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PRIMARY DOCUMENTS  |  The Rise of Jacksonian Democracy: Eyewitness Accounts
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Resources: Lesson [PDF]  | 

Image: Andrew Jackson. White House Collection

Andrew Jackson. White House Collection

Andrew Jackson, the first president born in a log cabin and to hail from a state beyond the Allegheny Mountains, swept into office in 1828 with the help of expanded suffrage and the emergence of new, aggressive approaches to political campaigning. Jackson, a hero of the War of 1812, was elected as a reform candidate, the victim of the so-called John Q. Adams-Henry Clay "corrupt bargain" of 1824. A complex man, Jackson is often described as loyal, brave, decisive and honorable, but the adjectives irritable, opinionated, unbending, and dictatorial are also associated with him. Though born in poverty, and touted as the "champion of the poor," by the time of his presidency he was a wealthy Tennessee plantation owner. While held up as the first "president of the people," he owned 95 slaves when he took office and 150 by the end of his two terms. Nor did his democratic spirit extend to Native Americans whose rights he ignored as he steadfastly oversaw their removal from their ancient home to undesirable lands beyond the Mississippi. A man concerned about the honor of women, he defended the tarnished reputation of the secretary of war's wife so fiercely that it created a damaging rift between him and his first cabinet. Despite his respect for women, the democratizing effects of his administration did not extend to them. Though calling himself the protector of the Constitution, as the chief executive he once refused to enforce a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, saying, "[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it."

Yet when Jackson became president on March 4, 1829, the throngs of "common citizens" who gathered for his inaugural festivities seemed to view him simply; as one newspaper put it, he was a man "of plain and simple dress, . . . unaffected and familiar in his manners." Further, the editors exclaimed, "It was a proud day for the people, General Jackson is their own president." Recalling the wild scene at the White House reception that mild March day, Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts remarked that folks came from 500 miles away and seemed to think that the country had been "rescued from some dreadful danger."

This lesson examines factors shaping the people's belief that Andrew Jackson was "their" president. Using one case in point, students will consider whether Jackson's leadership style, often driven by fierce personal loyalties or hatreds, helped or hurt his efforts to achieve the goals of his political philosophy.


Using primary documents and data, students will:
  1. Examine conditions that contributed to the people's belief, reflected in the inaugural celebration of March 4, 1829, that Jackson was "their own president" - more so than those who had been previously elected.

  2. Assess the influence of Jackson's aggressive, complex personality on his effectiveness as a leader by examining the social and political crisis revolving around Margaret O'Neal Eaton, the wife of his secretary of war, John Eaton.

PART 1: The People's President  |  PART 2: The Margaret Eaton O'Neal Affair  |  Bibliography

National History Standards

This lesson and accompanying activities meet the following National Standards for United States history, grades 5-12:

The student understands the changing character of American political life in "the age of the common man." Therefore, he will be able to:

Analyze the influence of the West on the heightened emphasis on equality in the political process. [Standard 3A]

Explain why the election of Andrew Jackson was considered a victory for the "common man." [Assess the importance of the individual in history. Standard 3A]

The student thinks chronologically. Therefore, he will be able to:

Appreciate historical perspectives - (a) describing the past on its own terms, through the eyes and experiences of those who were there, as revealed through their literature, diaries, letters, debates, arts, artifacts, and the like; (b) considering the historical context in which the event unfolded - the values, outlook, options, and contingencies of that time and place. [Standard 2F]


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