, Trinity College, University of Dublin. Jackson's veto of the Bank legislation also led to a request by Senate Whigs for documents relating to the veto; after Jackson refused to comply, the Senate passed a resolution of censure, which was later expunged from the Senate record after Jackson's Democrats gained a Senate majority in the election of 1836. See March 28, 1834, Senate Censures President, US Senate; Congressional panel studies Andrew Jackson censure case, Michael Kanish, The Boston Globe..


The present corporate body, denominated the president, directors, and company of the Bank of the United States, will have existed at the time this act is intended to take effect twenty years. It enjoys an exclusive privilege of banking under the authority of the General Government, a monopoly of its favor and support, and, as a necessary consequence, almost a monopoly of the foreign and domestic exchange. The powers, privileges, and favors bestowed upon it in the original charter, by increasing the value of the stock far above its par value, operated as a gratuity of many millions to the stockholders....

The act before me proposes another gratuity to the holders of the same stock, and in many cases to the same men, of at least seven millions more....It is not our own citizens only who are to receive the bounty of our Government. More than eight millions of the stock of this bank are held by foreigners. By this act the American Republic proposes virtually to make them a present of some millions of dollars.

....It appears that more than a fourth part of the stock is held by foreigners and the residue is held by a few hundred of our own citizens, chiefly of the richest class.

Is there no danger to our liberty and independence in a bank that in its nature has so little to bind it to our country? The president of the bank has told us that most of the State banks exist by its forbearance. Should its influence become concentered, as it may under the operation of such an act as this, in the hands of a self-elected directory whose interests are identified with those of the foreign stockholders, will there not be cause to tremble for the purity of our elections in peace and for the independence of our country in war? Their power would be great whenever they might choose to exert it; but if this monopoly were regularly renewed every fifteen or twenty years on terms proposed by themselves, they might seldom in peace put forth their strength to influence elections or control the affairs of the nation. But if any private citizen or public functionary should interpose to curtail its powers or prevent a renewal of its privileges, it can not be doubted that he would be made to feel its influence.

It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes....

Excerpts from President Jackson's Veto Messsage, July 10, 1832

Source: The Avalon Project, Yale Law School

Another major controversy of Jackson's Administration related to the constitutional issues on the nature of the federal union, which would soon be confronted in the conflict over slavery, presented in the Nullification Crisis. The conflict first arose in November 1831 when South Carolina approved an ordinance of nullification declaring that a federal tariff was unconstitutional. The tariff was viewed to favor Northern manufacturing, which wanted protection from foreign imports, over Southern agriculture, which was heavily dependent on the purchase of foreign goods and the export of its commodities, including cotton, to foreign buyers. Jackson's vice president was South Carolina native John C. Calhoun, who firmly believed states had the right to overrule federal laws.

The relationship between Calhoun and Jackson first had become strained when Calhoun's wife Flordie refused to invite Margaret "Peggy" Eaton, wife of John Eaton, Jackson's Secretary of War who was a close friend of Jackson's and former Senator from Tennessee, to social events. Jackson himself had first met Mrs. Eaton in 1823, when he was elected to the Senate, and rented a room at the Washington boardinghouse and tavern owned by Mrs. Eaton's father, William O'Neale, an Irish immigrant. Subsequently, the then Peggy O'Neale had married a sailor named Hugh Timberlake, who was assigned by John Eaton as Secretary of War to go on a voyage, apparently to allow Eaton and Peggy to conduct an affair during which they openly lived together. Timberlake died while on the voyage under uncertain circumstances, perhaps by suicide when he learned of the affair. His widow and Eaton then married soon after his death. Although Eaton later resigned from the cabinet, Jackson resented Mrs. Calhoun's social ostracization of Peggy Eaton, and continued to support John Eaton in the face of the scandal, later appointing him governor of the Florida territory. See Andrew Jackson and the Tavern-Keeper's Daughter, J. Kingston Pierce, American History Magazine, PRIMEDIA History Group.

Jackson and Calhoun later would differ over more substantive policy issues, which ultimately brought their final split over South Carolina's position that the federal constitution allowed states to nullify federal acts with which they disagreed. To enforce its position, in July 1832 the South Carolina authorized a special convention authorizing use of its militia to block the collection of the tariff in the state after February 1, 1833. As the potential for a violent confrontation increased, the President issued a Proclamation in December 1832 declaring the South Carolina nullification act unconstitutional, and setting forth an extensive defense of his view of the federal union that would later be used extensively in the debates leading up to the Civil War. Jackson also dispatched federal troops and warships to South Carolina as the deadline approached. Calhoun then resigned as vice president to return to the Senate to lead his state's arguments against the imposition of federal authority. Violence was averted, however, when Senator Henry Clay and Calhoun, now in the Senate, partnered to draft a reduced tariff agreement that pacified South Carolina while allowing the Federal government to maintain its position that the state could not prevent the enforcement of federal acts. Calhoun would not abandon the concept of nullification, however, and later renewed it in his defense of the South's position on federal intervention over issues related to slavery.

I consider, then, the power to annul a law of the United States, assumed by one State, incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted expressly by the letter of the Constitution, unauthorized by its spirit, inconsistent with every principle on which It was founded, and destructive of the great object for which it was formed.

....Fellow-citizens! the momentous case is before you. On your undivided support of your government depends the decision of the great question it involves, whether your sacred Union will be preserved, and the blessing it secures to us as one people shall be perpetuated.

Excerpts from President Jackson's Proclamation of December 10, 1832 on nullification

Source: The Avalon Project, Yale Law School


....The planter, the farmer, the mechanic, and the laborer all know that their success depends upon their own industry and economy and that they must not expect to become suddenly rich by the fruits of their toil. Yet these classes of society form the great body of the people of the United States; they are the bone and sinew of the country; men who love liberty and desire nothing but equal rights and equal laws and who, moreover, hold the great mass of our national wealth, although it is distributed in moderate amounts among the millions of freemen who possess it. But, with overwhelming numbers and wealth on their side, they are in constant danger of losing their fair influence in the government, and with difficulty maintain their just rights against the incessant efforts daily made to encroach upon them.

The progress of the United States under our free and happy institutions has surpassed the most sanguine hopes of the founders of the republic. Our growth has been rapid beyond all former example -- in numbers, in wealth, in knowledge, and all the useful arts which contribute to the comforts and convenience of man; and from the earliest ages of history to the present day, there never have been 13 million people associated together in one political body who enjoyed so much freedom and happiness as the people of these United States. You have no longer any cause to fear danger from abroad; your strength and power are well known throughout the civilized world, as well as the high and gallant bearing of your sons.

It is from within, among yourselves, from cupidity, from corruption, from disappointed ambition and inordinate thirst for power, that factions will be formed and liberty endangered....

...My own race is nearly run; advanced age and failing health warn me that before long I must pass beyond the reach of human events and cease to feel the vicissitudes of human affairs. I thank God that my life has been spent in a land of liberty and that He has given me a heart to love my country with the affection of a son. And, filled with gratitude for your constant and unwavering kindness, I bid you a last and affectionate farewell.

Andrew Jackson's Farewell Message to the American People

Source: American Studies at the University of Virginia


The Papers of Andrew Jackson>> The Avalon Project, Yale Law School

From Revolution to Reconstruction: Andrew Jackson: A Brief Biography, Department of Humanities, University of Groningen, The Netherlands.

Jackson v. Calhoun>>Thomas Long, Jr., eHistory

Rachel & Andrew Jackson: A Love Story >>

The Nullification Crisis >>Library of Congress

Henry Clay Speech on President Jackson's Veto of the Bank Bill, July 10, 1832>>Furman University

Educational Tools

The Age of Jacksonian Democracy (History 121:US History 1) >>Professor Henry J. Sage, Northern Virginia Community College

Jeffersonian and Jacksonian America, 1790-1848 (History 453)>> Professor Edward C. Carter, II, Department of History, University of Pennsylvania

Jeffersonian and Jacksonian Democracy, The History of the Early Republic, 1800-1845 (History 557.02) >>The Ohio State University

Biography of Andrew Jackson: A Man for the People >> A&E

John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson >> American History Class Page, Social Studies Help Center