The Jackson Presidency
Andrew Jackson’s presidency was a highly controversial period characterized by Jacksonian democracy and the rise of the common man.
State the central conflicts of Jackson’s presidency
- Jacksonian democracy was built on the principles of expanded suffrage, Manifest Destiny, patronage, strict constructionism, and laissez-faire economics.
- Tensions between Jackson and Vice President Calhoun over the Nullification Crisis eventually intensified in the infamous Petticoat Affair.
- A failed assassination attempt on Jackson led many to believe that he was blessed by the same providence that protected the young nation he governed, which in turn fueled the American desire to expand during the 1830s.
- Jacksonian Democracy: The political movement toward greater democracy for the common man typified by the American politician Andrew Jackson and his supporters.
- Petticoat Affair: A U.S. scandal in 1830–1831 involving members of President Andrew Jackson’s Cabinet and their wives.
- Nullification Crisis: A sectional crisis during the presidency of Andrew Jackson created by a South Carolina 1832 ordinance.
“Jacksonian democracy” refers to the period of time (roughly 1828–1840) dominated by the controversial presidency of Andrew Jackson (1829–1837). Jackson, a westerner and the hero of the Battle of New Orleans (1815), ran for the presidency in 1824 but lost to John Quincy Adams. He ran again in 1828 and won in a landslide.
Jacksonian democracy was the political movement toward greater democracy for the common man. Jackson’s policies followed Jeffersonian democracy, which had dominated the previous political era. The Democratic-Republican Party of the Jeffersonians had become factionalized in the 1820s, and Jackson’s supporters began to form the modern Democratic Party; they fought the rival Adams and anti-Jacksonian factions, which soon emerged as the Whigs.
While Jeffersonians favored educated men (though they opposed inherited elites), the Jacksonians gave little weight to education. The Whigs were the inheritors of Jeffersonian democracy in terms of promoting schools and colleges. In contrast to the Jeffersonian era, Jacksonian democracy promoted the strength of the presidency and executive branch at the expense of Congress, while also seeking to broaden the public’s participation in government. Jacksonians demanded elected (not appointed) judges and rewrote many state constitutions to reflect these new values. There was usually a consensus among both Jacksonians and Whigs that battles over slavery should be avoided.
Jacksonian democracy was built on the principles of expanded suffrage, Manifest Destiny, patronage, strict constructionism, and laissez-faire economics.
The Jacksonians believed that voting rights should be extended to all white men. By 1820, universal white-male suffrage was the norm, and by 1850, nearly all requirements to own property or pay taxes had been dropped. The fact that many men were now legally allowed to vote did not necessarily mean they would, and local parties systematically sought out potential voters and pulled them to the polls. Voter turnout soared during the Second Party System, reaching about 80 percent of the adult white men by 1840.
The concept of “Manifest Destiny” was the belief that white Americans would inevitably settle the American West and expand control from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific and that the West should be settled by yeoman farmers. However, the Free Soil Jacksonians, notably Martin Van Buren, argued for limitations on slavery in the new areas to enable the poor white man to flourish; they split with the main party briefly in 1848. The Whigs generally opposed Manifest Destiny and expansion, saying the nation should build up its cities.
Also known as the ” spoils system,” patronage was the policy of placing political supporters into appointed offices. Many Jacksonians held the view that rotating political appointees in and out of office was not only the right, but also the duty, of winners in political contests. It was theorized that patronage would encourage political participation by the common man and would make a politician more accountable for poor government service by his appointees. Jacksonians also held that long tenure in the civil service was corrupting, so civil servants should be rotated out of office at regular intervals. However, patronage often led to the hiring of incompetent and sometimes corrupt officials due to the emphasis on party loyalty above any other qualifications.
Like the Jeffersonians, who strongly believed in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, Jacksonians initially favored a federal government of limited powers. Jackson said that he would guard against, “all encroachments upon the legitimate sphere of State sovereignty.” This is not to say that Jackson was a states’ rights extremist; indeed, the Nullification Crisis (described below) would find Jackson fighting against what he perceived as state encroachments on the proper sphere of federal influence. As the Jacksonians consolidated power, they more often advocated for expanding federal power and presidential power in particular.
Complementing a strict construction of the Constitution, the Jacksonians generally favored a hands-off approach to the economy, in contrast to the Whig program sponsoring modernization, railroads, banking, and economic growth.
Crises During Jackson’s Presidency
Opposition to the National Bank
The Second Bank of the United States was authorized for a 20-year period during James Madison ‘s tenure in 1816. Due to his strict constructionist policies, Jackson worked to rescind the bank’s federal charter. Following Jefferson, Jackson supported an “agricultural republic” and felt the Bank improved the fortunes of an “elite circle” of commercial and industrial entrepreneurs at the expense of farmers and laborers. During his presidency, Jackson succeeded in vetoing the Bank’s 1832 re-charter by Congress and withdrawing U.S. funds in 1833. The U.S. Senate censured Jackson on March 28, 1834, for his actions removing U.S. funds from the Bank of the United States. When the Jacksonians achieved a majority in the Senate, the censure was expunged.
Another notable crisis during Jackson’s period in office was the Nullification Crisis, or Secession Crisis, of 1828–1832, which merged issues of sectional strife with disagreements over tariffs. Critics alleged that high tariffs (such as the “Tariff of Abominations”) on imports of common manufactured goods produced in Europe made those goods more expensive than ones from the northern United States, raising the prices paid by planters in the South. In 1828, South Carolina nullified, or declared void, the tariff legislation of 1828, and set in motion the right of a state to nullify any federal laws that went against its interests. Although Jackson sympathized with the South in the tariff debate, he believed it was important to maintain a strong union with effective powers for the central government, and the issue led to a bitter rivalry between Jackson and Vice President John C. Calhoun.
The relationship between Jackson and Calhoun was further strained by the Petticoat Affair, when the vice president’s wife and several Cabinet members socially ostracized Secretary of War John H. Eaton and his wife, Margaret O’Neill Eaton. Following the Petticoat Affair, Calhoun and Jackson broke apart politically from one another and Van Buren replaced Calhoun as Jackson’s running mate in the 1832 presidential election. In December of 1832, Calhoun resigned as vice president to become a U.S. senator for South Carolina.
On January 30, 1835, what is believed to be the first attempt to kill a sitting president of the United States occurred just outside the United States Capitol. When Jackson was leaving through the East Portico after the funeral of South Carolina Representative Warren R. Davis, Richard Lawrence, an unemployed house painter from England, aimed a pistol at Jackson, which misfired. Lawrence pulled out a second pistol, which also misfired. Lawrence was restrained. Historians believe the humid weather contributed to the double misfiring.
Later, Lawrence told doctors that he blamed Jackson for the loss of his job. He claimed that with the president dead, “money would be more plenty” (a reference to Jackson’s struggle with the Bank of the United States) and that he, “could not rise until the president fell.” Finally, he told his interrogators that he was a deposed English King—specifically, Richard III (dead since 1485)—and that Jackson was his clerk. Lawrence was deemed insane and institutionalized. The failed assassination attempt led many to believe Jackson was blessed by the same providence that protected the young nation he governed, which in turn fueled the American desire to expand during the 1830s.
Jackson and the Democratic Party
The modern Democratic Party arose in the 1830s out of factions from the largely disbanded Democratic-Republican Party.
Describe the key moments in the development of the Democratic Party
- After the disappearance of the Federalists after 1815 and the subsequent “Era of Good Feelings” (1816–1824), a group of weakly organized political factions dominated the American political landscape until about 1828–1832, when the modern Democratic Party emerged along with its rival, the Whigs. Democratic factions rallied behind charismatic President Jackson, whose conception of democracy guided the party’s political agenda throughout the 1830s and through the antebellum period.
- Democrats in Congress passed the hugely controversial Compromise of 1850, giving them small but permanent advantages over the Whig Party, which finally collapsed in 1852.
- From 1828 to 1848, banking and tariffs were the central domestic policy issues for Democrats who favored movements such as the war in Mexico and the expulsion of eastern American Indian tribes.
- The 1840s and 1850s were the heyday of a new faction of young Democrats called “Young America,” which broke with agrarian and strict constructionist orthodoxies and embraced commerce, technology, regulation, reform, and internationalism.
- Jacksonian Democracy: The political movement toward greater democracy for the common man typified by American politician Andrew Jackson and his supporters.
- Era of Good Feelings: A period in the political history of the United States associated with President Monroe that reflected a sense of national purpose and a desire for unity among Americans in the aftermath of the War of 1812 and the Napoleonic Wars.
- Whig Party: A political group of the United States during the era of Jacksonian democracy considered integral to the Second Party System and operating from the early 1830s to the mid-1850s; the group was formed in opposition to the policies of President Andrew Jackson.
The Rise of the Democratic Party
The modern Democratic Party was formed in the 1830s from former factions of the Democratic-Republican Party, which had largely collapsed by 1824. It was primarily built by Martin Van Buren, who rallied a cadre of politicians in every state behind war hero Andrew Jackson of Tennessee.
The spirit of Jacksonian democracy animated the party from the early 1830s to the 1850s, shaping the Second Party System, with the Whig Party serving as the main opposition. After the disappearance of the Federalists after 1815 and the subsequent “Era of Good Feelings” (1816–1824), a group of weakly organized political factions dominated the American political landscape until about 1828–1832, when the modern Democratic Party emerged along with its rival, the Whigs. The new Democratic Party became a coalition of farmers, city-dwelling laborers, and Irish Catholics. While it was weak in New England, it was strong everywhere else, and it won most national elections thanks to its strength in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia (by far, the most populous states at the time) as well as the frontier lands to the west.
Values of the Democratic Party
Democrats opposed elitism and aristocrats, the Bank of the United States, and the Whigs’ modernizing programs that would build up industry at the expense of the yeoman or small farmer. From 1828 to 1848, banking and tariffs were the central domestic policy issues. Democrats strongly favored expansion to new farm lands, as typified by their attacks on and expulsion of eastern American Indians and their invasion of vast amounts of new land in the West after 1846. The party favored the war with Mexico and opposed anti-immigrant nativism. Both Democrats and Whigs were divided on the issue of slavery.
In the 1830s, the Locofocos in New York City were radically democratic, anti-monopoly, and proponents of hard money and free trade. Their chief spokesman was William Leggett. At this time, labor unions were few, though some were loosely affiliated with the party.
Elections of the 1830s, 40s, and 50s
Jackson’s vice president, Martin Van Buren, won the presidency in 1836, but the Panic of 1837 caused his defeat in 1840 at the hands of the Whig ticket of General William Henry Harrison and John Tyler. The Democrats later got the presidency back in 1844 with James K. Polk. During his presidency, Polk lowered tariffs, set up a subtreasury system, and began and directed the Mexican-American War, in which the United States acquired much of the modern-day American Southwest. Most Whigs, including Illinois Congressman Abraham Lincoln, strongly opposed the war.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) was created in 1848 at the convention that nominated General Lewis Cass as a candidate to the presidency (he lost to General Zachary Taylor of the Whigs). A major cause of his defeat was the new Free Soil Party, which opposed slavery expansion and split the votes of the Democratic Party, particularly in New York where the electoral votes went to Taylor.
Democrats in Congress passed the hugely controversial Compromise of 1850. In state after state, however, the Democrats gained small but permanent advantages over the Whig Party, which finally collapsed in 1852, fatally weakened by its division over slavery and nativism. The fragmented opposition could not stop the election of Democrats Franklin Pierce in 1852 and James Buchanan in 1856.
The 1840s and 1850s were the heyday of a new faction of young Democrats called “Young America.” Led by Stephen Douglas, James K. Polk, Franklin Pierce, and New York financier August Belmont, this faction broke with the agrarian and strict constructionist orthodoxies of the past and embraced commerce, technology, regulation, reform, and internationalism. The movement attracted a circle of outstanding writers, including William Cullen Bryant, George Bancroft, Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. They sought independence from European standards of high culture and wanted to demonstrate the excellence and exceptionalism of America’s own literary tradition.
In economic policy, Young America saw the necessity of a modern infrastructure with railroads, canals, telegraphs, turnpikes, and harbors; they endorsed the “market revolution” and promoted capitalism. They called for Congressional land grants to the states, claiming that internal improvements should be locally rather than federally sponsored. Young America claimed that modernization would perpetuate the agrarian vision of Jeffersonian Democracy by allowing yeomen farmers to sell their products and therefore prosper. They tied internal improvements to free trade while accepting moderate tariffs as a necessary source of government revenue. They supported the Independent Treasury (the Jacksonian alternative to the Second Bank of the United States) not as a scheme to quash the special privileges of the Whig monied elite, but as a device to spread prosperity to all Americans.
Jackson’s Appointments and Rivalries
While the spoils system of awarding government jobs to political supporters had existed for a long time, it was greatly popularized under Andrew Jackson.
Describe the creation of the spoils system and its eventual reform
- The term ” spoils system ” refers to Andrew Jackson ‘s presidential win and subsequent appointments of government jobs to his supporters. In response to these events, William L. Marcy famously said, “to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy.”
- Jackson was the first president to implement the spoils system, or patronage system, in such a drastic way.
Laws mandating the merit-based appointment of bureaucrats were not instated until roughly 50 years after Jackson’s presidency.
- Jackson’s frequent attempts to purge his cabinet elicited criticism from both his friends and political opponents.
- political machine: A local organization that controls a large number of personal votes and can therefore exert government influence.
- spoils system: In the politics of the United States, a practice in which a political party, after winning an election, gives government jobs to its voters as a reward for working toward victory.
The Spoils System
In American politics, a spoils system (or patronage system) is a practice in which a political party, after winning an election, gives government jobs to its voters as a reward for working toward victory. In such a system, jobs are also awarded as incentives so individuals will continue working for the party. This type of practice is in contrast to a merit-based system, in which political offices are awarded to individuals with the highest merit, regardless of political activity.
The term was derived from the phrase, “to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy,” first uttered by New York Senator William L. Marcy in reference to the victory of Andrew Jackson and the Democratic Party in the election of 1828. In other nations, spoils systems are common, particularly in areas traditionally governed by tribal organizations or kinship groups.
Before March 4, 1829, moderation had prevailed in the transfer of political power from one presidency to another. Supporters of newly elected President Andrew Jackson had been lavished with promises of positions in return for political support, and these promises were honored by an astonishing number of removals after Jackson assumed power. A total of 919 officials were removed from government positions—nearly 10 percent of all such posts.
The Jackson administration attempted to explain this unprecedented purge as reform, or constructive turnover; however, in the months following the changes, it became obvious that the sole criterion for the extensive turnover was political loyalty to Andrew Jackson. The most targeted organization within the federal government was the Postal Service. At that time, the Postal Service was the largest department in the federal government and had even more personnel than the war department. Following Jackson’s victory, 423 postmasters—most with extensive records of good service—were deprived of their positions in a single year. The new emphasis on loyalty as opposed to competence would have a long-term negative effect on the efficiency of the federal government.
Reform of the Spoils System
President after president continued to use the spoils system to encourage citizens to vote in a particular way. By the late 1860s, however, reformers began demanding a civil-service system. After the assassination of James A. Garfield by a rejected office-seeker in 1881, the calls for civil service reform intensified. The end of the spoils system at the federal level eventually came with the passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883, which created a bipartisan Civil Service Commission to evaluate job candidates on a nonpartisan merit basis. While few jobs were covered under the law initially, the law was gradually expanded by each successive president. The separation between political activity and the civil service was made even stronger with the Hatch Act of 1939, which prohibited federal employees from engaging in many political activities.
In state and local governments, the spoils system survived much longer. The Tammany Hall ring survived well into the 1930s, until New York City reformed its civil service. Illinois modernized its bureaucracy in 1917 under Frank Lowden, but Chicago held on to patronage in city government until the city agreed to end the practice in the Shakman Decrees of 1972 and 1983. Modern variations on the spoils system are often described as “the political machine.”
The Tariff of 1828 highlighted economic conflicts of interest between the Northern and Southern states that eventually led to the Nullification Crisis of 1832.
Summarize the circumstances that led to South Carolina’s Ordinance of Nullification and the resolution of the crisis
- The tariff of 1828, known by its opponents as the “Tariff of Abominations,” sparked a crisis over whether individual states were permitted by the Constitution to nullify federal acts of government, thereby voiding them within their boundaries.
- John C. Calhoun, the pro-states’ rights vice president, resigned his title over the nullification crisis.
- In November of 1832, a South Carolina state convention declared that the tariffs of both 1828 and 1832 were unconstitutional and unenforceable in the state as of February 1, 1833.
- In late February of 1833, Congress passed both a Force Bill and a newly negotiated tariff. In response, the South Carolina convention reconvened and repealed its Nullification Ordinance on March 11, 1833.
- The crisis is considered one of the first direct causes of the Civil War.
- Tariff of 1832: A protective tax in the United States that aimed to reduce taxes and thereby remedy the conflict created by the Tariff of 1828.
- Nullification Crisis: A sectional event—occurring during the presidency of Andrew Jackson—that was created by South Carolina’s 1832 ordinance against the Tariff of 1828.
The Nullification Crisis was a sectional crisis occurring during the presidency of Andrew Jackson that was created by South Carolina’s 1832 Ordinance of Nullification. This ordinance declared, by the power of the state, that the federal Tariffs of 1828 and 1832 were unconstitutional and therefore null and void within the sovereign boundaries of South Carolina. The controversial and highly protective Tariff of 1828 (known to its detractors as the “Tariff of Abominations”) was enacted into law during the previous presidency of John Quincy Adams. The South and parts of New England opposed the tariff and expected that the election of Andrew Jackson as president would result in the tariff being significantly reduced.
The nation had suffered an economic downturn throughout the 1820s, and South Carolina in particular had been affected. Many South Carolina politicians blamed the change in fortunes on the national tariff policy that developed after the War of 1812 to promote American manufacturing over its British competition. The major goal of the Tariff of 1828 was to protect industries in the northern United States, which were being driven out of business by low-priced imported goods, by putting a tax on such imports. The South, however, was harmed directly by having to pay higher prices on goods the region did not produce, and indirectly because reducing the exportation of British goods to the United States made it difficult for the British to pay for the cotton they imported from the South. As such, the tariff was labeled the “Tariff of Abominations” by its Southern detractors because of the effects it had on the antebellum economy in the South. Western agricultural states favored these tariffs, however, as did representatives of New England’s industries.
The Call for Nullification
By 1828, South Carolina state politics increasingly organized around the tariff issue. When the Jackson administration failed to take any actions to address concerns, South Carolina’s most radical faction began to advocate the state itself declaring the tariff null and void within South Carolina. In Washington, an open split on the issue occurred between Jackson and his vice president John C. Calhoun, the most effective proponent of the constitutional theory of state nullification.
On July 14, 1832, after Calhoun had resigned his office in order to run for the Senate where he could more effectively defend nullification, Jackson signed into law the Tariff of 1832. This compromise tariff received the support of most Northerners and half of the Southerners in Congress. However, the reductions were too little for South Carolina, and in November of 1832, a state convention declared that the tariffs of both 1828 and 1832 were unconstitutional and unenforceable in South Carolina as of February 1, 1833. Military preparations to resist anticipated federal enforcement were initiated by the state.
In late February, both a Force Bill (authorizing the president to use military forces against South Carolina) and a newly negotiated tariff satisfactory to South Carolina were passed by Congress. In response, the South Carolina convention reconvened and repealed its Nullification Ordinance on March 11, 1833.
The crisis was over, and both sides could find reasons to claim victory. The tariff rates were reduced and stayed low to the satisfaction of the South, and the states’-rights doctrine of nullification had been rejected by the nation. Historians consider the crisis to be one of the first direct causes of the Civil War. By the 1850s, the issues of the expansion of slavery into the western territories and the threat of power of slave states became central issues in the nation.
American Indian Policy and the Trail of Tears
The Indian Removal Act of 1830 set the stage for the forced relocation of American Indians from the east to the west.
Describe the transformation of government policy toward American Indian tribes under President Andrew Jackson
- Indian removal was a nineteenth-century policy of the U.S. government to forcibly remove American Indian tribes living east of the Mississippi River to lands west of the river.
- The Indian Removal Act was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson in June of 1830, and resulted in the Trail of Tears, a forced displacement that claimed the lives of thousands of American Indians.
- By 1837, 46,000 American Indians from southeastern states had been removed from their homelands, leaving 25 million acres of land for white settlement and the expansion of slavery.
- Indian Removal Act: A policy signed into law by President Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1830, to authorize the removal of American Indian tribes to federal territory west of the Mississippi River.
- The Trail of Tears: A name given to the forced relocation and movement of American Indian nations from southeastern parts of the United States following the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
Indian removal was a nineteenth-century policy of the U.S. government to relocate American Indian tribes living east of the Mississippi River to lands west of the river. The Indian Removal Act was signed into law by President Jackson in 1830, and it had a profound and devastating impact on the lives of Americans. For white land-hungry Southerners, the policy allowed for a prosperous westward expansion. For American Indians, the Removal Act brought death and destruction. While the United States eventually tripled in size, thousands of American Indians lost their homes, their families, and often their lives in what many historians consider a sweeping genocide.
Since the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, The U.S. policy had been to allow American Indians to remain east of the Mississippi while simultaneously forcing them to assimilate and become “civilized.” Jefferson’s planned to control the American Indians by encouraging or coercing them to assume a sedentary agricultural lifestyle; by adopting such a lifestyle, they would become economically dependent on trade with white Americans and thereby willing to give up land in exchange for trade goods. In the early nineteenth century, the notion of “land exchange” developed: American Indians would relinquish land in the east in exchange for equal or comparable land west of the Mississippi River. This idea was proposed in 1803 by Jefferson, but was not used in actual treaties until 1817, when the Cherokee agreed to cede two large tracts of land in the east for one of equal size in present-day Arkansas. Many other treaties of this nature quickly followed.
Under Andrew Jackson, elected president in 1829, government policy toward American Indians moved from coercive to outright hostile. Jackson abandoned the policy of Jefferson and other predecessors and instead aggressively pursued plans to remove all American Indian tribes living in the southeastern states, regardless of whether they had assimilated to white culture or become “civilized.” At Jackson’s request, the U.S. Congress opened a fierce debate on an Indian Removal Bill. In the end, the bill passed, but the vote was close. The Senate passed the measure 28–19 and the House 102–97. Jackson signed the legislation into law on June 30, 1830.
In 1830, the majority of the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee were living east of the Mississippi as they had for thousands of years. Jackson’s Removal Act called for relocation of all tribes to lands west of the river. While it did not authorize the forced removal of the American Indian tribes, it authorized the president to negotiate land-exchange treaties with tribes located in lands of the United States.
Cherokee Nation v. Georgia
The first removal treaty signed after the Removal Act was the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek on September 27, 1830, in which Choctaws in Mississippi ceded land east of the river in exchange for payment and land in the west. Two years prior, the state legislature of Georgia enacted a series of laws that stripped the Cherokee of their rights under the state law with the hope of forcing tribe members off of their fertile and gold-sprinkled land. By the 1830s, many of the five major tribes in that area had assimilated into the dominant culture; some even owned slaves. In 1831, members of these tribes decided to use the U.S. Supreme Court to combat Jacksonian policies in the case of Cherokee Nation v. Georgia.
In June of 1830, a delegation of Cherokee led by Chief John Ross selected (at the urging of Senators Daniel Webster and Theodore Frelinghuysen) William Wirt, attorney general in the Monroe and Adams administrations, to defend Cherokee rights before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Cherokee Nation asked for an injunction, claiming that Georgia’s state legislation had created laws designed to annihilate the Cherokees as a political society. Wirt argued that Georgia violated the U.S. Constitution as well as United States-Cherokee treaties. In 1832, the U.S. Supreme Court decision (Worcester v. Georgia ) ruled that Georgia could not impose its laws upon Cherokee tribal lands. However, the state and President Jackson refused to accept or enforce the decision.
The Trail of Tears
Jackson used the Georgia crisis to pressure Cherokee leaders to sign a removal treaty. A small faction of Cherokees, led by John Ridge, negotiated the Treaty of New Echota with Jackson’s representatives. Ridge was not a recognized leader of the Cherokee Nation, and this document was rejected by most Cherokees as illegitimate. More than 15,000 Cherokees signed a petition in protest of the proposed removal; however, the Supreme Court and the U.S. legislature ignored the list.
President Van Buren, Jackson’s successor, enforced the treaty and ordered 7,000 armed troops to remove the Cherokees. Due to the infighting between political factions, many Cherokees thought their appeals were still being considered until troops arrived. This abrupt and forced removal resulted in the deaths of more than 4,000 Cherokees on what became known as the “Trail of Tears.” By 1837, 46,000 American Indians from southeastern states had been removed from their homelands, leaving 25 million acres for white settlement and the expansion of slavery.
In 1835, the Seminole tribe refused to leave their lands in Florida, leading to the Second Seminole War. Osceola led the Seminole in their fight against removal. Based in the Everglades of Florida, Osceola and his band used surprise attacks to defeat the U.S. Army in many battles. In 1837, Osceola was seized by deceit upon the orders of U.S. General T.S. Jesup when Osceola came under a flag of truce to negotiate peace. Osceola later died in prison. Some Seminole traveled deeper into the Everglades, while others moved west. Removal continued out west, and numerous wars over land ensued.
In 1987, about 2,200 miles of trails were authorized by federal law to mark the removal of seventeen detachments of the Cherokee people. Called the “Trail of Tears National Historic Trail,” it traverses portions of nine states and includes land and water routes.
Enfranchisement and Its Limits
The movement toward white male suffrage was expanded during Jackson’s presidency before the American Civil War.
Summarize the key commitments of Jacksonian Democracy
- When the country was founded, only white men with real property (land) or sufficient wealth for taxation were permitted to vote in most states. White men without property, almost all women, and all other people of color were denied the right to vote.
- By the time the American Civil War had begun, however, most white men were allowed to vote, whether or not they owned property.
- During the Jacksonian era, suffrage was extended to (nearly) all white male adult citizens.
- The fact that white men were now legally allowed to vote did not necessarily mean they routinely would, and political parties worked to pull voters to the polls.
- Voter turnout soared during the Jacksonian era, reaching about 80 percent of the adult white men by 1840.
- Expanded voting rights did not extend to women, American Indians, or African Americans.
- Disenfranchisement: Revocation of, or failure to grant the right to vote, to a person or group of people.
- white male suffrage: The expansion of voting rights to men of western-European descent who are not landowners.
- Jacksonian Democracy: The political movement toward greater democracy for the common man typified by the American politician Andrew Jackson.
The issue of voting rights in the United States has been contentious throughout the country’s history. Eligibility to vote in the United States is determined by both federal and state law. Currently, only U.S. citizens can vote in U.S. elections, although this has not always been the case. Who is, or who can become, a citizen is governed on a national basis by federal law. In the absence of a federal law or constitutional amendment, each state is given considerable discretion to establish qualifications for suffrage and candidacy within its own jurisdiction.
At the time of ratification of the Constitution, most states used property qualifications to restrict franchise. When the country was founded, only white men with real property (land) or sufficient wealth for taxation were permitted to vote in most states. Freed African Americans were allowed to vote in only four states. White men without property, almost all women, and all other people of color were denied the right to vote.
By the time the American Civil War had begun, however, most white men were allowed to vote, whether or not they owned property. Literacy tests, poll taxes, and even religious tests were used in various places to determine voter eligibility, and most white women, people of color, and American Indians still could not vote.
Suffrage in the Time of Jacksonian Democracy
Jacksonian democracy is the political movement toward greater democracy for the common man typified by U.S. President Andrew Jackson and his supporters. Jackson’s policies followed the era of Jeffersonian democracy that dominated the previous political era. Jackson’s supporters began to form the modern Democratic Party and fought against their rival Adams and Anti-Jacksonian factions, which soon emerged as the Whigs.
Leading up to and during the Jacksonian era, suffrage was extended to nearly all white male adult citizens. New states adopted constitutions that did not contain property qualifications for voting, a move designed to stimulate migration across their borders. Vermont and Kentucky, admitted to the Union in 1791 and 1792 respectively, granted the right to vote to all white men regardless of whether they owned property or paid taxes. Ohio’s state constitution placed a minor taxpaying requirement on voters but otherwise allowed for expansive white male suffrage. Alabama, admitted to the Union in 1819, eliminated property qualifications for voting in its state constitution. Two other new states, Indiana (1816) and Illinois (1818), also extended the right to vote to white men regardless of property. Initially, the new state of Mississippi (1817) restricted voting to white male property holders, but in 1832, it eliminated this provision. By 1850, nearly all voting requirements to own property or pay taxes had been dropped.
The fact that white men were now legally allowed to vote did not necessarily mean they routinely would, however. Many had to be pulled to the polls, which became the most important role of local political parties. These political parties systematically sought out potential voters and brought them to the polls. Voter turnout soared during the Jacksonian era, reaching about 80 percent of the adult white men by 1840.
Expanded voting rights did not extend to women, American Indians, or free African Americans in the North or South. Indeed, race replaced property qualifications as the criterion for voting rights. American democracy had a decidedly racist orientation; a white majority limited the rights of black minorities. New Jersey explicitly restricted the right to vote to white men only. Connecticut passed a law in 1814 taking the right to vote away from free black men and restricting suffrage to white men only. By the 1820s, 80 percent of the white male population could vote in New York State elections; no other state had expanded suffrage so dramatically. At the same time, however, New York effectively disenfranchised free black men in 1822 (black men had had the right to vote under the 1777 constitution) by requiring that “men of color” possess property valuing more than $250—an exorbitant amount at the time.
The Supreme Court of North Carolina originally upheld the ability of free African Americans to vote before they were disenfranchised by the decision of the North Carolina Constitutional Convention of 1835. At the same time, convention delegates relaxed religious and property qualifications for whites.
The Dorr Rebellion
The Dorr Rebellion in Rhode Island was an uprising of men who wanted to see greater, faster expansion of white male suffrage.
Describe the circumstances surrounding the Dorr Rebellion and its effect on the Rhode Island constitution
- The Dorr Rebellion of Rhode Island (1841–1842) was an insurrection led by Thomas Dorr regarding the issues of suffrage and electoral-system reforms.
- Under Rhode Island’s original charter, only landowners were allowed to vote. As a result, by 1829, 60 percent of the state’s free white men were ineligible to vote (as were all women and most non-white men).
- The Dorr Rebellion demonstrated that as average citizens became more involved in political issues, conflict was possible and did occur. The event can be viewed as symptomatic of an era in which citizens became more passionate about and partisan in their political beliefs.
- The rebellion started when two different state constitutions were approved and two different governors were elected in the same election. The Dorrites favored greater voting rights, while the Charterites preferred the original charter and restricted voting.
- The Dorr Rebellion fell apart after an unsuccessful attack on the Providence arsenal in 1842. However, the event convinced the Charterites to frame a new state constitution that extended suffrage to any free man, regardless of race, who could pay a poll tax of one dollar.
- Guarantee Clause: Article Four of the U.S. Constitution, which outlines the duties states have to each other as well as those the federal government has to the states.
- Charterite: A resident of Rhode Island who supported the original state charter that limited suffrage to free white landowners.
- dorrite: A participant in the Dorr Rebellion of 1841–1842.
Introduction: The Dorr Rebellion
The Dorr Rebellion (1841–1842) was a short-lived, armed insurrection in the U.S. state of Rhode Island led by Thomas Wilson Dorr, who was agitating for changes to the state’s electoral system. The Rebellion demonstrated that as average citizens became more involved in political issues, conflict was possible and did occur. The event can be viewed as symptomatic of an era in which citizens became more passionate about and partisan in their political beliefs.
Under Rhode Island’s charter, only white male landowners could vote. At a time when most of the citizens of the colonies were farmers, this was considered fairly democratic. By the 1840s, property worth at least $134 was required in order to vote. However, as the Industrial Revolution reached North America and people moved to cities, fewer people owned land.
By 1829, 60 percent of the state’s white men were ineligible to vote (as were all women and most non-white men), meaning that the electorate of Rhode Island was made up of only 40 percent of the state’s white men. Those who wished to extend white male suffrage argued that the charter was un- republican and violated the U.S. Constitution’s Guarantee Clause, which stated, “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government….”
Before the 1840s, there had been several attempts to approve a new state constitution that provided broader voting rights; however, all had failed. The charter lacked a procedure for amendment, and the Rhode Island General Assembly had consistently failed to liberalize the constitution by extending voting rights, enacting a bill of rights, or reapportioning the legislature. By 1841, Rhode Island was one of the few states without universal suffrage for white men.
Thomas Wilson Dorr and the People’s Convention
In 1841, suffrage supporters led by politician and reformer Thomas Wilson Dorr gave up on attempts to change the system from within. In October, Dorr’s supporters held the People’s Convention and drafted a new constitution that granted the vote to all white men with one year’s residence in the state. At the same time, the state’s General Assembly formed a rival convention and drafted the Freemen’s Constitution, which made some concessions to democratic demands.
Late in that year, the two constitutions were voted on, with the Freemen’s Constitution being defeated in the legislature largely by Dorr supporters. The People’s Convention version was overwhelmingly supported in a referendum in December. Although much of the support for the People’s Convention constitution came from newly eligible voters, Dorr claimed that most of those eligible under the old constitution also had supported it, making it legal.
In early 1842, both groups organized elections of their own, leading in April to the selections of both Dorr and Samuel Ward King as Governors of Rhode Island. King showed no signs of introducing the new constitution, and when matters came to a head, he declared martial law. On May 4, the state legislature requested the dispatch of federal troops to suppress the “lawless assemblages” rallying under Dorr. President John Tyler sent an observer but decided not to send soldiers. Nevertheless, Tyler, citing the U.S. Constitution, added that, “[i]f resistance is made to the execution of the laws of Rhode Island, by such force as the civil peace shall be unable to overcome, it will be the duty of this Government to enforce the constitutional guarantee—a guarantee given and adopted mutually by all the original States.”
Attack on the Arsenal
Most of the state militiamen were Irishmen and newly enfranchised by the referendum, and consequently supported Dorr. The “Dorrites” led an unsuccessful attack against the arsenal in Providence on May 19, 1842. Defenders of the arsenal on the “Charterite” side (those who supported the original charter) included Dorr’s father, Sullivan Dorr, and his uncle, Crawford Allen. At the time, these men owned the Bernon Mill Village in Woonsocket. After his defeat, Thomas Dorr and his supporters retreated to Chepachet where they hoped to reconvene the People’s Convention.
Charterite forces were sent to Woonsocket to defend the village and to cut off the Dorrite forces’ retreat. The Charterites fortified a house in preparation for an attack, but it never came, and the Dorr Rebellion soon fell apart. Governor King issued a warrant for Dorr’s arrest with a reward of $5,000, and Dorr fled the state.
A Second Convention
The Charterites, finally convinced of the strength of the suffrage cause, called another convention. In September of 1842, a session of the Rhode Island General Assembly met in Newport and framed a new state constitution, which was ratified by the old, limited electorate and proclaimed by Governor King on January 23, 1843. The new constitution greatly liberalized voting requirements by extending suffrage to any free man, regardless of race, who could pay a poll tax of one dollar. It was accepted by both parties and took effect in May of 1843.
In Luther v. Borden (1849), the Supreme Court of the United States sidestepped the question of which state government was legitimate, finding it to be a political question best left to the other branches of the federal government.
Dorr returned to Rhode Island later in 1843, was found guilty of treason against the state, and was sentenced in 1844 to solitary confinement and hard labor for life. The harshness of the sentence was widely condemned, and in 1845, Dorr, who had fallen ill, was released. His civil rights were restored in 1851. In 1854, the court judgment against him was set aside; he died later that year.