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AP American History

11/27/07

The “Champion of the Common Man”

The presidents of the United States had been consistently aristocratic upper class until
the election of Andrew Jackson in 1828. Andrew Jackson was a revolutionary president who
changed the government in many ways during his presidency. Depicted as a “self-made
man”, Jackson exemplified republican values by restraining the centralized government and
promoting the powers of the people. He strengthened the democracy by encouraging 60% of
the eligible males to vote in 1828 (twice as much as in 1824) and thereby included the lower
class in the voting for the first time. Through his usage of the presidential veto, Jackson
strengthened the executive branch, making it equal in power to the legislative branch. Due to
his background and slogans, he shaped his image as the champion of the common man and
was soon idolized by the majority of middle and lower class citizens. However, in reality,
Andrew Jackson was a self-centered, racist, and aggressive president who was very different
from his commonly accepted and popular depiction. Although Jackson accomplished many
feats during his presidency and has had a lasting influence on the government of the United
States, his portrayal as the champion of the common man is rooted in myth rather than
reality.
Andrew Jackson’s early history and presidential campaign formed his popular image.
Born in a backwoods settlement in South Carolina, Jackson grew up in poverty and joined the
army during the Revolutionary War. The war took the lives of Jackson’s entire family,
encouraging his nationalism, hate for other countries, and military obsessions. This hate for
other countries (mainly Britain) encouraged his dislike of the aristocracy. Jackson joined the
Army in 1801 and defeated the Creeks, Seminoles, and protected New Orleans from the
British in the war of 1812, earning himself recognition as a national hero for his victories.
Another factor in Jackson’s background that encouraged his popularity was his image as a
“self-made man”. Unlike any other previous president, Jackson was from a poor, frontier
family. His rise to power and wealth was due to his hard work and determination, instead of
inheritance. This image increased his popularity with the common working class people of
the United States, who looked up to Jackson as a role model giving them hope that they, too,
could achieve wealth and power in society. Jackson used this image to encourage his
depiction as a “man of the people”, advocating for the rights of the lower class and thus
gaining the support of a great majority of the country.
Although Jackson had many bad characteristics and motives, he did complete many
deeds during his term in office that made him a famous and influential president. During his
administration, Jackson was faced with many issues, including the Nullification crisis, the re-
chartering of the Second Bank of the United States, and the Indian Removal act. The
Nullification Crisis was a controversial event that could have been potentially disastrous to
the union. A tariff imposed in 1828 angered the South who felt the tariff would make them
pay for northern industrialism, and they declared that states had the power to declare a law
unconstitutional and nullify it if they so pleased. Furthermore, South Carolina threatened to
secede from the union if Jackson tried to force the state to comply. Jackson, firmly believing
in the preservation of the Union and the Law, responded with his proclamation and the Force
Bill, declaring that military force would be used to ensure that all states obeyed the Law.
Jackson’s proclamation declared that “the national government was sovereign and
indivisible, that no state could refuse to obey a law, that no state could leave the union”.
(Charles Wiltse, King Andrew 64) Jackson ended up sending several warships to South
Carolina to enforce his bill. Tensions escalated, and were resolved only when Clay developed
a compromise tariff that gradually decreased the tariff over the course of several years, and
the force bill was eventually nullified. The Nullification Crisis defined the powers of the
central government more clearly.
A second important issue was the re-chartering of the Second Bank of the United
States. This issue revealed Jackson’s deep dislike of the aristocracy and their power. The
Bank of the United States had large amounts of power over smaller State Chartered banks. In
reality, the Bank of the United States was privately owed, subject to the self-interest of the
owners, and not that of the nation. The bank concentrated a large amount of the nation's
financial strength into a single institution, and served mainly to make the rich richer. Before
the expiration of its charter, Jackson took action to weaken the bank. Jackson fired two of his
secretaries of treasury when they refused to carry out orders they believed would destabilize
the financial system. Jackson hired Roger Taney who agreed to carry out this order, and
proceeded to take deposits out of the National and put them in state banks. Biddle, who ran
the national bank, called in loans and raised the interest rates in response to Taney which
resulted in a recession. Despite the conflicts, Jackson significantly weakening the aristocracy
and their monopolistic hold over wealth and power. In his veto message, Jackson declared
that “it is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to
their selfish purposes”.(Andrew Jackson’s veto message) This statement revealed his strong
determination of “kill” the corrupt power and wealth system, taking steps that had been
previously untaken by the presidents. Jackson’s use of the presidential veto, unlike previous
presidents, brought balance to the central government and set up a standard for presidential
practice.
A final important event that took place during Jackson’s presidency was the Indian
Removal Act. Jackson relocated 45,000 Indians to reserves farther north. Jackson ignored
their rights and previous treaties and sent them on the “Trail of Tears”, resulting in the death
of thousands of them. A highly controversial aspect of Jackson’s presidency, which resulted
in cleared land for settlement and expansion into the west. Other important feats that Jackson
accomplished during his presidency include the elimination of the Nation’s Debt and his use
of the spoil system. Andrew Jackson revolutionized the Government of the United States
during his term as president and has had a lasting affect on the government to this day.
However, his actions used to accomplish these successes reveal his shady and real character.
Despite his many accomplishments during his presidency, each of the events reveals
the truth about the character of Andrew Jackson. The period before Jackson’s presidency was
marked by an increase in productivity and business as a result of the industrial revolution.
The “people were led as they had not been before by visions of money making…a violent,
aggressive, economic individualism became established”. (Bray Hammond, The Jacksonians
417) Because of these circumstances, the “self-made man” image portrayed by Andrew
Jackson quickly inspired most of the power-crazy people to idolize him, oblivious to his
flawed and twisted character. While the vetoing of the national bank helped weaken the
aristocracy and helped poor farmers, there were many negative effects of the veto. Inflation
and depression resulted, and “the millionaires created by the so-called Jacksonian revolution
of “agrarians” against “capitalists” … were richer than those they dispossessed, they were
more numerous, they were quite as ruthless; and laissez faire, after destroying the
monopolies…produced far greater ones” (Bray Hammond 428). Bray Hammond goes on to
say that “envy and acquisitiveness…were their real motives” in destroying the bank. Jackson
was bitter about losing his fortune to the bank, and was hateful towards the very British
aristocracy due to the pain he had suffered at the hands of the British, and therefore was
biased in his determination to kill it. Jackson’s veto of the national bank was rooted in
motives that were not strictly for the good of the common man. The nullification crisis
showed the aggressive and violent side of Jackson. When faced with the conflicts from South
Carolina, Jackson responded by sending over warships to subdue them by force and declared
the force bill, basically declaring himself above the basic laws of a democracy. Jackson’s
declaration “destroyed…the whole theory of state rights” and “civil war became inevitable”
(King Andrew 64). Jackson’s rash and aggressive actions increased the tensions between the
North and South. Furthermore, Jackson’s treatment of the Indians revealed his racism. The
popularity he needed to be elected technically did not depend on his popularity with those
who could not vote for him, and therefore his treatment of the Indians, slaves, and women
was cruel. Finally, his image as a national hero after his military exploits was tainted by his
violence towards his enemies. Jackson “illegally tried, and then captured and executed two
British subjects who had been supplying and advising the Indians”. (Source 4) Jackson’s
ruthlessness in battle revealed his true character.
Although Jackson’s presidency radically changed the American party system and
government, Jackson’s image as a champion of the common man was rooted in myth and
misperceptions. In reality, Jackson was a self-interested, aggressive, and racist president.
Jackson revealed his aggression in his military procedures, the nullification act, and the firing
of his secretaries of treasury for not obeying his orders. His self-interest was apparent in his
vetoing of the national bank, and his racism was shown in his treatment of the Indians and his
slaves. Andrew Jackson is viewed as a “champion of the common man”, in reality however
his actions as president were conducted under the influence of his own biased and corrupt
character, which was overlooked by most.
Bibliography

Hammond, Bray. "The Jacksonians." 416-440.


This reading had a lot of information about the vetoing of the national bank and the era
before Jackson and during his presidency.

Wiltse, Charles M. "King Andrew." 62-71.


This reading has great points about the nullification crisis and its affect on the United
States. It was a good source for views showed Jacksons bad side.

Hofstadter, Richard. "Andrew Jackson and the Rise of Liberal Capitalism." The
American Political Tradition: 57-86.
This source brought more analysis of Jackson's character and deeds.

"Andrew Jackson Biography." 21 Nov. 2007 <http://64.233.169.104/search?


q=cache:ZLhTbWaF1VwJ:www.focusdep.com/biographies/Andrew/Jackson+number+of
+voters+increased+jackson+andrew+wiki&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=8&gl=us>.
This Website was useful for factual information about Andrew Jackson and his
presidency.

Nash, Gary, and Julie Jeffrey. The American People. New York: Longman, 1998.
This textbook was used to check the accuracy of information about events attained from
other sources before quoting them.