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Jeffersonian Democrats

The triumph of the Jeffersonian Republicans over the federalists in the years preceding Andrew Jackson’s presidency had established a new tone in America. They had developed both a strong belief in democracy and in freedom, which would aid in their future endeavours. Furthermore, a desire for material success and industrial expansion had arisen due to time in which they lived. The population looked to expand their territories not only geographically, but also through industry and culture. They were in effect, pioneers who increased and refined the American way.

The newfound freedoms allowed the people to experiment with new ways of life that they previously would never have touched. Their goal was to seek a better way of life through trial. New religious practices were undertaken in masses as Americans looked to divine faith as a means for discovering inner worth. According to Van Deusen, these forms were spiritualism and Mormonism to transcendentalism and Unitarianism. Some attempted to train their freedom through socialistic and communist practices while others looked to religious Utopias. Their newfound freedoms also allowed them to protest issues that had been bottled up over time. There were demonstrations on women’s right, and for the abolition of slavery.

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Democracy had its impacts in the economic world of America as well. The United States became filled with greedy people who, according to Van Deusen, felt it was “the right, the duty, and the opportunity of Americans to expand the area of freedom and enrich it.” They pushed these policies to the far reaches of the globe, sending clipper ships to seven seas while pushing their own boundaries to the Pacific and the Rio Grande.

With this new booming expansion, America was faced with a new task. How were people and products going to be moved efficiently from point A to point B? A new focus was placed on improving transportation within the United States. The steam engine was introduced as propulsion for both land and sea vehicles. The steamboat was introduced to the web of canals and rivers that were used throughout the United States. The steam engine train was also brought to use as railways dotted the landscape. As Van Deusen called it, America was experiencing a “transportation revolution.” As a result of this boom, product transport rates drastically decreased as did transportation time. In 1800 one week of travel from New York would have brought you to Virginia. In that same time period in 1860, one could have made it to parts of Texas.

The relatively uninhabited areas of the west provided perfect opportunities for land speculators and eventual commerce. A population increase in the United States during the early 1800s sent citizens sprawling for new land. For one example, according to Van Deusen, the population of the trans-Appalachian West numbered 6,376,972. Of course, there was a plentiful amount of untouched land, so of course, these pioneers looked to agriculture as a means of income. The overall agricultural production in America increased dramatically. An explanation for the infatuation with the West can be explained in the thesis of one Frederick Jackson Turned and his disciples. They said that the frontier has always been the great source of nationalism, democracy, and individualism in the United States, as well as a “safety valve” for social discontent.

As economies within America began to diversify, industrial trade and business began to take shape and prominence. Cities, the sites of this industry, such as Cincinnati, Boston, Pittsburgh, and New York, heavily increased in population. The labour element within these centres began to rise as well and with it discontent for the hiring of untrained workers and lack of hours. Furthermore, unions began to take shape in protest, also fighting for issues within the states as well. These issues concerned clumsy state militia and imprisonment for debt. The untrained workers they spoke of were made up largely of the immigrants that had come to the U.S. seeking an envisioned opportunity for success. What they found was less than to be desired.

Also in response to industry two distinct parties formed among the wealthier class. These parties were composed of first, the elite group, who were already prominent business figures, and second, the entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs composed the bankers, insurance men, merchants, etc. in society. Basically, they did business on a smaller scale than the elite did. Entrepreneurial business went on the rise during the Jacksonian era as banking and various other firms came together in the United States. American business was on the rise.

Political change was not far behind the economic upheaval of the time. The large labour force held the possibility of becoming a political party. This was due in part to America’s growth toward universal manhood suffrage. According to Van Deusen, this idealism originated in the Revolution and was aided by Jefferson and his democracy. The qualifications for suffrage had steadily lowered over time but the 1800s ushered in a new era. Early in the century, taxes and property qualifications mostly controlled a person’s right to vote in many states except for Vermont and New Hampshire who had led the way since the 1790s. Though eventually, all the states, except for North Carolina, had abolished property qualifications and only six still held low tax restrictions.

Political democracy was expanding with each passing day, as were new political methods. For example, the nomination of a president was changed to reflect the wishes of the people. Previously, congressional elected officials were chastised as were elected by state legislators. A democratic way of the election was devised by the Anti-Masonic Party in which they held a national convention to choose a candidate for the presidency. The people were granted their control and their democracy.

The spoils system was another product of the democratic sentiment that had spread through American politics. Instituted reluctantly by Thomas Jefferson during his administration, the system called for rewarding political supporters with public office. Jefferson’s reasoning for this policy was his belief in the equality of all people whether poor or wealthy. Traditionally, wealthier members of society held government positions, but Jefferson sought to expand this to all people. Also, the old colonial-system ideal of holding office during good behaviour had bred incompetence, corruption, indifference, and insolence. The result of the spoils system was that professional politicians were able to make full-time business rather than a sideline. The emphasis of government was placed on spoils rather than responsibilities.

The Jacksonian era of America was one of newfound freedoms and democracy. It presented the United States with the opportunity of economic expansion and cultural revolution not available in the previous years of the feuding Federalist and Jeffersonian parties. In response, Americans capitalized on the situations of the time and used it to experiment. Their results were positive as America made a smooth and strong transition from horse and buggy to wrought iron and steam. The democracy set a precedent not only for the people who experienced it but also for the government by which it was directed.

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