Andrew Jackson's Presidency

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How did Andrew Jackson help the "common man"?

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Jackson was, by the time of his presidency, far from a "common man." Rather, he was a wealthy white Tennessee planter and politician who had risen to national prominence through his military exploits. His background as a backcountry lawyer and his keen political instincts made him a compelling candidate to...

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Jackson was, by the time of his presidency, far from a "common man." Rather, he was a wealthy white Tennessee planter and politician who had risen to national prominence through his military exploits. His background as a backcountry lawyer and his keen political instincts made him a compelling candidate to many ordinary white Americans. Jackson's "common man" appeal was in large part related to style, but he also promoted policies that were at least framed as beneficial to white small landowners. One, of course, was his removal policy toward Native peoples in the South and the upper Midwest. Thousands of Native Americans were uprooted from their lands and "removed" to Indian territory in the West. This policy was enormously popular among southern whites, who gobbled up land in what is today Alabama and Mississippi to establish small farms and especially cotton plantations. Jackson's policy deliberately appealed to their economic interests as well as long-held prejudices against Native peoples along the frontier. His so-called "Bank War" was another policy undertaken with the support of many so-called "common" men. Jackson charged that the Bank of the United States used tax revenues to support wealthy elites at the expense of ordinary people. His veto of a bill to recharter the bank evoked this concern, and was, like his Native American policy, very popular among white farmers. Jackson's actions against the public works programs advocated by politicians like Henry Clay—the so-called "American System"—were undertaken with similar justifications. Whether or not these policies "helped" ordinary white men, they certainly enjoyed white men's support.

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Jackson was not necessarily a fan of the "common man." Jackson was a wealthy planter from Tennessee. While Jackson had a lot in common with the common man in terms of personality and background, he was actually quite wealthy. Jackson did some things that were popular with the common man. Between 1824 and 1828, Jackson and his campaign team characterized John Quincy Adams as a Northeast elitist. Jackson also rewarded his patrons through the spoils system, a system by which campaign contributors get patronage. Jackson opened up the southeast for whites through the Indian Removal Act; many poor whites would go on to settle in the region at the expense of the Native Americans who were being forcibly removed. Jackson also took on the National Bank by claiming that it only put money into the hands of a few. While many working-class people cheered when Jackson did not renew the charter and encouraged federal money to flow into state banks, they did not cheer when banking deregulation caused the Panic of 1837.

Jackson's "common man" appeal made many voters excited about politics. Jackson was put forth as a man of the frontier who was as tough as hickory. Because of him, future candidates tried to appeal to working-class voters by demonstrating their frontier qualities, whether or not such qualities really existed.

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Andrew Jackson ran his campaign on the concept of being a president for "the common man." His campaign and subsequent presidency ushered in a new political era that was defined by the rise of "the common man." However, Jackson's presidency can only be defined as helping the common man within the narrow definition of "common man" as the "white man." Jackson was a staunch supporter of slavery, was a slave owner himself, and catalyzed the Indian Removal Act that led to the death and displacement of tens of thousands of indigenous people in the southeastern part of the United States. Of course, women of any race were not considered in the definition of the "common man," as well. How can one be characterized as the helper of humans while he literally owned and tortured humans? The entire premise of Jackson as someone who supported the common man is rooted in the dehumanization of black people, indigenous people, and all women.

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Andrew Jackson did many things to help the common man. One thing that happened while Jackson was president was nominating conventions were used instead of caucuses to choose the people who would run for office in some elections. In the caucus system, it used to be that the party leaders would choose the candidates that would run in an election. With the use of nominating conventions, party members now would choose the people who would run in an election.

Andrew Jackson also developed the concept of the spoils system. In this system, the winning candidate would choose the people who would fill the government jobs. These jobs usually go to the candidate’s political supporters. Andrew Jackson gave many of these government jobs to the common man, instead of giving them to the wealthy.

Andrew Jackson also took on the national bank. He believed the bank helped businesses while hurting the common man. Thus, Jackson refused to renew the bank’s charter in 1832. Since the existing charter allowed the national bank to exist until 1836, Jackson began to put the government’s money in state banks instead of the national bank. Jackson wanted to get rid of the national bank because he believed it favored the wealthy, not the common man. Andrew Jackson did many things to help the common man.

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We cannot say for sure that President Jackson actually helped the "common man," but we can say that he took actions that were, in his mind, meant to help the common man.

One thing that Jackson did that can be seen as helping the common man was Indian Removal.  By forcing the Indians to move out of the Southeast, Jackson provided more land for common white settlers to settle on.  

Perhaps the most important thing that Jackson did for the common people was to destroy the Bank of the United States.  Jackson believed that it was being run by financial elites for their own benefit and that it harmed the common person.  By killing it, he was helping the common man.

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