Andrew Jackson's Presidency

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What were the differences between the Democrats and the Whigs?

The Whigs emerged out of opposition for the Democratic party and President Jackson and only lasted for about twenty years. They viewed President Jackson as a wannabe king and heavily favored industry and manufacturing over agriculture—another key difference in the party philosophies—as well as an emphasis of Congress over the executive branch. 

 

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The essential difference between the two parties was their attitude towards the federal government. Democrats thought the states should have more autonomy, while the Whigs were in favor of a strong, centralized government and a strong Congress. In policy terms, Whigs supported tariffs that supported manufacturing and a strong central bank, while the Jacksonian Democrats saw themselves as protecting the "common man," for instance the farmer earning a living off the land. They opposed, on principle, any measure that would curtail the freedom of the individual. Whigs, for example, supported projects that aimed for the common good, such as the development of transportation infrastructure and public education, while Democrats opposed the taxation that these projects required. Democrats, on the other hand, pushed for rapid expansion to the West, in part to provide more farming land, while the Whigs thought expansion should be more measured.

In Jackson, the Democrats were able to consolidate power in the executive branch. This power found expression in Jackson's opposition to the central bank, and his executive order to suspend deposits to the bank effectively superseded legislation. Jackson's populism stood in contrast to the Whig's interest is social order. In many ways, Jackson's pitting of personal freedom against the common good created political divisions that continue to this day.

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To some extent, the Whigs were the natural successors of the Federalist Party of John Adams, second President of the United States. They favored commerce and manufacture over agriculture, believed in a more centralized system of government, and harbored a deep distrust of unchecked democracy, which they saw as potentially leading to tyranny.

Whigs tended to represent the political and economic interests of the social elite, especially those on the East coast who saw themselves as the natural leaders of society. But they also established a firm base of support among the emerging middle-class, who were becoming an increasingly important segment of society both politically and economically.

All of these characteristics set the Whigs apart from the Democrats. Under Andrew Jackson, the Democrats became the champions of a form of agrarian populism, which sought to protect the little guy and his interests from bankers and plutocrats, who were frequently demonized in Democratic propaganda as using their wealth and power to crush small farmers and tradesmen.

Democrats were also staunch supporters of states' rights, which went down well with their Southern base, who were constantly worried about threats to slavery posed by Northern abolitionists. Although the Whigs' position on slavery was always rather ambiguous, there were certainly enough Whigs, especially in New England, to make the Democrats decidedly nervous about their intentions.

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Democrats vs. Whigs: Democrats believed that government should leave business alone, neither helping nor hindering it. This philosophy is known as laissez faire. This way the people would not be burdened with taxes to support big business, and everybody who wasn't too lazy or too ignorant would be able to take care of himself.

The Whigs believed government should protect industry with tariffs on imports, with grants of monopolies, with construction of harbors and railroads, with a national banking system. This had appeal to northern industrialists and farmers who needed railroads or other help getting their produce to market. This did not have appeal to most common people because they did not want to pay more taxes to support big business and they did not want to pay higher prices for what they bought because of the tariff. Southern planters supported the Whig party because they believed it provided better law and order. They thought too many of the common people of the north who supported the Democrats were rabble who endangered law and order.

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The Whig party (1834) formed in opposition to President Andrew Jackson and the Democratic party. It only lasted for a little over twenty years. There were two Whig presidents who were elected, Harrison and Taylor.

The Whig party wanted to make America stronger by building roads, canals, etc. They viewed President Jackson as being too much like a king, and even gave him the nickname King Andrew I. Democrats also believed in agriculture while Whigs believed in industry. The Whigs also favored a federal government while Democrats favored state government.

Slavery is what ultimately split up the Whig party because most northern Whigs believed in abolishing slavery, while most southern Whigs thought the opposite. This is when the Republican party was formed.

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When the Whig Party was formed in 1834, there really was no ideological or policy-based difference between their party and the Democratic Party.  Instead, the Whigs were really just a loose coalition of people who were mad at Andrew Jackson.  You can see this, for example, in the fact that 28 of the 41 Democrats who voted against the recharter of the Bank of the US all switched and became Whigs.

As time went by, Whigs tended to be more conservative than Democrats.  The Democrats were more likely to embrace immigrants and states rights.  The Whigs were more nativist, Protestant, and in favor of a strong national government.

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