November 16

Blog #148 – Final Exam blog – Who was the better democrat – Jefferson or Jackson?

What I am asking you to do with this blog is something that historians typically engage in – a comparison / contrast between two important figures pertaining to an agreed-upon set of standards.  In this case, we will be comparing the presidencies of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson to see who was the better democrat (small d, not the Democratic Party, though both are seen as the forefathers of today’s modern party) and promoted democratic policies and ideas during their time in office.  As for democratic principles, we should work from the following list:

  • Who promoted political involvement for the average person, for instance, the expansion of the right to vote?  How was this done?
  • Who was considered for political office?  Who chose the presidential candidates during their time?
  • How did each man view the federal government’s role in promoting the economy?
  • How did each man view the relationship between the federal and state governments?  Did they exercise limited power as the executive?

The Common Man and Political Involvement 

Jefferson believed in an agrarian vision for America.  Remember the notes on Jeffersonian agrarianism – we saw that he believed that independent yeoman farmers who had easy access to abundant farmland would provide the bedrock of American democracy.  These farmers owned their land outright and that land provided the basis on which they could vote in all manner of elections (though in many states, the average voters did NOT choose the electors of the Electoral College).  During Jefferson’s presidency, Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803 which, when settled, would allow for new generations of American farmers to establish their own farms and be able to vote.  Also, to Jefferson, education was important for these farmers to stay informed on political topics, and so he promoted public schools while governor of Virginia and president.  However, during his time, political parties only functioned at the national level.  Lastly, unlike the Federalists, Jefferson trusted the common man to make the right decisions politically and didn’t view them as an unruly mob incapable of making rational decisions.

Print showing a crowd at the White House at Jackson's inauguration.

Before and during Jackson’s presidency, suffrage, or the right to vote, expanded as new western states eliminated property requirements to vote and eastern states began to modify their state constitutions to allow for more urban workers and landless white men to vote.  For some African American men, their voting rights were taken away  or a very high bar for property requirements were demanded like in New York in 1821 or outright took away their vote in Pennsylvania in 1833.  Under the guidance of NY Senator Martin Van Buren (soon to be Jackson’s Secretary of State and then Vice President), the new Democratic Party expanded its base to include not only Southern slave owners but urban workers and immigrants in the North, Western and Northern small farmers.  Van Buren also expanded the party system to include state and local branches that coordinated their actions with the national party.  When Jackson first ran in 1824 and again in 1828, American men were voting for the president or the electors in the Electoral College.  Jackson also worked to expand the amount of land that white farmers could own by forcibly removing Native tribes from the southeast part of the country and relocating them west of the Mississippi River.

Painting showing a large crowd at a county election.

Eligibility for Federal Office and Choosing the Presidential Candidates

Under Jefferson, candidates were usually chosen based upon the ideal of a democratic republic – educated, usually wealthy landowners (and sometimes slaveowners).  After taking office, Jefferson did not remove many government officials but did work with Congress to try to limit the power of the federal courts (remember Adams’ midnight judges during his lame duck time in 1801).    During Jefferson’s time, the duty of an elected official was to vote on what he believed to be the best choice for the country and not vote primarily for regional interests.  They feared that tyranny came from exercising the will of the majority over the minority (whether it be slave owners, small states, or the wealthy).  This did change by the time Jackson became president in 1829.  Also, during Jefferson’s time, each party’s Congressional leaders held a caucus during the election year and nominated their top candidate(s).  This also changed under Jackson.  Beginning in 1824 and starting a long standing tradition in 1828, the party’s national convention named the presidential nominee.  As the right to vote expanded before and during Jackson’s tenure, almost any white male of voting age was seen as a proper candidate for office. More and more officials were decided by the voters including state and local judges, members of the electoral college, and state governors.  Jackson removed dozens of government officials as well once he became president, viewing those offices as for and by the people and not ones that should be held exclusively by that office holder. Furthermore, under Jackson, he and other elected officials saw themselves as carrying out the will of the people while in office.   Tyranny, in Jackson’s time, was seen as elected officials ignoring the will of the people and imposing their own values and views on issues. Jackson believed that the people could “arrive at right conclusions” and “instruct their… representatives” accordingly.

Role of Federal Government in Promoting the Economy

Jefferson initially fought Hamilton’s Bank of the United States but eventually came to accept its existence.  He also believed that manufacturing, commerce, and shipping were important, but, as mentioned before, the agrarian economy took precedence over those aspects of the economy.  We see this in the purchase of the Louisiana Territory.  We also see that during Jefferson’s presidency, he worked with Congress to lower the whiskey taxes and then eventually eliminate them.  He also kept government spending under control, though this was done through his cooperation with a Republican-dominated Congress and not through vetoes of bills (Jefferson didn’t veto any bills during his presidency).  However, Jefferson’s biggest knock against the economy was the devestating Embargo Act of 1807 that killed American exports, dropped agriculture prices, but ironically, spurred on domestic manufacturing to meet the needs of the American people.

Jackson, on the other hand, fought with the BUS and wielded the veto against it to kill it in 1832.  He also weakened it by removing the deposits of government funds from the BUS between 1832-1836.  This battle with the BUS and its eventual end, coupled with the Specie Circular and bad banking news from Britain sparked the worst depression in American history until 1893 (but that happened after his presidency).  Of his other 11 vetoes, more than half of those stopped federal government spending on internal improvements around the country, which probably would have benefitted the American economy.  Jackson believed in a limited federal government debt as well.  So it appears that both men didn’t subscribe to pro-business policies and would eventually damage their country’s economic prospects.

Print showing a street scene, with the American flag flying over unemployed young men, drunkards, families begging, and pawn shops.

The Exercise of Federal Power 

As previously mentioned, Jefferson did not veto any bills during his two terms, but he did steer a course that he thought would protect American interests abroad.  When the Barbary pirates continued to seize American shipping in the Mediterranean, Jefferson sent American warships and mediators to deal with this threat to American neutrality and commerce.  Jefferson acted as a guide to Congress in order to get his policies passed.  In the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, he moved away from his strict interpretation of the Constitution and took a more expansive or loose interpretation of his foreign affairs power.   Additionally, enforcing the Embargo with the U.S. Navy contradicted the Republicans’ traditional view of the narrow use of federal power.  Jefferson explained his abandonment of strict interpretation of the Constitution like this in 1810:

“…a strict observance of the written laws is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen: but it is not the highest. the laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. to lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property & all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the end to the means.” 

Jackson, on the other hand, believed in a limited federal government (Congress and the Courts) but an expansive and vigorous executive branch.  Jackson ignored Supreme Court decisions at least twice (McCulloch, Worcester) and vetoed 12 bills from Congress, more than the previous six presidents combined.  He was also a strong nationalist and during the tariff crisis with South Carolina, was ready to march on the state once they decided to nullify the tariff in 1833.  Granted, Congress did give him authorization to do so with the Force Act, but even if they hadn’t, some historians agree that he likely would have gone to South Carolina and enforced the collection of the tariff anyway.  He let the responsibility to defend the nation squarely on his shoulders.  In addition, when abolitionists started mailing anti-slavery newspapers and other publications to Southern religious and political leaders in the South, Jackson initially asked Congress to pass a law to stop these mailings.  When Congress refused, he ordered all American postmasters to remove anti-slavery material from the U.S. mail.  Part of this expansive use of executive power came from Jackson’s view of the presidency as a “tribune” of the people who would do their will.

So, after having read these areas of similarity and difference, in your mind, who was the better democrat and why?  Provide specific examples from the blog and your own notes and reading to support your assertion.

350 words minimum.  Due Tuesday night by midnight, November 22.  

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Posted November 16, 2022 by geoffwickersham in category Uncategorized

58 thoughts on “Blog #148 – Final Exam blog – Who was the better democrat – Jefferson or Jackson?

  1. Sylvie Ball

    With this question my answer came easy personally. We are comparing two very different [people in my opinion and the only thing they have in common is the names of their parties. Actually, scratch that though they both had democrat in their party names, Jefferson was a democratic republican and Jackson was a democrat. Somehow though, even though Jackson was a part of the now democratic party I still think that Jefferson takes the cake. The democratic party’s ideals are liberty/freedom of the people and keeping an open mind. Fr so much of his presidency Jackson made decisions based on what he thought best for the growing regions economy and financial state and sometimes what he thought bst for himself. Jefferson’s presidency on the other hand he mostly made decisions based on what the people wanted or what he thought was best for the majority of the population. Jefferson lod farmers, especially the ones that were in very rural areas, the people who worked hard to support our economy. Jefferson believed that Agriculture was the backbone of America’s economy and that showed through much of his decisions. The Louisiana purchase was a big tell that Jackson supported the common people. He bought all of that prime farmland so we could expand our agricultural production. He also tried and tried to take away the whiskey tax. When we get to the discussion about the BUS, both Jefferson and Jackson had a problem with it. But while Jefferson didn’t like it he still kept it in place but Jackson? Oh no no no he vetted the BUS and 11 other acts along with it. Jackson’s way of supporting the farmers and the common people was kicking the natives out of their homes so he could have white settlers move there to turn the land into farmland to grow cash crops. Again is he really supporting the people if he isn’t supporting all people. He took away (most) of the India’s freedom and for what? So he could make more money off of tobacco and cotton. In my opinion that descision alon does not align with the modern democratic parties value system.

  2. Renna R

    Between Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, I think that Jefferson was a better democrat. Jefferson supported democratic ideas throughout his presidency and even when he was governor of Virginia. He advocated for public education, and created schools while he was president. Jefferson trusted the common man to make political decisions, which is something Jackson did not do as much. Jackson wanted people in his corner that shared the same views as him and claimed that this was a strategy designed to help the American people, because their views were being represented based on how they voted. Laws in surrounding voting were created while Jackson was president that would expand suffrage. In the west, states almost completely eliminated property requirements in order to vote. In the east, urban workers and even white men with no land at all were allowed to vote as well. At that time, almost any white man of voting age was eligible to run for office, further expanding opportunities available to people who may not have been represented otherwise. Despite these expansions regarding voting rights, Jackson believed in a strong executive branch. Democratic ideals focus on a limited government, especially a limited executive branch to avoid any sort of tyrannical government from oppressing a minority. Jackson wanted an expansive executive branch and wasn’t as opposed to taxes as Jefferson was. Jefferson was against taxing and high federal spending and made efforts to get rid of the high tax on whiskey. He also did not veto a single bill while in office, unlike Jackson who vetoed eleven bills. Jackson was also against high federal spending, but often for different reasons than Jefferson. Jackson did not even want to spend money on internal improvements to create better transportation. This would have helped the economy as well as the general welfare of the country. Jefferson also had a very strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, as he thought that the country should operate exactly the way the founding fathers wanted it to. Jackson had a more loose interpretation, wanting to adapt to changes and use the Constitution as he saw fit for his needs. Due to the way Jefferson handled the limitation of the executive branch and his support of the common man having political autonomy, he was a better democrat than Jackson was.

  3. Ally O.

    Neither Jackson nor Jefferson were perfect democrats, however, there is a clear winner who showed stronger democrat views over the other. That candidate is Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson’s tremendous advocacy for the Louisiana purchase was intended to create more land and land-purchasing opportunities for our county. With more land, this meant more landowners and more substantial political power from common men with their ability to vote. Andrew Jackson had his eyes set on other issues which did not exactly benefit our country in the ways it needed to be benefitted. Jackson focused strongly on removing Indians from their homes and exiling them to far western land. Jefferson’s overall stand was to benefit our country as a whole. Even if he did not personally agree with each decision he put into consideration how this would be affecting our country whether negatively or positively before taking his stand. We saw this stand in Jefferson’s decisions of the elected officials in office which he did not choose based on the popular regional interest but rather on how he felt each person could benefit our country. Quite the opposite of Jefferson, we see Jackson using the Spoils system when electing government officials to benefit his best interest. Again we see Thomas Jefferson’s hope for the best possible outcome for our country in the decision of the Bank of the United States, he may not have agreed with it but he did not immediately veto the bill because that would not have been in the country’s best interest economically. Andrew Jackson, like Thomas Jefferson, did not agree with the BUS and selfishly vetoed the bill (which was not an uncommon theme for his presidency), by vetoing the bill he immediately put the country in one of its worst economic crises ever. Jefferson believed the best government was one that governed the least, believing in state rights which give the common man or average citizen more political power even if they do not have the enjoyment of wealth.
    In the evidence shown here, it is clear that Thomas Jefferson through and through was determined to make the country as a whole the best it can be. He included all when he thought about this, land owners, wealthy and poor, as well as those who lived in cities. He chose the effect on the country even if it contradicted his own personal beliefs. Both Jackson and Jefferson have their strengths and weaknesses but regarding democratic principles, Jefferson proved himself time after time.

  4. Anaiah Green

    I think that both Presidents might have been equally democratic in their own eyes but Jefferson had more democratic morals and did more things out of the belief in a true democracy. He did more things for the common man. He promoted the belief in a common man society with his agrarian farmer ideals. Even though Jefferson prioritized an agrarian society over industrialization. He truly believed that an agrarian society was the best for America and would “provide the bedrock of American society.” With the Louisiana purchase and straying from his strict interpretation of the constitution ideals, he always tried to make America into the best America it could possibly be, especially by growing our land. This also allowed for the expansion of his agrarian society allowing more white men to purchase land leading to them being able to vote. People purchasing land was good for the economy. He also did things with the intention of believing he was protecting the people or doing what was best for the people over his own ideals. Then with the embargo act, even though it was crippling to the economy, he had the intention of protecting the people because he wanted the impression of US sailors to stop along with other things. Jefferson fought Hamilton on the BUS but he came to accept it and he even used it when he purchased the Louisiana territory from the French. Unlike Jackson who didn’t renew the BUS because he believed it would use its money to oppose his re-election. This led to a collapse in the economy. The economy of the United States corrupted due to his selfish reasons. Jefferson also promoted schools while being governor of Virginia. He was looking out for the common man and wanted every American citizen to succeed even if it was for an agrarian lifestyle. He believed that school was important for the farmers to stay on topic with political topics. This is good because when it comes time to vote these people will be well informed on who to vote for. It just seems like the things Jefferson did had the ulterior motive to help the people and there was usually an underlying personal goal for many things Jackson did. I think that Jefferson was for the United states but Jackson put himself before the people which is what makes Jefferson the better Democrat.

  5. Jacob Becker

    During his presidency, Thomas Jefferson’s focal point for America’s success primarily focused on the success of independent farm owners. He did this by giving the independent farmers more say in the government’s actions and giving them new land so more white, wealthy male land-owning individuals could vote in a fair, inclusive matter. Jackson, on the other hand, was different. Instead of buying new ground for the landless white men, Jackson created it by forcefully kicking the Native Americans out and sending it to Oklhamo for their “own good.” Andrew Jackson believed that landless American white men should vote. As a result, he removed a good portion of the land requirements previously held by Thomas Jefferson that was required to vote. Most likely, the only reason that Jackson got away with this was by his ridding of all haters to support the national government’s belief. He gave the people little to no say in what he was doing. Thomas Jefferson believed that candidates elected to be State representatives should be among white, wealthy, educated land-owning individuals. Jefferson also focused more on the countries’ interests rather than regional interests.
    Jackson claimed that any representatives were against what the people thought was tyrannical. On the other hand, Jackson believed that anyone male could run for office to be in the interest of the people. Jefferson’s presidential decisions regarding the economy were favorable to rural farmers. Jefferson did a decent job of controlling the economy but neglected the manufacturers, practically leaving them in the water, and screwed them when he passed the infamous embargo acts. Jackson had a very different view of the economy. Jackson’s primary goal was to kill the B.U.S. Jackson hated how the rich could get more affluent, completely neglecting the economic importance of a federal government in the stability of the economy. Jackson’s emphasis on a weak federal government led to the most significant economic depression after his presidency. Jefferson’s execution of national power was strict. Jackson’s decisions were somewhat based on the principles laid out in the constitution, but he did have inconsistencies. Jefferson emphasized what he believed was necessary for all, even if it went against his previous beliefs. Jackson believed in the weak federal influence of the government but somewhat overutilized his use of power to veto. Jackson’s overuse of the executive order was justified as it was on the people’s behalf, which could not be further from the truth. Overall, I would say Jefferson was a better democrat regarding equity and fairness toward farmers. At the same time, Jackson was very focused on the ordinary person’s belief, not the belief that would benefit the whole nation.

  6. Andrew

    While both tried to be democrat-republican, I think Jackson was more democratic, BUT I think that Jefferson was the better democrat. While Jefferson supported the smaller farming community, Jackson was representing “The Common Man”. When Jefferson trusted the decisions of the people and supported public education, Jackson was against it. Jackson allowed for more expansion of the right to vote through the removal of Indians from their tribes, thus allowing for more property owning white males to vote (hopefully for Jackson). Under democratic Martin Van Buren, the democratic party allowed for the expansion in almost directions over the country (North, South, West) and allowed for more voting done by immigrants and urban workers and southern slave owners. Only wealthy, educated white males could run for president at the time. When Jefferson was president, candidates were chosen based on their education and amount of land. The Congressional leaders (of each party) held a caucus where they would elect the “best” candidates to represent their party. When Jackson was running, the party’s national conventions decided which political candidate would become their presidential nominee. Jackson’s opposing (or same side) candidates were anyone who was a white male who could vote. Jefferson opposed the B.U.S. but eventually came to accept it. Jefferson believe that manufacturing, commerce, and shipping were important, but agriculture was the top priority economically. Jefferson has always believed in a weak central government, but he ends up going against his beliefs and purchasing the Louisiana Purchase for more agricultural land. But at the same time, Jefferson: reduced national debt, ended internal taxes, and reduced the size of the army and navy. On the flip side, Jackson fought with the B.U.S. and tremendously reduced funds towards the B.U.S. Jefferson vetoed a lot of internal bills which would improve the U.S. economy, choosing to keep his belief on a weak federal government. Even though Jefferson was a supporter of strict interpretation, he did a lot of swerving of his own beliefs. He used the federal government to attack the pirates in the Mediterranean, used the federal funds to purchase the Louisiana Purchase and in-forced the Embargo Act through the federal government. Jackson, on the opposite side, believed in a weak federal government, but a strong executive branch. Jackson was against the state’s rights when he was “ready to march on the [South Carolina] state”. Jackson also used a lot of governmental power when he tried to stop the mailing of anti-slavery through federal funds. So after reading through the article and typing a lot, I think Jefferson was the better democrat (in my opinion). I thought that Jackson stuck to his beliefs way more than Jefferson, and I even think that Jackson was more democratic, but Jefferson was the better president for our country.

  7. Nate Hidalgo

    The two Presidents are similar and different in many ways. The obvious similarity is that they were both democrats. To answer the question “which one is a better democrat” though, I think you have to dive deeper than just “they were both democrats”. When thinking about Jefferson’s democratic ideas, you think of when he advocated for public education, and when he agreed to the Louisiana Purchase. These two things both show his idea of running the country for the common man. Jefferson truly loved America and wanted to do right by it at all times. He knew these things would help Americans succeed by giving them easy access to education and more land they could farm. Jackson on the other hand, while claiming to be for the common man, sometimes acted very selfishly. You can see this through the spoils system when instead of keeping the upstanding civil service agents, he replaced them with his friends and supporters. This resulted in mass incompetence from the newly appointed people at their post. If you are truly all for the common man, you wouldn’t hurt them by taking out people who were good at their job, and then appoint new people that don’t know what they’re doing. Not to mention the fact that only having people that agree with you is dangerous, as the people who agree with you always won’t tell you if you’re making a mistake. Jefferson was always advocating for strict interpretation of the constitution. He didn’t want to over use his power as president, and even when given the opportunity of a lifetime with the Louisiana Purchase, he almost didn’t do it because he wasn’t sure the constitution fully allowed him to. Jackson on the other hand, was nothing short of the polar opposite. Jackson was consistently trying to extend his power. He was the one that used the veto more times himself than any of the other presidents combined. He was the one that decided to just ignore the supreme court’s rulings on multiple occasions, also completely ignoring the idea of checks and balances. At the end of the day, I think there’s way too much evidence of Andrew Jackson being totally undemocratic to call him the better democrat. In this epic compare and contrast history battle, I think Jefferson wins handily.

  8. Asher Leopold

    I think that neither Andrew Jackson nor Thomas Jefferson were completely democratic however, I do think that Thomas Jefferson was more democratic in his actions and his beliefs than Andrew Jackson displayed. They were both democrats, but their interpretations of the respective words was entirely different from each other. For starters, Jefferson believed in a country full of independent farmers which is a pretty equal way of thinking and he also believed that all men should be educated even if they were not wealthy which shows that he really thought everybody was important. Another example of Thomas Jefferson being the better democrat is his stance on the First Bank of the United States and Alexander Hamilton, he refused Hamilton’s plan at first but came to accept it later. This shows the very democratic belief that all stances and minds are valuable and that it is important to listen to them.

    On the other hand, during Andrew Jackson’s presidency, more and more men were getting the right to vote themselves even if they were not either landowners or slaveowners which is very democratic. Jackson did, however, force thousands of Native tribes out of their home to preserve his own interests in making money for himself and America which shows an opposition to democracy since he proved he only cares about hearing the voice of the white man. Andrew Jackson was pretty much a democrat in the real sense of the word, but the difference lies in what Jackson used his power for. Andrew Jackson used his power for self-centered and self serving reasons like when he saw an opportunity to make more money for himself for forcibly removing Natives from their homes. Contrary to what happened with Thomas Jefferson and his stance on a Bank of the United States, or “BUS,” Andrew Jackson was opposed through and through and he never changed his mind. Andrew Jackson made the non-democratic decision to veto the bank and kill it in 1832, launching the United States into a depression, this was an irresponsible descision where Jackson showed that he cared mostly about himself. Jackson displays this time and time again so why to we still refer to him as the common man?

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