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Jacksonian Democracy - background and introduction

Jacksonian democracy marked the birth of modern American political culture, introducing practices like the two-party system and the spoils system. It shifted from an aristocratic political landscape to one where all white males could vote, regardless of property ownership, shaping today's political character.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] When we talk about the big social movements of the early 19th century in the United States, you can't deny that the emergence of Jacksonian democracy is one of the most influential aspects of early 19th century culture, so what was Jacksonian democracy and why do we care so much about it? Well, I wanna make the argument to you that Jacksonian democracy was really the birth of modern American political culture. By that, I mean that during this time, lots of practices emerged that are still with us today. For example, the two party system. The spoils system. Even some aspects of American political character that are still with us today emerged in this time period and by that, I mean the kinds of traits that we like to see in our politicians to consider them electable. So in this series on Jacksonian democracy, I'm gonna take you on a journey from the earlier American political culture, some of the major changes that came about in the Jacksonian period, and then just discuss some of the ways that this still influences us today. All right, so if Jacksonian democracy was a new thing, what came before it? Well, in the very early era of American political life and I'm talking here from approximately 1790 to about 1820, American politics was very aristocratic. There were a couple of families that tended to dominate politics. The Adams family, for example. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and these men were kind of considered to be, maybe a higher character of man. They were the quintessential citizens of a republic and along with that came a certain amount of wealth and status and education. In between George Washington and Andrew Jackson, every single person who served as president had a college degree. Many of them were Virginians and particularly Virginian planters. You see a lot of Virginians and a lot of people from Massachusetts in the first couple of years of the republic. Many of them kind of shared a concern that there could be too much democracy, shall we say, that even though the United States was a democracy, many of the founders of the United States worried about the tyranny of the majority, the tyranny of the mob, that they had set up this democratic experiment where many people could vote, but they were afraid of having just too many people voting 'cause they looked down on lower classes of society in that time period. They worried that if you didn't have a stake in the country, usually shown by property ownership, either in terms of land or in terms of wealth, then you wouldn't have the proper investment in the fate of the nation in order to make a rational decision about what sort of policies should be enacted. So in the early years of the United States, many states had voting laws that restricted the franchise to just propertied men. So really, a quite small proportion of the overall populous of the United States could vote. Interestingly, this actually meant that in some northern states, both free people of color, free black men and women could vote because they met the requirements for property ownership, but in the early 1800s, 1810s, these ideals of democracy began to catch on more and more among the common people and as new states joined The Union, like Ohio and Illinois, they came in with state constitutions, saying that all white male citizens could vote, regardless of whether or not they owned property or they paid taxes. So in this time period, white male citizenship became associated with voting and some of the other states began to rewrite their state constitutions to grant the vote to all white males and it probably won't surprise you that when they rewrote those laws, they managed to take out the little loophole for free people of color and women with certain amounts of property. So by the end of this period, in the 1850s, all property requirements for voting had been eliminated and any white male above the age of 21 in the United States had the right to vote and we'll get to what that meant for American politics in the next video.