While the Jacksonian reformers and the Gilded Age reformers came from two different time periods (the 1830s and 1870–1900, respectively), they shared the perspectives that society had become corrupt, groups of people were being oppressed, and change was needed immediately for the sake of justice.
Many Jacksonian reformers rose out of the Second Great Awakening, a religious revival that awakened the desire for real Christian justice and love and the notion that human society might be made far more perfect. They focused their attention primarily on the abolition of slavery, political reform (for corruption was rampant), and the temperance movement (to ban alcohol). Other Jacksonian reform movements sought to remedy the plight of prostitutes (through organizations like the Female Moral Reform Society) and oppose the Freemasons. Women's rights advocates like Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were also beginning their efforts toward equality.
Gilded Age reformers also focused their attention on making society more moral through principles of Christian love and justice. While slavery had already been abolished by their time, reformers still found plenty of oppression against which to fight. They were especially concerned with the plight of factory workers, who were sometimes little more than slaves and who faced continuous safety hazards, long hours, and low wages. Gilded Age reformers continued the temperance movement, which was growing and finding success in some areas of the country. Other reformers sought to ease poverty and crime in inner-city slums. Jane Addams, for instance, founded the Hull House in 1889 in Chicago. Women also continued their drive toward the vote and equal rights throughout this period.
We can see, then, that reformers of both the Jacksonian and Gilded Age eras were committed to improving the lot of those less fortunate and that even though their focal points were sometimes different, they longed for a better, healthier, more prosperous American society for all people.
Andrew Jackson's presidency lasted from 1829–1837. This was a period when moral and religious reform movements swept the United States. The Second Great Awakening was still ongoing as Jackson assumed the presidency and focused on issues such as temperance (banning alcohol) and an end to gambling, prostitution, and slavery. Women's rights were also an important reform issue in this period, with women advocating for the vote. Political corruption was an additional target of the reformers.
After Jackson and up through to the end of the Civil War, slavery issues dominated US reform movements. In the 1870s, however, with the slavery issue formally over, reformers turned their attention to excesses of the rich and the growing problems of unregulated capitalism, while returning to moral issues that had animated them in the Jackson period.
The Jacksonian and Gilded Age reformers shared common roots in ethical and religious objections to the abuses of their ages. Both eras' reform efforts were motivated and impelled in part by religious groups, such as the Methodist Church. The Gilded Age reformers also took up many Jacksonian period grievances, such as political corruption and temperance. Women's rights once again emerged as a dominant issue, with women's groups working relentlessly for the right to vote.
Reformers in both ages believed they had the moral high ground and worked to publicize their causes as far and wide as possible.
Both saw themselves as taking on a wealthy, self-serving elite that rigged the system for its own benefit. Jacksonian democracy embodied a deep hostility towards the East Coast banking and commercial elites, who were blamed for putting their economic interests above those of the common people, especially farmers. In keeping with their avowed anti-elitism, Jacksonian Democrats favored wider participation in the political process, which they achieved mainly by an expansion of the franchise. To this end, they also established the controversial spoils system, which, although eventually associated with widespread graft and corruption, was designed to give more opportunities to the common man to get involved in the administration of government.
Reformers of the Gilded Age shared a similar animus towards robber barons and the institutions of Wall Street. They argued that the rampant greed of industrialists and financiers was getting out of control, leading to a massive, unsustainable gap in wealth between the rich few and the vast majority of Americans. Robber barons and their spokesmen in Congress preached the benefits of a free-market economy, while, at the same time, lobbying for laws that would give them special treatment; the growing consolidation of big business through trusts was cited as a prime example of this.
Progressive reformers, like their Jacksonian antecedents, advocated political reform to make the system more democratic, reducing the power of elites and giving it back to the people. One major difference, however, is that reformers during the Gilded Age were committed to ending corruption in public life, especially in relation to the notorious party machines of the big cities; whereas Jacksonian Democrats had arguably contributed to the corrupt nature of contemporary politics by their championing of the spoils system. Rampantly corrupt party machines, such as Tammany Hall in New York were, to a large extent, examples of Jacksonian-style patronage in action.