Jacksonian Democracy 1830s- 1840s
by Colin Lieberman
The 1820s and 1830s in America were times of sweeping change. Jacksonian
democracy brought more power to common citizens, and engendered ideals of wide
spread liberty. Jacksonian democrats believed that they were guardians of the
Constitution, political individual liberty, and economic opportunity. Although
their beliefs did not apply to the Indians that they displaced, they were
correct in their evaluation of themselves.
Jacksonian democrats believed that they were guardians of the Constitution.
Thy believed that they upheld its principles, and defended its ideals of an
"equal" society. They took the Constitution at its face value, without reading
into it. Jacksonians believed that they defended political democracy. They
supported a government that represented all of its people, not just the wealthy.
In their minds, it was important that all white men have the right to vote, not
just the rich white men. They believed that they protected individual liberty.
Locke's natural rights were held in high esteem. Government should ensure these
rights, they thought. They believed that they propagated economic opportunity.
Upward mobility was what the land of opportunity was known for, and they
believed that was one of the better aspects of America, and should be preserved
at all costs.
Jacksonians did a good job of upholding these ideals. In July of 1830, an
act regarding the Bank of the United States was submitted to President Jackson
for signature, he flatly vetoed it on the grounds that it was not "compatible with
justice...or with the Constitution" of the United States. He believed that it was
unconstitutional for a single financial institution to enjoy "a monopoly of the
foreign and domestic exchange." Committed to the ideal of expanding the country,
he worked hard to acquire territory to hold the expanding population. Political
democracy blossomed under Jacksonian democracy. George Henry Evans, a Jacksonian
Democrat, in December 1829 wrote "The Working Man's Declaration of
Independence." He borrowed some of Jefferson's words to construct a document that looks
strikingly like Marx's manifesto. He wrote that when one government perpetrates
"a long train of abuses" it is the right and duty of the people to use "every
constitutional means to reform...such a government." This is the character of
Individual liberties flourished under Jacksonian democracy. British author
Harriet Martineau visited America in 1834. What she found shocked her. "I had
seen every man in the towns an independent citizen; every man in the country a
landowner," she wrote. In Britain, the lack of free space forced men into
servitude, in a neofeudal style, working on another?s land. But in America, men
were free to purchase and harvest their own land. Economic opportunity reigned
supreme. Men were free to start their own businesses. One payed for the quality
of a good, and selected from a wide market. Capitalism ran rampant. In 1837, a
dispute arose over toll bridges over the Charles River. The Charles River Bridge
had been erected over the river, and another company began to build the Warren
Bridge over it. The case reached the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Roger B.
Taney found in favor of the Warren Bridge, on the premise that the proprietors
of the Charles River Bridge had been granted the right to build a bridge, and
to charge a toll, but had no other powers over the land. He found that "there is
no exclusive privilege given to them over the waters...no right to erect another
bridge...nor to prevent other persons from erecting one." This capitalistic
decision typifies Jacksonian democracy, and helped to uphold economic
However, these beliefs were not spread to the Indians. Chief Justice Marshall
decided that the Cherokee nation, along with Chickasaws, Creeks, and Seminole
Indians that lived in the south, predominantly Georgia, had a right to their
land. His decision in Worcester v Georgia also included recognition of the Indian
lands as a sovereign Indian state. Upon hearing Marshall's decision, Jackson said
"Mr. Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it." He the proceeded
to illegally replace the Indians further west, force marching them down the infamous
"Trail of Tears." Many lives were lost, and rights of Indians were forsaken to
accommodate rights of white men.
Despite Jackson's tenacity in Indian relations, he worked wonders for white
manhood suffrage. Decisions such as Charles River Bridge v Warren Bridge, and
writings like those of Harriet Martineau, show that the Jacksonian opinions
of themselves were generally accurate. They were avid social reformers, who did
everything they claimed to have done.