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What Is the Age of Jackson?

By Rebecca Mecomber
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Age of Jackson refers to the period of 1829 to 1849 in United States history, when President Andrew Jackson led the national government through a series of reforms and radical governmental changes. This era gave rise to the career politician and the "spoils system," two components of political culture that remain in United States politics to this day. Highlights of this historical period include Jackson's Indian Removal Act, the opening of the U.S. frontier, the rise of democratic government and the two-party political system, the battle over a central bank, and the increasing power of the presidential office.

Andrew Jackson was elected in 1828, the first man born west of the Allegheny Mountains to become president of the United States. Jackson's political platform was to elevate the common man who, bereft of wealth and land, had been unable to participate in politics. Previously, the political culture and governmental positions of the United States had been filled with members of the upper class, consisting of free, Caucasian, landowning men in high social standing. Andrew Jackson's policies radically changed this policy by allowing non-landowning men to vote in elections. For this reason the Age of Jackson is often called the Age of Democracy.

Almost immediately after his election, President Jackson rewarded his presidential candidacy supporters with nearly 2,000 jobs in government. Political opponents strongly opposed this "spoils system," calling the Jackson administration his "kitchen cabinet." Whereas a government statesman had once served in public office as an honorable duty under the auspices of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, men now sought permanent places of political power. The Age of Jackson is associated with the rise of the career politician and the favoritism evident in modern politics.

In 1830, President Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act. This policy, later to haunt his administration, displaced Native American people from their ancestral lands and forcibly relocated them to lands west of the Mississippi River. At the time, the United States was bursting at the seams, and white settlers desired to settle the southern and western frontier. The Indian Removal Act was considered a voluntary act, but the natives were either strongly coerced to give up their lands or escorted west by the U.S. Army. This blot in American history is called the "Trail of Tears" by the Cherokee tribe, who suffered great depravation and humiliation from their forcible exile.

The reforms and radical changes brought on during the Age of Jackson rankled Jackson's political opponents. A new, albeit brief political party rose to defy Jackson's policies: the Whigs, led by John Quincy Adams, William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor. The Whigs contested the increasing powers of the executive office and battled Jackson's refusal to submit a charter for a national bank. This party saw a short-lived rise in popularity, but the Age of Jackson's appeal to the common man and the increasing antebellum tensions of the issue of slavery led to its early demise (Ref 5). Later, the former Whigs combined to create the Republican Party, while Jackson supporters developed into the Democrat Party.

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