Andrew Jackson's Presidency

Start Free Trial

How democratic was the Jacksonian democracy?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Jacksonian democracy was a form of procedural democracy that significantly varied from the norms associated with the modern, liberal democracy.

Procedural democracy generally describes a system in which the basic, mechanical functioning of democracy (such as elections) occurs but which may lack other liberal ideas which buttress democracy (principally meaning free speech and the rule of law).

Free speech and the rule of law were not absent in the Jacksonian democracy, but they did not meet contemporary standards. For instance, bureaucratic appointments were made to political favorites at every level, and they, in turn, used their administrative authority to support the Democratic Party. This system, called the "spoils system," helped cement the rise of party machines which undermined the equal application of law. Similarly, while there were no overt restrictions on free speech, those in power engaged in intense levels of coercion to limit it, including the suppression of attempts to mail abolitionist literature to Southern states.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Depends on who you ask from that time.  To come at this question from a different angle than the above posts, if you asked the Five Civilized Tribes sent on the Trail of Tears, they would argue Jackson was distinctly undemocratic.  The Supreme Court of the time, which ruled the Indian Removal Act was unconstitutional, was ignored altogether by Jackson, who removed the tribes anyway, so I would guess the Court would say there wasn't much democracy in Jacksonian Democracy.

While the phrase refers to Jackson's specific approach or philosophy of government as it compared and contrasted to earlier interpretations such as Jefferson's, the obvious hypocrisy of his actions, to me, makes the phrase a serious misnomer.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles
I agree with #3. Jackson's administration was known for allowing the common people to be part of it, or at least feel like they were. Jackson was definitely the people's president. People loved him, and as legend goes they partied hard at the white house itself after he was inaugurated.
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This answer only talks about Jackson himself.  I think that there is a distinction between Jackson the person and Jacksonian Democracy as an idea and as the distinguishing feature of an era.

Whether Jackson himself was power hungry is in some ways irrelevant.  Jacksonian Democracy as a whole was very democratic if you were a white man.  It was based on the idea that all white men should have the right to vote and the ability to participate in politics.

Of course, for a person of color or for a woman, this was not a democratic time.  These groups had very little in the way of rights.

Overall, then, regardless of Jackson's personal attributes, Jacksonian Democracy was very democratic for its time.  It was the era of universal white male suffrage and power for the "common man."  This was much more democratic even than the US had been prior to this era.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Andrew Jackson had a strong personality, a characteristic revealed by his nickname "Old Hickory", the toughest of America hardwoods. He brought this tough character to the American Presidency and stressed his individual authority which was often at odds with Congress. He used his right to vetoe Congress legislation more than all the previous Presidents put together. Jackson also opposed programs to make society more democratic such as educational reforms and freedom of religion. He also began the deportation of the Cheerokees along the Trail of Tears. As he was both the leader of Democratic Party and the President, Jackson concentrated an unprecedented power in a single person.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial