Affirming the new sense of independence that arose following America’s victory against the British in the War of 1812, the election in 1828 of Jackson demonstrated a remarkable shift towards democratic principles. Unlike all previous U.S. presidents that came from the same elite class of being wealthy, well-educated, and from the East, Jackson was a self-made man with humble beginnings and Western origins. His election began an era of changes no longer for the aristocratic gentlemen and Federalists, but in favor of the ‘common man’. Included in such changes were the emergence of universal white manhood suffrage that expanded voting rights, and the evolvement of presidential campaigns that extend to an uninformed majority. Reform movements also formed to benefit the needs and urgencies of non-white males, though experienced limited success. Thus, the Jacksonian Period provided greater political power for white males but did less to advance the rights of non-whites.
During the Jacksonian Era, major advancements were made surrounding the rise of universal white male suffrage and greater opportunities to express political views. Once new western states like Alabama and Ohio had entered the Union, by 1824 they had lowered their voting qualifications so that owning property was not a determining factor in the right to vote. This thus highly encouraged and enabled average farmers, laborers, and merchants to participate in the government and further established the idea of rule by the people not just the elite. The increased political access to the common man greatly disrupted the balance of power during the debates of the tariffs in which the South nullified the tariff of 1826 and 1832 which thus ultimately caused Jackson to sign the Compromise Tariff of 1833 that gradually decreased the rates of protective tariffs. Also, following the poor economic conditions of the Panic of 1837, there was ongoing frustration with Van Buren’s administration inability to combat the financial crisis. This resulted in the rise of third parties including the Anti-Masonic Party and the Workingmen’s Party, which reached out to groups of people who previously had shown little interest in politics. These parties provided more platforms and options for the common man to have a voice in the government. Ultimately, the Jacksonian Period witnessed a shift of politics in which government was more accessible to the common man and the presidents no longer portrayed the values of the elite upper class.
Presidential campaigns had also progressed in order to extend their reach to the ill-informed majority of people that now had the ability to vote. The states had transitioned to a nominating convention from the traditional caucus system. Previously, candidates had been nominated by a private meeting of leaders of a political party however by the 1830s nominating conventions were used which were much more open to popular participation. This allowed more citizens to be involved in the process of choosing a president. However, it also resulted in the spoils system. This system, created by John Quincy Adams granted profitable government civil service jobs to supporters and friends of the president. This is most clearly exemplified with ‘corrupt bargain’ in which John Quincy Adams became president due to the support of Henry Clay and in exchange granted him the position of secretary of state. Despite the spoils system aiding corruption in government, it did have the positive effect of involving more of the middle class in the governmental process. Also, once the president was nominated, there was then the need for candidates to campaign and attract the attention of an uneducated group of people. Presidential candidates used popular campaigning strategy that relied on performance and character flaws instead of urgent political matters. Such campaigns featured extravagant parades and floats where voters would get free food and beverages. During an election year, politics was a means of popular entertainment as each side created false myths and stories of opponents. Thus, the common man was much more likely to get involved in the election process due to their expanded rights and interest in the political campaigns.
In addition to the major political successes that came about during this era, reform movements had formed to inspire the inclusion of non-white males, though these movements were met with less success. There was a growing desire for social reforms that touched the lives of women, children, slaves, and prisoners. In the beginning stages, women had led the asylum reform and temperance movements. Dorothea Dix headed the asylum reform movement in which her efforts led to the establishment of several dozen institutions throughout the nation and changed how people viewed the mentally ill. In doing so, she addressed the stigma of mental disorders which further benefited the common man as there was now treatment accessible to them. Similarly, the temperance movement was popular among women who were abused by their drunk husbands and thus encouraged the banning of alcohol. This movement was influential in passing laws that prohibited the sale of liquor in several states which further benefited women and children that no longer had to endure the abuse. Under the leadership of Emma Willard, Susan B. Anthony, and Carrie Chapman Catt, the women’s suffrage movement was led with much ambition and even established the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Women’. The movement however failed to earn women the right to vote, but the enthusiasm garnered resulted in changes to many state laws regarding women’s issues. The abolitionist movement that worked towards emancipating slavery was also unsuccessful in their goal, however leaders like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and William Lloyd Garrison became leading figures of reform and gathered wide support. Utopian communities founded in New Harmony and Brooke Farm also helped to spread the message of reform and peace for those seeking religious freedom which benefited the common man as people now had the opportunities to practice freely. Despite certain failures experienced in some of the reform movements, there were immense strides in confronting the basic hardships of society greatly benefiting the common man.