Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
As Andrew Jackson entered the presidential political arena, American politics were slowly changing. Americans were reaching out for “genuine popular control of government.” The power was not to be with a select view which was one of the driving principles of the American Revolution. Gradually, property requirements that were in place for voting were dropped by many states allowing more and more of free white men a voice. The playing field was changing. Politics would no longer be the way it had been in the first few elections of the new country.
While the American public saw this as a good thing, the sweep of more voters “produced a presidential campaign of singular chaos.” The politicians began to realize that they could not approach the 1824 election the same way. It did not help that Americans were also looking for a change in the government. They felt cheated and longed for a government that was more in tune to their needs and wants. This was just the beginning of the political climate change that was to occur when the 1828 election rolled around and Jackson was able to win the presidency.
One of the biggest changes to politics was a party identification that would be instilled in most families. People began to identify themselves by parties and typically followed in the footsteps of their father. Parties were becoming more fixed and decidedly into two specific camps: Democrats and Whigs. Politics was more active on a local level and took the American voters “into newfound national alliances.” Choices had to be made between parties instead of focusing on a particular man. The parties began to formalize their platforms as well as “fixed their approach to a broad range of issues.” Americans began to identify themselves with parties and wore the titles with price. This opened the door to more political involvement by the common man.
Political activities could be seen beyond Washington. Campaigns took on a more personal approach as candidates talked directly to the people and brought forth the issues the parties were taking stances on. These topics began to be discussed more among the average people. Topics included slavery, banking, states’ rights, and more. Politics began to be more personal and, therefore, more heated. It became evident that as politics became more personal it also drew more voters as the percentage of voters increased substantially from the 1824 election which only had approximately 25% turnout to close to 80% in 1840. More was at stake for each voter, and their vote had more power than ever before. The two-party system came into being as the political process also became more local. The entire system was tossed about opening the door for more candidates than ever before.
This also meant that the image of the candidates would be more profitable as the public appealed to the image of Andrew Jackson as a man of the people and as the Hero of New Orleans. Passions were stronger in the new political system which meant a new stage and new set of rules to play by. The elite were no longer the candidates that would rule the country. The common man was getting a bigger say in the running of the nation and causing the nation to take sides behind a particular man and behind the issues he began to represent. Politics was changing in a way that had never been seen and is still in use today.
Feller, Daniel. The Jacksonian Promise: America, 1815-1840. Baltimore: John Hopkins, 1995.
Sellers, Charles. The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.