Before the Jacksonian period, the Era of Good Feelings was a time of rapid American expansion and growth. The cotton gin revived slavery, and the mass adoption of cotton as a cash crop created a wave of Southern expansion, forming states such as Alabama and Tennessee. Republican President Monroe was able to consolidate political power as the rival Federalist party would continue to lose support, never again fielding a real presidential contender. However, this period of a unified America would soon be over with the election of Andrew Jackson. A hero of the War of 1812 and a self-stylized ‘common man’ Jackson would greatly enlarge the powers of the presidency. Riding on a wave of populist support, Jackson used his influence to pass legislation that he believed would aid the 'common man', often to the detriment of the aristocracy. Much of the legislation passed during Jackson’s presidency, especially concerning economic and political reform, democratized government power and supported a white populace that Jackson felt were being suppressed by the wealthy. For these reasons, the Jacksonian period saw a shift in political power as later presidential candidates would attempt to appeal to a less educated and poorer, yet more politically influential, subset of the white American populace. Thus, the Jacksonian period was to a significant extent, the era of the 'common man'.
The Jacksonian period was marked by universal white male suffrage, one of the many expansions of political power for the poor, white Americans. Before the Jacksonian period, western expansion had ramped up as the allure of free land drove many Americans to migrate west, settling new territories and eventually forming new states. To attract more settlers, newly formed western states would often lower voting requirements. This allowed poor white farmers to participate in the democratic process that had, until then, been reserved for wealthy landowners. This shift by western states forced many of the original thirteen English colonies to adopt similar policies, fearing that they would lose political power. By the end of the Jacksonian period, almost all white men in all states met the requirement to vote. The effect of this drastic shift was that more Americans participated in the election process, resulting in a shift of power to the 'common man'. Presidential candidates that followed Jackson would attempt to replicate his mass public appeal, as they now needed the support of a less educated, and poorer constituent. Universal white male suffrage was promoted by Jackson who made political reforms that were aimed at increasing political participation among the 'common man'. He replaced the national caucus system with the national convention system, changing the way presidential candidates would be elected. Jackson believed the national caucus system was elitist as wealthy aristocratic supporters had the sole power to determine presidential candidates, allowing well-connected individuals to win the party nomination without popular support. The national convention system, however, was meant to empower the people by requiring presidential candidates to win the nomination by garnering the support of a majority of elected delegates. The effect of this change created more political opportunities for the 'common man' at every stage of the electoral process, and it required presidential hopefuls to appeal to popular support within their party. Jackson believed that unlike Congress or the Supreme Court, the president represented the will of the people, derived his power from the people, and as such, Jackson's policies were aimed at empowering the people.
Of the many institutions that Jackson disrupted during his time in office, none was more controversial than the supposed Bank War he had with Nicholas Biddle, the president of the National Bank. Jackson believed that a centralized, National Bank stifled economic growth and only stood to grow the wealth of the aristocratic elite. When the renewal of the Bank’s charter was passed by Congress, Jackson vetoed it, vowing to destroy the National Bank. This made the National Bank the central issue of Jackson’s reelection. When Jackson won reelection, he believed that the populace supported the removal of the National Bank and he took steps to ensure its demise. Jackson removed all federal funds from the National Bank and deposited them in state banks. Biddle responded by calling in loans and reducing credit, believing that a financial crisis would convince the public of their need for a centralized bank. While Biddle’s actions did hurt many businesses that could not secure the funds to pay back their loans, the US economy boomed as state banks started loaning large sums of money to industrialists and farmers and printing large amounts of money. This led to rapid inflation that eventually caused the Panic of 1837. The effect of Jackson’s Bank War was a recession, initiated by the Panic of 1837, which would last until the mid-1840s.
While Jackson’s actions were indeed aimed at empowering the 'common man', the effects were mass unemployment, starvation, and a shrinking US economy.