The differences between Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracies
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Webster’s dictionary defines equality as “An instance of being the same in number, rank, or meaning.” This definition may be interpreted in many ways. Equality is measured by the times, circumstances, and mind set of the people in the culture in question. The United States has reached many different levels of equality throughout its history. A product of the times, it is always changing. Both Jeffersonian democracy and Jacksonian democracy were based on the beliefs in the freedom and equal rights of all men. However, Jacksonians acted more thoroughly on these ideas. While these two men essentially shared many of the same beliefs and ideas, there was a noticeable difference to how they acted on them and spoke out about them.
Jeffersonians believed in equality and rule by the educated. Jefferson believed education would be the cure of all evils. He said, “Educate the people generally, and tyranny and injustice will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.” (Hart, Albert, History Told by Contemporaries, Volume iii.) Jacksonians thought the best way to end corruption was to allow all the common people to vote and have their say in their government.
The United States Bank was first established while George Washington was in office. Jefferson did not approve of such a bank, fearing it would cause a monopoly. Even with these thoughts, he did nothing about it while he was in office. Jackson made it clear that he wanted no bank to be associated with the government. He even discussed it in public near his re-election, even though it could have hurt his chances of winning. When the re-charter of the bank was passed through congress, Jackson exercised his veto power to eliminate the bank.
The belief in a weak national government was held by the Jeffersonians; they contended that government officials who used their powers too much were in fact abusing them. Jacksonians believed in a stronger government, but is was a type of self government. In this system of beliefs, the president was considered to be a representative of the people, not a power unto himself, he should have the right to use the power given to him by the people. When Jackson vetoed the bank re-charter, it was accepted by his followers because they felt it was his right and a representation of what the people wanted. Jefferson most likely would have never considered vetoing such a bill because he would have felt that it was an abuse of power. In this sense, the Jacksonian Era symbolized a more united, stronger national government.
Both Jeffersonians and Jacksonians were believers in the constitution; how they interpreted it was different. Jackson, as president, was a strong executive branch, finding no reason in his mind not to veto a law which he did not see fit. This power was designated in the constitution, but in the Jeffersonian era the anti-British and anti-single ruler feelings were still very strong. Although Jefferson was a very effective president, he often feared he was abusing his power, such as in when he gave authorization to buy the Louisiana Purchase. Jeffersonians believed more in the power of legislature, because it was a type of ‘power to the educated masses.’
The Jacksonian era had more opportunities for the common man than any other period up to that point.
“What was different about the Jacksonian Era was not that the gap between rich and poor had narrowed–indeed, the opposite was probably true–but that there were few systemic barriers that prevented people from gaining wealth and power. However limited, the idea of America as a land of unprecedented opportunity was not inaccurate in the context of the times.”
(Perkins, Dexter and Duesen, Glyndon, The United States of America: A History, Volume I.)
The profession of a politician because a more common career for an average man. Jackson encouraged public participation in government affairs, and while he was president voter turnout increased dramatically.
Jacksonians were what can be called ‘imperfect democrats,’ in the sense that they held a general hatred for Indians and owned slaves. However, unlike Jefferson and his followers, they were not hypocritical about it. Jackson made no secret of the fact that he hated Indians; one of his claims to fame was being an Indian fighter. At the other end of the spectrum, Jefferson often condoned slavery, but he himself owned slaves. The Jeffersonian hypocrisy could also be perceived as an imperfect type of democracy.
It is said that “We are all different, we are all the same.” This saying applies very much to the lives and eras of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. They were sharply divided in how they used the office of the presidency. During both the Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracies, equality was proclaimed. The definition of equality may have varied according to the times, as it still does today, but both men thought they were doing what was right for their country. And in that sense, these two men were on the exact same wavelength.