Jacksonian Democracy refers to the social and political ideas that shaped the period encompassing Andrew Jackson's presidency (1829-1837). Jacksonian Democracy reflects an attempt to approach as closely as possible the literal meaning of the famous phrase "of the people, by the people, and for the people." The central focus of Jacksonian Democracy was the idea that the people should have greater power in government. In addition, the measures undertaken to elevate the common man's influence also served to create a greater sense of equality: equality of opportunity.
Before this period, not all white men could vote, much less the other sections of the population. In Jacksonian Democracy, the landholding requirement for voting rights was lifted. White men did not have to own land to enjoy the right to vote. Doing this granted the common person the same opportunity to influence government policy as more affluent members of society. In addition, requirements for admission into more specialized occupations were relaxed a great deal. Common people had the opportunity to become doctors or lawyers without having to jump through too many hoops. The impact of these measures cannot be overestimated. It was not until the Jacksonian period that candidates even found it necessary to campaign. Since the average person enjoyed the same voting status as more affluent citizens, their opinions could no longer be ignored.
Jacksonian Democracy, in many ways, reflects a continuation and expansion on ideas already present in Jeffersonian Democracy. Jeffersonian Democracy, unlike its Jacksonian Democracy counterpart, did not extend voting rights to many citizens. Under Jeffersonian Democracy, voters still needed to meet certain landholding requirements, but those requirements were more relaxed than they had been. In addition, Jeffersonian Democracy sought to offer greater economic opportunities to common farmers, something that Jacksonian Democracy continued to carry forward.
The basic difference was the way in which Jefferson and Jackson viewed the role of government and how citizens should participate in government.
Jefferson and his Democratic-Republicans were from the Revolutionary War era. They were men who felt that if people were educated in how to do so, they could participate in government, but that the federal government should remain small in size and generally not intervene directly in citizens’ lives. Jefferson believed firmly that men have natural rights to life, liberty and property, and that the role of government is to protect these rights; however, they still thought that those leading government should be the educated elite. The masses were to, at election time, reward deserving public officials with re-election.
The next period of the nation's history, referred to as the Jacksonian Era, would shatter these assumptions. Jackson and his Democratic Party were of a new generation of Americans expanding ever westward who took the idea of government for the people and by the people to heart. Jackson expanded the role of governing to the average man, as evidenced by the institution of universal male suffrage. Political campaigns that appealed to the masses and the implementation of party nominating conventions and choice of Presidential electors by popular vote were noted achievements of the Jacksonian Era. Likewise, the spoils system in national politics came from the Jacksonian era, due to Jackson’s appointment of his supporters to government office, no matter the individual’s qualifications or experience. While Jefferson believed that the common man could participate in government, Jackson made it easier for him to do so.