Andrew Jackson and the Era of the Common Man
Era of the Common Man
Andrew Jackson's term as president (1829-1837) began a new era in American politics. For the first time in the United States history a man born in humble circumstances was now President. Politicians in the previous generations gained precedence due to their family background, wealth, prestige, and education. Families such the Adams, and the Jeffersons constituted the guidelines for political appointees. Andrew Jackson’s election showed that a mans’ lineage did not ensure a place in office. Rather it was the candidate’s ability to appeal to the voter. It was Jackson’s election that started the supposed 'age of the common man'. Jackson became the defining figure of his age due to his ability to overcome early life struggles, his military record, and his successes as an adult. Despite all his accomplishments, Jackson downplayed his past successes to suit the public's belief that Jackson was one of them. In reality Jackson was anything but common.
The period from Jackson’s inauguration as president up to the Civil War is known as the Jacksonian Era or the Era of the Rise of the Common Man. This period constituted great change and issues warranting debate, such as slavery, Indians, westward mobility, and balance of power between the executive and the legislative branches of government. The United States had no strict class system. Most Americans identified themselves into the middle class. The common man now had the right to vote, without the distinction of owning land, nominating candidates to office, and rewarding the politicians that represented the common man’s interests. The 1820s, a time of transition and transformation called for a man who could guide the people through the changeful age. The election of 1828 signaled a unique change; never before had a man who made his name and fortune outside the thirteen colonies been elected to the office of president.
Jackson's Rise to Power
Born in South Carolina to impoverished parents on March 15, 1767, Jackson began life quite differently compared to the previous six presidents. At 13, Jackson joined the Continental Army as a courier during the Revolutionary War. (Jackson was also the last president to have served during the Revolutionary War). Losing his father before his birth, the war then obliterated Jackson's family. Losing his two brothers and mother during the war fostered an intense hatred for the British that Jackson maintained his whole life.
Jackson initially had a sporadic education. After the war, Jackson taught himself to read and read law books so that he could find work as a lawyer in Tennessee in 1787. The wild frontier life suited Jackson and succeeded based upon his own hard work and merit. He became one of the first congressmen representing Tennessee, later a Tennessee senator in 1797, and appointed to the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1798. These accomplishes set Jackson apart from most men, yet they would pail in comparison to Jackson’s military career in the War of 1812.
During the War of 1812 Jackson, garnered his nickname “Old Hickory,” due to his strict command of his troops and abilities shown on the battlefield. The Battle of New Orleans on January 5, 1815 concluded with a major victory for Jackson. This victory forever made Jackson a national hero and gave him a place in the hearts of all American citizens. Jackson’s national identity and immense popularity enabled him to run for president in the 1828 election.
The Rise of the Common Man coincided with Jackson's election because Jackson served as the ideal common man. Common origins no longer detracted from a candidate. Nor did a candidate have to attend Harvard or William and Mary. Jackson became the living embodiment of the changes and improvements going on throughout the United States. As well as the symbol of aspirations and expectations that Americans had of themselves. Jackson’s life was overshadowed with obstacles: orphaned at 14, bankruptcy, many brushes with death in his military career, and a marriage tainted with gossip of bigamy, but despite his lowly beginnings Jackson prospered in the western state of Tennessee and became the most powerful man in the country.
PBS video on Jackson changing the office of President
The Jacksonian Era influenced the notion of the equality of opportunities for all white men. Voters believed that, “the people” had finally assumed control of their government in Jackson’s administration. Thousands of people came to Washington D.C. for Jackson’s inauguration. A crowd this size was an unprecedented event. Jackson as the leader of the Democratic- Republican Party represented the people and the epitome as a common man. In theory the age of the common man sounds ideal but the Jacksonian Era actually changed the goal of the founding fathers to put more power into the presidency rather than in congress.
As “the spokesman” of the common man, Jackson showed concern for issues such as farming and mechanic advancement, anti- banking, and egalitarian principles. It was these issues that aided Jackson in remaining popular with the common man ideals. Most farmers had no use for credit and the coins or paper was ultimately favorable. Jackson also set out on a crusade against the Bank of the United States. He believed that the bank only profited the wealthy men. Therefore a bank is of no use for a democracy; if the common man cannot benefit from it. Jackson thus vetoed the re-charter of the second bank. Jackson’s early life reflected that of a common man, but every action in his adult life was the action of an uncommon man who did not understand the actual rules of economics. Perhaps then doesn't that make Jackson a common man?
It is important to reflect upon that Jackson's actions forever changed the presidency. He marketed himself as a 'common man' and also made the office of president the most powerful office in the three branches of government. Whatever the reader chooses to believe about Jackson being a common or not-so-common man, there is an acknowledged truth that Jackson's election signaled a change in America. A man outside the confines of the upper echelons of society became president, however he did earn the position based on merit. This is a lesson that I wished more voters reflected upon.
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