Jacksonian Democracy

Jacksonian Democracy, taken from Robert V. Remini’s book The Jacksonian Era, presents to the reader an analysis of the political viewpoints of President Andrew Jackson, as well as the effect it had and continues to have on the world of politics and the American presidency. Remini immediately states his argument, claiming that the central question of the Jacksonian era has no concern with slavery, western migration, or the development of industry, but rather is concerned with “the manner in which the doctrines of democracy replaced the doctrines of republicanism (Remini, 1997).

He expands on this by making the following statement: “Permeating the language of Jacksonian Democracy is the spirit of egalitarianism; its commitment to democratic rule, to the notion that the people acting together are somehow wise and good and virtuous and that their will is the sovereignty” (Remini, 1997). Before going further to support his argument, Remini provides a definition for what President Jackson considered to be democracy. Simply put, Jackson’s concept of democracy was that the majority ruled.

To put it in his words: “The people are the government, administering it by their agents; they are the Government, the sovereign power” (Remini, 1997). This concept is what led Jackson to promote the idea of rotating government offices. Rather than having one person hold political office for years on end, Jackson wanted to see an interchange of officers, with their tenure lasting no more than four years. Should they want to remain in office, they would have to go through the election process to regain that office, just as he had to go through the election process to become president.

Remini goes on to point out that, while Jackson may not have always practiced what he preached, overall “…his commitment to the principle of rotation by which the democratic process could be advanced.... ” was quite real. His actions were mired in tradition, thus allowing him to be best described as both a “‘harbinger of change’ and a great respecter of tradition” (Remini, 1997). However, there was one crucial drawback during the Jacksonian era. While they spoke highly of equality and meant all that was said on that subject, they did not apply the concept of equality to blacks, Native Americans, or women.

In short, they had no true conceptions of what present-day Americans would call equality and democracy. This point is proven through various episodes such as the forced march of the Cherokee Indians to a reservation carved out for them in Oklahoma. In spite of such tragic episodes, Remini maintains that without Jackson, the emergence of democracy as we know it today would not have occurred. As Remini writes towards the end of the reading, “…Jacksonian Democracy continues to exert great appeal to the American people because it asserts in the most forceful and compelling manner the right of all the people to self-government” (Remini, 1997).

This particular article was quite interesting to read, as it contains a bit of contradiction within it. It has always been taught that the Founding Fathers were creating a democratic nation, rather than a republican one, when they broke away from Britain. By the time Jackson gained the presidency, the age of the Founding Fathers had long passed. Yet, it seems that Jackson may have fit right into that period. Then again, he may not have. His opinions are more in keeping with today’s concept of democracy, which in simple terms, is the belief that the people are the ones truly in charge of the government.

Were it not for us voting every time an election of any kind comes up, political offices would not get filled. All the points that Remini provides within the reading to support his argument are valid points. He is right to say that, without Jackson pushing for rotation of offices and for allowing the people to have the final say in how the government is maintained, America may still be something of a republic, or possibly even a dictatorship. While republics and dictatorships are capable of lasting, they are rarely the choice of the masses.

However, while Jackson may have “served as the symbol of the arrival of democracy in America” during his lifetime, in many ways, he was more an autocrat than a democrat (Remini, 1997). Yet, he would fit in with the modern day world. Just as the political system of his day disregarded minorities – ethnic groups and women – so too does the present political system disregard those same groups still. Therefore, while he may have brought democracy into the light during his presidency, he was still something of a republican.

Therein lies the irony concerning many of the great men of American history, particularly those who lived before the 1900s: they promoted democracy and equality, while denying a good portion of the population of those very things. As stated before, Jacksonian democracy had a great impact on American history. It allowed for the governmental system we have today, as well the increased power the president has today. Yet, there is still that one drawback: inequality in America still exists. Until that problem has been rectified, America will never be truly democratic in the way Andrew Jackson hoped it would be.