Guardians of Freedom?The first and truest ideals of democracy were embodied in the politicalideas of Andrew Jackson and the Jacksonian democrats.
Calling themselves theguardians of the United States Constitution, the Jacksonian politicians engenderedwide spread liberty under a government which represented all men, rather than onlythe upper class. While some policies under the democrats had evident flaws, theywere, for the most part, eager social reformers who strived to put the power ofgovernment into the hands of the common citizens. The convictions and ideals of the Jacksonian Democrats can be bestillustrated through a passage written by George Henry Evans. Evans was an editorwith strong democratic principles who created ?The Working Men’s Declaration ofIndependence? (Doc. A). Within the declaration, Evans stresses the importance ofestablishing democracy.
He uses words and phrases from Jefferson’s ?Declarationof Independence? to clarify his points and stress his convictions. Stating theabsolute ?necessity of the organization of the party,? Evans explains that it will bepossible to prevent the upper class from subverting the ?indefeasible andfundamental privilege? of liberty. And finally, Evans states that it is the commoncitizen’s right to use every constitutional means necessary to ?reform the abuses?and ?provide new guards for future security. ? In doing so, he documented thecharacteristic attitude of the majority of the country in the 1820’s and 1830’s. Evans was only one of the many Jacksonian democrats to contribute to thesuccess of the party and to the reforms that they made. Chief Justice Roger B.
Taney’s opinion in the Supreme Court Case of Charles River Bridge v. WarrenBridge was a capitalist decision which was a typical response for a Jacksoniandemocrat (Doc. H). This decision stated that while the Charter of 1785 allowed theCharles River Bridge to be constructed, it did not prohibit any other bridges frombeing constructed.
Therefore, Taney decided that the capitalistic competitionwould be healthy for the economy of the regions along the Charles River. In doingthis, Taney was eliminating the monopolies of the elite and creating equaleconomic opportunities for all citizens. As a result, Taney contributed to one of themajor achievements of the Jacksonian Democrats – to create economic equality. The President of the United States of America and leader of the Democraticparty, Andrew Jackson, was perhaps the most outspoken democrat of the time. Heused his position as leader of the country to give more power to the common man.
Even before his election as president, he succeeded in having the property qualification eliminated, therefore, increasing the voting population tremendously. Jackson became the first president truly elected by the common man, rather thanonly high society. For the first time in the history of the nation, the middle classreceived the opportunity to participate in the government that ruled them. Jackson did not stop with the reformation of the election process. Instead,he attacked the Bank of the United States and vetoed the re-charter for theinstitution.
President Jackson explained that the bank’s stock was held by onlyforeigners and a few hundred rich American citizens. As a result, the bankmaintained an ?exclusive privilege of banking. . .
? – ?a monopoly? (Doc. B). TheDemocrats believed the bank to be a tool of rich oppression and a dangerousinstitution because the men in power were of the highest class and utterly?irresponsible to the people. ? So, President Jackson vetoed the re-charter and itwas closed. The money was dispersed into several state banks and the monopolywas disintegrated.
Indeed, the Democrats succeeded in creating a new government for the ruleof a society of middle class citizens. And, the middle class began to prosper underthe struggle for economic equality. Visiting the United States in 1834, HarrietMartineau reported the prosperity of the country (Doc. D). She discovered ?theabsence of poverty, gross ignorance, and insolence of manner? as well as townswith newspapers and libraries.
She also reported on political debated withcommon citizens as judges. It is quite clear that the expansion of suffrage, supportfor individual rights, and advances of democratic society were responsible for theprosperity of the time. However, it would be both irrational and naive to assume that the ideals ofJacksonian democrats were without flaw. And it would be preposterous toconceive a period in American history without its low points.
This holds true forthe period of 1820 – 1830 as well. A number of middle class citizensmisinterpreted democratic reforms as an opportunity to disregard decorum andlaw. Philip Hone, a Whig politician, wrote descriptions of riots which erupted inPhiladelphia and large Eastern cities (Doc. E). Middle class citizens who tookadvantage of individual rights caused chaos and destruction. Yet, an understandingof human nature is necessary to continue.
It must be expected that some people areunable to handle the privileges of individualism, and a crowded city is the mostlikely place for a riot to break out. Such is the situation even presently. Especiallyin large cities, violence and rioting is not uncommon. A political party aimed atbetter the nation can not be justly held responsible for the terrible behavior of afew.
The same principle holds true for the Acts and Resolutions of SouthCarolina in 1835 (Doc. F). While the Jacksonian Democrats believed that the onlyway to reform society was through constitutional means, South Carolina did notabide by the same convictions. Instead, they used individual liberty to over-rule thegovernment. The South Carolina legislature decided to nullify the Post OfficeDepartment (which violated the first amendment to the Constitution) and outlawabolition movements (thereby denying freedom of speech). Finally, thesoon-to-secceed South Carolina decided not to collect taxes on imports andPresident Jackson decided they had gone too far.
He threatened them with war inorder to restore rational behavior. Although is possible to show all the positive and constructive reformsinitiated by the Jacksonian Democrats, it is impossible to ignore the tragicoppression of the Native Americans by President Jackson. On the Trail of Tears,thousands of lives were senselessly ended en route from Georgia to the westernreservations. There can be no justification for the terrible mistreatment the Indianshad to endure.
However, it is necessary to look at the situation for that time period. While all white man were now considered equal and the middle class was elevated,the Blacks and Native Americans were not included. Even Thomas Jefferson didnot intend to include either race when drafting the Declaration of Independence. So, while it can not be excused, it becomes possible to comprehend how such atravesty might occur.
Despite several inevitable flaws in the time period, the Democrat’sproclamation as ?guardians of the United States Constitution, political democracy,individual liberty, and economic equality? is quite valid. Indeed, the JacksonianDemocrats succeed in the ambitions, and their avid social reforms helped make theUnited States a more liberated and democratic nation.