(HRS) Reform and Politics in the Age of Jackson, 1824-1845


HRS Chapter 12 Study Guide

Having examined the social, political, and economic characteristics of the South in Chapter 10 and of the North in Chapter 11, we now look more closely at the variety of ways in which Northerners responded to the changes brought by industrialization and urbanization in the early nineteenth century. The religious revival known as the Second Great Awakening was the response of people who perceived a spiritual breakdown within society. This response, which was evangelistic and emotional in character and perfectionist in orientation, provided the catalyst for myriad reform movements, all of which had the goal of perfecting the human condition. Some of the reform movements, i. e., the American Female Moral Reform Society and the temperance movement, were attempts to perfect the human condition by cleansing society of perceived moral evils and, by doing so, hasten the Second Coming. Others, such as the utopian communities associated with the era, attempted to create a sense of community in an increasingly impersonal society. Whether the sexual abstention of the Shakers or the transcendentalism of Brook Farm, the philosophies of these communities were usually a mix of old and new values and emphasized cooperation over competition. The search for belonging also led in new spiritual and religious directions, i.e., the Mormon movement. In addition, those associated with the penitentiary movement and the asylum movement wanted to create a system by which the victims of a turbulent and unstable society could be rehabilitated.

Cities also began to provide education to their citizens through public schools. Because of the reform work of Horace Mann, who advocated equality of educational opportunity, the school curriculum became more secular in orientation and, therefore, more appropriate to would-be workers in a market-oriented economy. The public school curriculum no longer included direct religious indoctrination, but it did include indoctrination in moral values deemed important by the Protestant political leaders who controlled urban government and urban schools. Such indoctrination, undertaken with the intent of creating a society of like-minded citizens, was one response to the divergent belief systems brought by newcomers to the urban environment.

The reform impulse caused some Americans to redefine the ideal of equality and resulted in the abolitionist movement and the feminist movement. We contrast the characteristics and goals of early abolitionists with those of the new abolitionists of the 1830s. In the process we discover that new abolitionism, which advocated an immediate end to slavery, was, like so many of the moral reform movements of the age, built on the base of evangelical Christianity. We also find that abolitionism during the 1830s became, especially for women, a bridge between reform and activism in the public arena and between reform and politics.

After discussing the emergence of the women's movement, we turn to the impact of change in other aspects of American society on the political process. The Antimason movement, the end of the caucus system, the trend toward choosing presidential electors by popular vote, and the election of Andrew Jackson as president all signaled the beginnings of a more open political system in which party organization and party politics were the most important ingredients in the acquisition of political power. Jackson's acquisition of power brought with it an attempt to solve the nation's problems through restoration of traditional republican values and through return to Jeffersonian concepts of limited government. It is within this context that the nullification crisis and the controversy over the rechartering of the Second Bank of the United States took place. In the former, President Jackson and Congress reaffirmed the supremacy of the federal government over what Jackson perceived to be special state privilege. In the latter, the concept of limited government was reaffirmed over what the Jacksonians perceived to be special economic privilege. However, Jackson's antibank and hard-money policies led to economic hard times, with which his successor, Martin Van Buren, was unable to deal.

Jackson's policies, his transformation of the executive branch into a more powerful arm of government, and the inching of reformists and evangelicals into politics led to the emergence of a loyal opposition in the form of the Whig party and to the emergence of the second party system. As the democratization of American society caused an expansion of the electorate, the two parties took shape and began to compete in local, state, and federal elections. In the process, disagreements between Democrats and Whigs on the fundamental issues of the age energized the political process and caused more people to become politically active. Nevertheless, the main determinants of party membership were religion and ethnicity. In the 1840 election, the Whigs capitalized on the economic hardships of the Van Buren years to capture the presidency. However, President William Henry Harrison died within a month of having taken office and was replaced by John Tyler, who was more a Democrat than a Whig. Tyler's achievements were confined to the area of foreign policy.
Norton (2008). A People and a Nation: A History of the United States, 8th Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

American Diversity:
Jackson reflected the nation's attitude toward Native Americans as uncivilized and unable to be civilized. The use of paternalism to justify the seizure of Indian lands persisted for the next century, and Jackson both clarified and articulated this policy in his message supporting the Indian Removal Act in 1830.

American Identity:
A strong states' rights movement arose during this period, with slavery in the background and the tariff in the foreground. South Carolina, supported by other southern slave states, emerged as the champion of the nullification theory. Political ideology began to identify with region during the crisis during 1832 and 1833, and set the foundation for the divisive decade of the 1850s.

Politics and Citizenship:
Modern politics were born in this era. The franchise was extended to all white males, divorcing property from citizenship rights. In addition, Jackson was the first president to use the power of the office to lead the country. His use of the veto, patronage and party, and his vision of the executive as the embodiment of the popular will set him on the course of the modern presidency.

George, J. & Brown, J. (2007). AP achiever: Advanced placement american history exam preparation guide.  McGraw Hill.

Digital History

Jacksonian Democracy and Westward Expansion 1828-1860

Throughout the Western world, the end of the Napoleonic Wars brought an end to a period of global war and revolution and the start of a new era of rapid economic growth. For Americans, the end of the War of 1812 unleashed the rapid growth of cities and industry and a torrent of expansion westward. The years following the war also marked a notable advance of democracy in American politics. Property qualifications for voting and office holding were abolished; voters began to directly elect presidential electors, state judges, and governors; and voting participation skyrocketed. In addition, the antebellum era saw a great surge in collective efforts to improve society through reform. Unprecedented campaigns sought to outlaw alcohol, guarantee women's rights, and abolish slavery.

Rapid territorial expansion marked the antebellum period. Between 1845 and 1853, the nation expanded its boundaries to include Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. The United States annexed Texas in 1845; partitioned the Oregon country in 1846 following negotiations with Britain; wrested California and the great Southwest from Mexico in 1848 after the Mexican War; and acquired the Gadsden Purchase in southern Arizona from Mexico in 1853.

The period's most fateful development was a deepening sectional conflict that brought the country to the brink of civil war. The addition of new land from Mexico raised the question that would dominate American politics during the 1850s: whether slavery would be permitted in the western territories. The Compromise of 1850 attempted to settle this issue by admitting California as a free state but allowing slavery in the rest of the Mexican cession. But enactment of the Fugitive Slave Law as part of the compromise exacerbated sectional tensions. The question of slavery in the territories was revived by the 1854 decision to open Kansas and Nebraska territories to white settlement and decide the status of slavery according to the principle of popular sovereignty. Sectional conflict was intensified by the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision, which declared that Congress could not exclude slavery from the western territories; by John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry; and by Abraham Lincoln's election as president in 1860.

Lecture Outlines

Jacksonian Era 1828-1844

The Presidents 

Andrew Jackson


Andrew Jackson's Shifting Legacy

Multimedia Presentations

Democracy and the Common Man

The Nullification Crisis

The Bank of the United States

Indian Removal

Student Assignments 

Political Cartoons

Political Cartoon Analysis ws 

Web Links 

Student Learning Center