HST 141 Dr. Kerns


The Unfinished Nation: Chapter 9 Jacksonian America


Chapter 9 Main Themes:

  1. The expansion of the electorate during the Age of Jackson, and the limits of that expansion.
  2. The growing tension between nationalism and states' rights, as particularly reflected in the nullification crisis and the Webster-Hayne debate.
  3. The brutal treatment of Native Americans by the Jackson administration, culminating in Indian Removal and the Trail of Tears.
  4. The competing views of American economic development held by both sides in the Bank War, and their regional implications.
  5. The rise of the Whig Party as an alternative to Andrew Jackson and the Democrats, and the Jacksonian political strategies used by both Whigs and Democrats in the Second Party System.


A thorough study of Chapter Nine should enable the student to understand:


  • The democratization of the electorate that took place during Andrew Jackson's presidency, and those groups left out of this political transformation.


  • Andrew Jackson's philosophy of government and his impact on the office of the presidency.


  • The debate among historians about the meaning of "Jacksonian Democracy," and Andrew Jackson's relationship to it.


  • The nullification theory of John C. Calhoun, and President Jackson's reaction to the attempt to put nullification into action.


  • The reasons why the eastern Indians were removed to the West and the impact this had on the tribes.


  • The motivations animating Jackson's Bank War, and the effects of the Bank War on the American financial system.


  • The judicial climate of the Taney Court, how it differed in principle from the decisions of the earlier Marshall Court, and how it worked to foster Jacksonian ideals.


  • The differences in party philosophy between the Democrats and the Whigs, the reasons for the Whig victory in 1840, and the effect of the election on political campaigning.


  • The causes of the Panic of 1837, and the effect of the panic on the presidency of Van Buren.


  • The negotiations that led to the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, and the importance of the treaty in Anglo-American relations.





"Jacksonian Democracy"

A term that more accurately describes the spirit of the age than a movement led by Andrew Jackson. During this period (1820-1850), more offices became elective, voter restrictions were reduced or eliminated (for white male adults), and popular participation in politics increased. The Democratic Party, led by Jackson, appealed to this growing body of voters by stressing its belief in rotation in office, economy in government, governmental response to popular demands, and decentralization of power.

Hard Money

Specie, coin with a fixed value, which could not be cheaply manufactured to flood the market. Its use made money scarce and credit expensive and difficult, and it discouraged speculation. It also kept wages low and reduced commercial activity. Its advocates were known as "sound money" men.


The idea that a state, having retained its sovereignty in a federal system, can interpose its authority between the central government and an individual, to protect its citizens from illegal or unconstitutional action. (See the discussion of nullification in the text and states' rights below.)


The condition in which many speculators found themselves during the Panic of 1837 (and in 1819, as well). Having bought land on credit, they were unable to pay their debts when the land did not sell. Hence, they had a lot of land, but no money, and the result was bankruptcy.


The theory that history has been characterized by a struggle between the working classes and their masters, the middle-class capitalists. The outcome of struggle is to be an uprising of the oppressed and the overthrow of capitalism. In part, this belief was shared by John C. Calhoun, who feared that the growth of industrial capitalism in America would lead to just such a class struggle.


Theory advanced by John C. Calhoun which argued that since the federal government was a creation of the states, the states not the courts or Congress were the final arbiters of the constitutionality of federal laws. Thus, if a state concluded that Congress had passed an unconstitutional law, then it could hold a special convention and declare the federal law null and void within the state.

Party Boss

The politician in charge of the machine, usually the ranking elected official in a political unit (state, county, city, and so on); the person responsible for getting out the vote and for dispensing patronage.

Political Machine

A well-organized local political group that can turn out voters on specific issues. In return for delivering these votes, the machine is allowed to dispense patronage in its particular area.

Soft Money

Paper money. Easily produced, this currency increased the amount of money in circulation, made credit easier, and made prices higher. Generally favored by speculators, by agricultural interests, and by debtors.

Spoils System

The political equivalent of the military axiom "To the victor belong the spoils." In the nineteenth century, the victorious political party in national, state, and local elections routinely dismissed most officeholders and replaced them with workers loyal to the incoming party. The "spoils" were the many patronage jobs available in the government. At the national level, this included thousands of post office and customs positions. Political organizations especially adept at manipulating spoils to remain in power were often called machines. Civil-service reformers demanded that non-policymaking jobs be filled on the basis of competitive examinations and that officeholders would continue in office as long as they performed satisfactorily.

States' Rights

The belief that the United States was formed as a compact of sovereign states and that the national government was violating that sovereignty. The theory rests on the conviction that the states did not surrender their sovereignty to the central government by adopting the Constitution and that when their rights are violated, they can act in their own defense. (See the discussion of nullification in the text and interposition above.)


A major political party between 1834 and the 1850s. The Whigs were unified by their opposition to Andrew Jackson and their support for federal policies to aid business. The party was strongest among the merchants and manufacturers of the Northeast, the wealthy planters of the South, and the farmers of the West most eager for internal improvements.