By Matthew Gates, V Form
The Reach for Perfection in the Jacksonian Era
Although Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of The United States, only held office from 1829 to 1837, he made a profound impact on American history. During “The Jacksonian Era,” (1816-1841) the economy boomed, technology advanced, American borders expanded, but most importantly, the common man gained a sense of importance, and American optimism and patriotism were “unbounded” and “infectious” (Remini 108). It was a time of “passionate commitment to democracy” (Remini 122).
In response to the boom in the economy and the growth of industry and materialism in America during the Jacksonian Era, the theme of Culture and Society is evident throughout the Transcendental Movement. This movement, which originated in Massachusetts, emphasized the divinity of man and his connections to God and stressed the beauty in nature in a society preoccupied with materialism. Transcendentalists such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson encouraged Americans to live more modestly and enjoy the simplicity of nature. Emerson referred to the growing obsession of the American people to gain wealth as “‘the demon of reform,’” thereby proving that the emergence of the Transcendental Movement was necessary to respond to the expansion of American industrialism and materialism (Remini 73). Even today, there are still Transcendentalists who believe in the importance of living humbly and recognizing the beauty in nature in daily life.
The theme of America and The World is depicted during an important global conflict between the United States and the Republic of Mexico. Due to Jackson’s “robust and fire-breathing” thirst for expansion into both Texas and California, he proposed a plan that called for the takeover of the two territories (Remini 110). Jackson executed this plan by offering Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the President of Mexico at the time, three and a half million dollars for northern California and Texas, which Lopez refused. Tensions between the two nations escalated when Mexican authorities in Tampico refused to allow American ships to go ashore. With tempers flaring on both sides, Jackson curtailed his plan to expand into Texas because he believed a war between the United States and Mexico would prevent the Democratic Party from defeating the Whigs in the next election, and could establish an uneven balance of free and slave states in the Union. Following the presidencies of Andrew Jackson and his successors, John Tyler and Martin Van Buren, James K. Polk became President in 1845 and proceeded to annex Texas. This annexation caused a war between the Mexican Republic and the United States and allowed the Confederacy to gain another slave state to upset the even balance between free and slave states. Just as Jackson had predicted, the uneven balance triggered the South to begin a Civil War.
American Democracy flourished and expanded under the leadership of President Andrew Jackson. The theme of Politics and Power is illustrated through Jackson’s “absolute commitment to the idea of democracy” and his belief that Americans, excluding women and blacks, had a right to choose who represented them, from local officials to the President of the United States (Remini 25). When asked if the majority of American voters could become too powerful in society, Jackson stated, “‘The people are sovereign…their will is absolute,’” acknowledging that the future of the republic and its democratic government was based solely on his trust in the innate goodness of Americans and the capability to select their representatives (Remini 28). Furthermore, Andrew Jackson advocated “‘the right of instruction,’” forcing all elected representatives either to adhere to the wishes of American citizens in Congress or legislative assemblies or resign from office (Remini 28). Jacksonian Democracy expanded the individual choice of its citizens, reiterated the American ideals that government was designed by the people and for the people, and established a relationship of trust between the office of the Presidency and the citizens of the United States that continues to last today.
The theme of Environment and Geography is demonstrated through the removal of the Native Americans west of the Mississippi River, which allowed Americans to obtain the south’s most fertile land. Because Jackson had fought with the Tennessee militia to defeat the Creek Nation in 1813, he decided that the Natives posed a clear threat to both American safety and sovereignty. Although the safety of American citizens was his top priority, Jackson realized that removing Natives from areas in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Florida would vacate land with ideal climate and geography for growing both cotton and crops. Jackson proposed a peace settlement in which the Natives would surrender twenty-three million acres to the United States, relocating all Native inhabitants west to modern day Oklahoma. Both Jackson and American citizens “hungered” for the Native Americans’ land because it furthered the expansion of the Union and provided additional opportunities for economic growth for an already booming economy (Remini 56). Whether or not this was truly one of Jackson’s greatest achievements—as he believed it was—many of those tribes that moved out west still exist today. Nevertheless, Jackson’s acquisition of over 100 million acres of land undoubtedly continued to fuel a vibrant economy.
Workers and farmers migrated to America seeking employment during the construction of highways, turnpikes, canals, and railroads during the age of industrialization, underscoring the theme of Settlement and Migration. The age of industrialization brought “ ‘skilled workmen,’ farmers and laborers” to the United States, as it expanded with the acquisitions of Texas in 1845, and following the Mexican War, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah (Remini 75). The population of the United States was growing exponentially as was the economy, which flourished with newly populated cities. Cities such as Cincinnati, Chicago, and St. Louis “sprang up virtually overnight” clearly reflecting the vibrancy that migration and settlement brought to America during this time (Remini 75). Jackson cried, “‘How thankful we ought to be that God has given us such a country to live in’”, displaying that the excitement of the age of industrialization was bringing migrants from around the globe to America (Remini 75).
Technological advancements, innovations and inventions highlighted the theme of Exchange, Tech, and Work throughout the Jacksonian Era. For example, one of the greatest innovations of the nineteenth century emerged from the medical field when William T. G. Morton discovered anesthesia in 1842. Tools and machines were also invented, including the revolver, the telegraph, and the sewing machine, which proved essential in the daily lives of Americans for years to come. One foreigner wrote “‘Where in Europe young men write poems or novels, in America, especially Massachusetts and Connecticut, they invent machines and tools,’” demonstrating Americans’ desire to improve their future through technological advancements (Remini 87). That desire still resonates today.
As Americans adopted many different religious beliefs, traditions, and cultures during the Jacksonian Era, the theme of American and National Identity became characteristic of the times. Religious groups such as the Disciples of Christ, the Oneida Community, the Shakers, the Phalanxes, and the Mormons, attracted people and further diversified the country. It was a time when citizens attempted “to adopt new patterns of life, join voluntary associations,” practice new religions, thereby creating a new national identity for American society. (Remini 108). The Jacksonian Era acknowledged the importance of Americans’ adopting of new customs, traditions, and religious beliefs, and the creation of diversity in America.
Although the Jacksonian Era included inequities such as the removal and displacement of countless Native Americans, the denied suffrage for women and blacks, and the growth of slavery in the South, this period undeniably heralded the empowerment of the common man, the advancement in technology, the profound commitment to democracy, and the unrivaled optimism and patriotism of Americans.