Andrew Johnson

The inauguration of Andrew Jackson as the seventh president of the United States launched a new wave of democracy, which revolutionized American politics in an age of national instability. However, in order to comprehend the code of beliefs and the long lasting effects of this presidential pioneer, one must first have some insight into his earlier years. He was of a humble background; born in the west and raised by a single mother, which definitely did not place him among the social elite. Nevertheless, he fought his way to leadership and wealth in frontier society, and his triumph over poverty established a bond between him and the common people that was never broken. Jackson became renowned for his military exploits, being a crucial factor in the Battle of New Orleans and the acquisition of Florida from the Spanish; he earned the nickname “Old Hickory” for his personal toughness. Although Jackson played a fundamental role as part of the armed forces, that aspect of his career was almost entirely eclipsed by his tenures in the White House. Reminiscent with Andrew Jackson’s administration, was his forthright egalitarian principles, which still reverberate through modern American philosophy, both politically and socially.

By the time Jackson came to power, the nation had been drastically changed by the Industrial Revolution. The nation was plagued by volatility. The simple, pastoral, agricultural lifestyle was being replaced by the manufacturing world, of industrious cities and insalubrious factories. Politically, the nation was in great turmoil. The incessant debate among men in power, over what should prevail, the rights of the states or the rights of the federal government, never really faded from the political scene. If not for several personal reasons, Jackson would have been a staunch advocator of states rights. The right to vote was still a major issue; the social dichotomy between the middle class and the upper class was becoming increasingly divergent. The middle class felt their voice was being effaced in governmental decisions, whilst the upper class felt endangered by the proliferation of the middleclass involvement in political affairs. Thus, it was Jackson’s responsibility to employ radical new ideas and principles to revamp national unity. Since he himself had very modest roots, he sympathized with the middle and lower classes. The fear that an aristocracy, even though of talent, might limit the chances of the common men through monopolies and hidden measures of control added to his strength (Brogan, p.271). He had worked for everything he had of value in life, and he acknowledged the importance of being able to climb the social ladder based upon one’s own merit. Therefore, Jackson felt that if a man was willing to make a meticulous effort to accomplishing his objective, he should be able to attain his life long dream. This belief would mobilize supportive elements in American society, which resented the growing formality of institutions. Twenty-first century Americans value the opportunities available to them and they would not have these choices if men like Andrew Jackson did not voice and enforce their avant-garde personal doctrine.

Jackson, uneducated as he was, was a very shrewd man. Using the spoils system, he all but totally replaced the cabinet from the previous administration. By rewarding the men who had helped him reach his current standing, he made it clear that the middle class as well the lower class could improve their condition by means of hard work. The cabinet was no longer saturated with affluent men of stature, but instead of more every day people. Jackson was the tribune of the people. He preached the democracy of the common men who believed that the Republic existed to advance their welfare, and that they were the best judges about the means by which it could do so. Modern American politicians strive to execute many of the goals echoed by Andrew Jackson.

Nicholas Biddle proved great opposition to President Andrew Jackson. Biddle wanted to re-charter the National Bank; however, many people were against his decision. This was particularly true of people in the west. The nations’ viewpoint on the matter had been marred subsequent to The Panic of 1819, which involved mishaps in land speculation. Jackson shared the predominately western opinion that several small banks would be of better service to the nation than one, large bank would. A major problem with a national bank would lie in its willingness only to make loans to the wealthy. This would be of no use to the middleclass. Jackson would not allow Biddle to gain any more power than he already had. The bill was vetoed with little uproar in Congress. Federal money was extracted and put into state ‘pet’ banks. Jackson putting the federal money into state banks triggered a chain of events that greatly increased the amount of borrowed money being used. This led the prices that had skyrocketed in 1835 and 1836 to fall in 1837, causing the banks to use only paper money (Degler, p.155). The significance of this veto is not that it imbued an economic recession, but, rather what it stood for social equality and Jackson explicitly communicated this on July 10th, 1832:

Every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add…artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society – the farmers, mechanics, and laborers – who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favours to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their government (Jay, p.189).

This speech is in conjunction with the veto to the Bank Bill. It shows that he is truly in touch with the peoples’ needs and in many ways can be considered the embodiment of democratic sentiment, which is a quality revered by many in our society today.

Jackson did not have the characteristics of a great president. First of all, he was notorious for being too rash and impetuous. As a military leader, he often disobeyed direct orders (Florida campaign), and acted on instinct rather than reason. He was often involved in duels (i.e. with Charles Dickinson). He also had many enemies among colleagues, including John C. Calhoun, John Quincy Adams, etc. All of these aspects of his life detract from his image. Nonetheless, it was his way with the common people that led him to greatness. He knew what the people wanted, and gave them just enough to appease them. He enacted the will of the majority, which is what made him popular among the masses.

Andrew Jackson was a pivotal figure in the foundation of our modern political system. His notions of equality, and empathy for the lower class, empowered the masses by putting political decisions in their hands; the revision of civil liberties led to the downfall of the old, aristocratic ways. He paved the way for social equality and uniform representation in the government. Jackson was atypical from any president that had preceded him. Even though Jefferson tried to steer away from any special recognition and social favoritism, and was generally a very modest man, he was born into the aristocracy. Jackson was the first United States president that was born into poverty. Son to a single mother, he made a name for himself without the aid of inherited wealth. He was the prototypical president, which we hold so dear in American society today; he was a self made man, an inspiration to all of those not born into fortune. He embodied the American spirit; he so perfectly displayed the ability to climb from the very bottom to the very top. In America this was possible. There was no royalty, no such thing as ‘better by birth.’ Nothing was beyond the reach of the new nation; no matter what your status was, there was always a chance to improve. Jackson personified hope in a nation where hope was scarce and desperately needed, and it was that bond with the people that encouraged them to play an active role in the government. The growing middleclass fought endlessly for their rights, which were continually denied by those in power. Jackson knew the plight of the poor, and during his administration, he made many efforts to return the country to the people. His stance on equality of the lower class were seen as threats by the upper class, but embraced by the middle and lower classes. Jackson was responsible for the granting of suffrage to non-land owners, and that same ideas echoed into the 20th century, when nearly everyone was granted the right to vote. Jackson is indirectly responsible for the success of the government we hail today as the finest in the world. Jackson empowered the presidency through the usage of the veto 12 times (more times than all of his successors combined). And his use of the powers of removal and of executive orders made a standard for a modern American Presidency. I only wish a candidate like that ran for the election in '00. The closest to someone like Jackson would have probably been Colin Powel; unfortunately he decided not to run. He has left an indelible mark on the presidency, the people, and the notion of democracy in modern America.