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PRIMARY DOCUMENTS  |  The Rise of Jacksonian Democracy: Eyewitness Accounts
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PART 1 . THE PEOPLE'S PRESIDENT  |  Back to Lesson: Part 1


After students have read the background, invite them to complete one or more of these activities:

  1. Margaret Bayard Smith, a highly-ranked member of Washington society and wife of a banker, wrote extensively and in great detail about life in the capital city in the first half of the nineteenth century. Her grandson, Henley Smith, published her letters in Forty Years of Washington Society. Ask students to read a passage from that collection describing a scene after the election of John Quincy Adams by the House of Representatives in 1825. After students read, ask them to summarize Mrs. Smith's assessment of why Adams won the election. (Mrs. Smith was a supporter of William Crawford of Georgia.) Have several students read about this event from at least two other accounts, including a biography of Henry Clay (see Bibliography). Ask them to compare the accounts. After discussion, ask all students to write a new version, offering a balanced view of the Adams-Clay connection.

  2. Margaret Bayard Smith described in great detail the inaugural festivities of Andrew Jackson on March 4, 1829. After students have read the account, ask them to collect evidence from the excerpt that Mrs. Smith viewed Andrew Jackson as "the people's president." Ask students to cite any lines from the passage that indicated Mrs. Smith "s negative reaction to the masses who were so enthusiastic about Jackson. Ask them to show evidence that Mrs. Smith saw these multitudes as distasteful or dangerous. Do students glimpse any ambivalence in her attitude toward both the "masses" and the new president? Ask students to speculate to what degree Mrs. Smith's attitude reflects generalized fears about the "common man" as a political player in her time.

    As a quick follow-up activity, ask several students to imagine that Mrs. Smith could "time travel" to the present. Invite them to imagine that she is "set down" in the living room of some political activists who are having a post-2000 election conversation. Students should then create a dialogue with the "time traveler" in which they explain to Mrs. Smith the advantages of democracy, even in an election as controversial as this one.

    Invite several students to imagine that as avid Jackson supporters they attended the inaugural events of March 4, 1829, and ask them to write their version of the day's activities. Ask students to compare these versions and Mrs. Smith's to the newspaper accounts of the day.

    Select other students to conduct research to find out about inaugurations of presidents who served before the time of Andrew Jackson. Ask each researcher to share his/ her findings, comparing their chosen president's inaugural with that of Jackson's.

    From all of the above activities, ask students to draw conclusions regarding whether or not Jackson's inauguration seemed to reflect the broadened political base described in this lesson's background narrative.

  3. Ask several students to conduct research about the 2001 inauguration of President George W. Bush. They can start by visiting "A Brief History of Presidential Inaugurations" on this site and The Library of Congress online exhibit, "I Do Solemnly Swear: Presidential Inaugurations"

    Invite them to discover in what ways inauguration festivities have changed over time. Further, direct them to consider this question: how do the planners of modern inaugural festivities take into consideration the desire of the "common people" to be part of an incoming president's big day?

    As a creative writing assignment, after students read about the 2001 inaugural, ask several of them to write a modern-day newspaper article describing the celebrations ushering in the presidency of George W. Bush.

  4. Explain to students that Andrew Jackson associated himself with the democratic principles of Thomas Jefferson and saw his presidency as an opportunity to restore those principles to the national government. Political scientists have noted that Jackson attracted the vote of the western states that had entered the Union since 1776. Many westerners linked Jackson with the political thinking of the early Democratic-Republican Party, led by Jefferson, and focused on the goodness of an agrarian, decentralized nation.

    • Ask students to click on the list of states entering the Union from 1787-1820, and have them identify the western states. Invite students to study the general election maps for 1808-32, and determine whether or not the western states consistently voted for the Democratic-Republican Party. Ask students to state their conclusions in a generalization.

    • Invite students to observe the same maps and determine what area of the country consistently did not support the Democratic-Republicans.

      After students present their conclusions, divide them into research teams, inviting each group to discover the goals of one of the parties dominant in the 1808 election (Democratic-Republican/Federalists) or the emerging parties of the 1828 election (Democratic-Republicans/National Republicans). Ask teams to combine their findings on a large chart, noting similarities and differences.

      As a culminating activity, ask them to respond either in a short essay, or in class discussion, to this statement by Martin Van Buren: "The two great parties of this country, with occasional changes in their names only, have, for the principal part of a century, occupied antagonistic positions upon all important political questions . . . Sons have generally followed in the footsteps of their fathers, and families originally differing have in regular succession received, maintained, and transmitted this opposition." Or, alternatively, this assertion by Jackson biographer, Robert V. Remini:

      "But the Jacksonian movement, as it developed, was more than a crusade to restore popular government and root out corruption. It was a recognition that the old divisions between the ideals of Jefferson and the goals of Hamilton had not vanished. It reaffirmed the principles of republicanism, principles that had been overthrown, according to the Jacksonians, by the election of John Q. Adams."

      Other related assignments:

      Ask several students to read and analyze Jackson's first inaugural address and compare it to that of Thomas Jefferson "s inaugural address on March 4, 1801.

      The emphasis here is to see if there are clear connections between the two presidents in terms of their vision for the nation. Ask these students to share their findings with the teams of students who are researching the relationship between the Jacksonians and the Jeffersonians.

      Ask several students to conduct research about the political climate at the time of James Monroe's near unanimous election in 1820, ushering in what came to be called "The Era of Good Feelings. " Ask the researchers to discover whether or not this election reflected true homogeneity, or was simply a time when the political power of the old Federalists was temporarily submerged by unusual circumstances. Have the students act as a resource to the other assigned research teams who are finding the connecting threads between Jacksonians and Jeffersonians. Further, invite a couple of these students to prepare a short speech to deliver in class, using one of these titles: "Yes, Virginia, There Really Can Be an Era of Good Feelings; " or, "Okay, So Not Everything Was That Good. "

    • Have students analyze the general election map of 1824. If Jackson was considered the choice of the western states, who appears to be his "spoiler" in this election? Ask a couple of students to study the political philosophy of Henry Clay and compare his views to those of Jackson. Ask the researchers to specifically explain Clay's "American System" and how westerners viewed it. Ask students to examine the general election map of 1832 and compare Clay's showing with the states he won in 1824. Have students explain, based on their research, why Clay's support was diminished.

  5. Some political scientists believe that one reason Andrew Jackson's democratizing ideas gained broader support was that the electors who chose the president better represented the desires and interests of the common people. After students analyze the Methods of Electing Electors, outlining how electors were chosen in the states from 1804-1832, ask them to write several generalizations speculating about why this might have been true. Ask students to rate each state in terms of how quickly each expanded the base of voters who selected presidential electors. Invite students to analyze whether or not the later western states had a better track record than the original thirteen.

  6. Ask students to review the chart, Voter Participation in Presidential Elections. Tell them that the popular vote in 1828 was 800,000 greater than in the election of 1824 - an impressive jump. Using the information in the background, ask students to hypothesize about why there was such an increase. Does that increase appear to be reflected in the percentage of the popular vote for each of the 24 states? What added information would the analyst need to better interpret the meaning of this chart?

  7. According to the chart, which states had the greatest turnout of voters in 1828 compared to 1824? Supposedly, democratizing influences were strongest in the western states. Does the data on this chart bear that out? In the early 1800s, would voters in the western states find it harder to vote than those along the eastern seaboard? How might this distort these percentages? Which state scored the highest percentage across the board on this chart? Why? Ask students to check election websites and determine voter turnout for your state in the most recent presidential elections. Has it stayed about the same or increased?

  8. Under the U.S. electoral system, 15 presidents have been elected who did not receive a majority of the popular votes cast in the election. Two of them, besides John Quincy Adams, actually trailed their opponents in the popular vote: Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, and Benjamin Harrison in 1888. Ask a couple of students to find out more about these two elections and compare the circumstances to that of Adams's election. Invite three students to write and present a dialogue featuring the three presidents, using the title: "You Think You Had It Bad!" For a list of the 15 presidents, click here.

  9. Ask students to read Jackson's first inaugural address and list evidence that he intended to do the will of the people. As students continue their study of Jackson's two terms as president, ask them to find specific examples showing that the president's policies matched the promises he made in this inaugural speech. Specific topics might include: The Margaret O'Neal Eaton Affair; The "Spoils System;" The Bank War; Jackson and the Indian Removal Policy; The Nullification Crisis.

    Have students present the results, then ask them to write a culminating essay affirming or refuting this statement: Andrew Jackson deserves the title, "The First True President of the People."

Return to PRIMARY DOCUMENT LESSON: "Jacksonian Democracy"

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