Study Guide

The Jackson Era

The Jackson Era Introduction

Jackson was a man of the people. Born in the backwoods of the Carolinas, he understood the common man and was able to connect with the majority of Americans in a way that previous presidents hadn't. He was immensely popular but also immensely unpopular.

As all the greats are.

His presidency would formally and decidedly split the Republican Party into two separate parties. The Democratic-Republicans who supported him would become known as simply Democrats, while the National-Republicans who opposed him would become the Whigs.

Jackson was something of a mystery. He ran for office pledging to restore the voice of the people to American politics. But on several occasions he attempted to overturn the will of Congress, the most democratically chosen of the governmental branches.

He was a staunch believer in states' rights. But he threatened to send troops into South Carolina when the state claimed that it had the right to nullify a federal law.

He adopted a Native-American child and encouraged intermarriage between Native Americans and whites. But as president, he forced 90,000 Native Americans living in the eastern part of the United States to move thousands of miles onto desolate new lands west of the Mississippi River.

And he destroyed the Bank of the United States, leaving the nation without a central bank capable of monitoring the nation's money supply.

The Jackson years were anything but dull. Above all, they were instrumental in America's history for helping to define a new type of democracy for all: Jacksonian Democracy.

What is The Jackson Era About and Why Should I Care?

We will likely never know with 100% certainty how America won the Revolutionary War or why Thomas Jefferson wore that powdered wig (aside from the obvious—it was jammin'). Without a time travel device, there will always be questions.

Andrew Jackson is no exception to this phenomenon. As a man of the people, Andrew Jackson's popularity was only enhanced by the fact that he got a raw deal in the election of 1824. He had won more of the electoral vote and the popular vote than any other candidate, and he still managed to get the shaft.

But his presidency was complex, to say the least. He was a man of the people who also threatened to use military force to make a state obey the law. He ignored Congress, who were directly elected by the people, on many occasions and used his presidential veto to overrule them. And he signed the Indian Removal Act that would force thousands of Native Americans off their land. 

Andrew Jackson isn't just one thing or another. He was a believer in the common man, but he was also a believer in the law and in preserving the Constitution.

Aside from his duels with Congress, his contradictory actions on states' rights, and his terrible relationship with Native Americans, he also fought in several wars and multiple duels, living the last 30 years of his life with a bullet lodged in his chest. 

Hey, maybe that could explain a few things?

During his presidency, Jackson would use his presidential power again and again to further cement his status as top-dog, alpha male, leader of the pack. Jackson used his veto power a grand total of 12 times: more than any president before him. And in today's politics, we see many of the same issues: politicians who claim to be of the people, but fight tooth and nail for their own causes regardless. All in all, America had another thing coming when we chose Jackson, but as controversial as he was, many politicians today tend to follow suit. 

Minus the bullet in the chest thing.

The Jackson Era Resources

Books

Catherine Allgor, Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government (2000)
Allgor's exploration of the role of women within the political culture of Washington, D.C. ends with an interesting discussion of the Eaton Affair. She provides a detailed review of the episode and places it within a provocative analysis of the rise and fall of a particular type of political influence within the first half of the 19th century.

Robert Remini, The Legacy of Andrew Jackson: Essays on Democracy, Indian Removal, and Slavery (1988)
Much is neglected in this introduction to Jackson's presidency—Jackson's war with the Bank, for example, is treated only indirectly—but the essays on democracy and Native American removal are particularly good.

Robert Remini, The Life of Andrew Jackson (1988)
Remini's three-volume biography, written between 1977 and 1984, remains the most authoritative treatment of Jackson. Most readers, however, will find what they need in this one-volume condensed version of that book.

Ronald Satz, American Indian Policy in the Jacksonian Era (1974)
This book offers the most balanced and useful review of Jackson's Native American policies. Satz provides a thoughtful exploration of the positions assumed by Jackson and the other participants in the complicated debate over removal. 

Harry Watson, Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America (1990)
As the title suggests, this book's range is both broader and narrower than Remini's. Jackson's life prior to his 1824 presidential bid is barely mentioned, but the social and political contexts within which Jackson came to power are usefully explored, as are the political processes that continued to unfold after he left office, and the political candidates that followed in his wake.

Music

Dean Shostak, Davy Crockett's Fiddle (2002)
Musician Dean Shostak performs American classical compositions from the antebellum era using a fiddle that belonged to the 19th-century frontiersman Davy Crockett. Crockett, a legendary figure in early American history, fought under Jackson in the War of 1812, but later became his political opponent as a Whig congressman during Jackson's presidency.

Images

President Jackson
Andrew Jackson by Ralph Earl, 1835.

Rachel Donelson Jackson
Andrew Jackson's wife, by Ralph Earl, 1826.

More Sex and Cigars in Washington
A cigar box commemorating Peggy O'Neale Eaton, the tavern-keeper turned Cabinet wife. On the left, President Andrew Jackson hands Eaton a rose; on the right, Secretary of War John Eaton defends her honor.

Chief Executioner
An anti-Jackson campaign poster condemning his violent past and character.

King Andrew I
An 1832 political cartoon attacking Andrew Jackson's expansion of executive powers.

John C. Calhoun
Andrew Jackson's vice president (1829–1833) and opponent during the nullification crisis. This portrait was painted by Rembrandt Peale in 1834.

Movies & TV

Andrew Jackson: Good, Evil, and the Presidency (2008)
The skilled documentarians at PBS offer up this examination of the life and times of Andrew Jackson. The film explores the complexity of Jackson's character and legacy, and poses the question, "Is he a president we should celebrate or a president we should apologize for?" Plus, it's narrated by Martin Sheen, who himself was once a president...at least on The West Wing.

The President's Lady (1953)
This Hollywood look at the relationship between Andrew Jackson and his wife Rachel, based on the Irving Stone novel, isn't much interested in politics. But the charges of impropriety that haunted their marriage and played such a large role in the election of 1828 are central to the plot. The film features Charlton Heston doing what makes him most happy—talking tough and carrying a gun.

Websites

Jackson's Presidency
The Miller Center on Public Affairs at the University of Virginia maintains a site dedicated to Andrew Jackson, which offers summaries of the major events of his life and presidency, and brief biographies of members of his administration.

American Indian Removal
This site, sponsored by the National Humanities Center, reviews the impact of removal on Southeastern American Indian nations. The analytical narrative is supported by images and documents.

One Tough Nut
Andrew Jackson's six-foot, 145-pound body carried more scars and bullets than any other president's. Explore his medical history at this site.

Historical Documents

Presidential Documents
Several documents from Jackson's presidency are available through Yale Law School's Avalon Project.

Hayne-Webster Debate
The full text of this historic Senate debate on states' rights and the Union are available here. The site also provides an outline and paraphrased summary of the debate.

Nullification Crisis
Several documents relating to the nullification crisis are provided at this Library of Congress site.

Proclamation Regarding Nullification
We have an entire learning guide devoted to Jackson's response to the South Carolina nullification crisis.

Indian Removal Act
Several documents pertaining to Jackson's Native American policy are provided at this Library of Congress site.