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During the Jacksonian Period, American politics were altered. What were the most significant changes from previous policies? What were the long-term implications of the new political methodology? Were the long-term results beneficial or detrimental to the quality of government? Why? What was the role of Andrew Jackson in this process? As a milestone in the continuing democratization of the political process, how significant was this period?
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And here is my answer.
As the Industrial Revolution progressed in the Antebellum period, great changes were sweeping the nation. The Enlightenment had stressed human perfectibility and now the Second Great Awakening encouraged people to improve themselves and society.
Many reform movements sprang up and met with varying degrees of success but one of the most significant and lasting changes occurred in politics and became known as the Jacksonian Period. Andrew Jackson’s presidency was a significant milestone in the continuing democratization of the political process. Jackson had a personal hand in some of the changes though it may be more accurate to say his policies were a product of the times. He set politics on a new course, propelled by the winds of change.
One of the most revolutionary and lasting changes was in the way presidential candidates ran their election campaign. As the states removed property requirements for voting, more power was passed to the poor who were previously excluded. At the same time, the electorate was moving from the legislatures to the people. Andrew Jackson and the Nashville Junto took advantage of this in the election of 1824.
Traditionally, candidates for the presidency used the support of a political base in Congress for their campaign. But Jackson, lacking political allies in Congress for his candidacy, went straight to the people. This strategy was successful in winning the popular vote over Adams by more than 30%. He also won the most electoral votes but fell short of the required majority of 131 and the House of Representatives put Adams in the Oval Office.
Over the next four years, Jackson supporters redoubled their efforts to win votes as the people’s candidate. Voters were rallied with barbeques and parades while the political issues took a back seat to vicious attacks on the character of opposing candidates. The lively campaigns played on people’s hopes, fears, and prejudices and brought in unprecedented voter participation. Jackson won the election of 1828 with an astonishing 56% of the popular vote, ushering in a new political era called Jacksonian Democracy.
Much of the new style of political campaigning was done by Jackson’s supporters while Jackson himself stayed home as was a custom. But once in office, he took a larger role in changing the political process. Jackson used the veto for his own political agenda, issuing a total of twelve during his two terms. All of the previous presidents had a combined total of only nine because they thought the veto should be used strictly for blocking legislation believed to be unconstitutional. Jackson justified his actions by claiming that he represented the people better than Congress because only the president is elected by all the people. Many presidents since have made the same claim.
Most of the long term implications of the new political methodology were beneficial to the quality of government. Some were not. From the Jackson era, politicians learned the value of smearing the image of political opponents while remaining vague on important issues. But the formation of a two-party system that catered to the average man made the Union more democratic.
Before Andrew Jackson became president, the political arena was dominated by the social elite who depended on the people to defer to the “better sort.” Andrew Jackson was loved by the people for his iron will and charisma. He was the first Westerner to become president, breaking the monopoly of the wealthy Virginia planter and New England aristocracy. He was born poor and rose to the highest office by his own strength of character. Andrew Jackson reflected the image of the common man that the myth-making imagination of the country projected, developing strong bonds with the people that modern politicians still strive for.
The people would no longer take a back seat to the aristocracy. Anybody could become president. Political parties were refined and organized toward common people who were now turning up at the polls in large numbers. The average man became important because of his political power and, rather than be ignored by politicians, they were catered to, praised, and flattered by those seeking office.
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