Where America Went Wrong, Part I

If we wanted to find out where America started down the wrong political path, then one would have to return to those bitter days of the elections of 1824 and 1828.  These were the times of America’s dirtiest politics and nothing that happened in these periods offers much in esteem for our political system.

Adams 002In the election of 1828, the incumbent was John Quincy Adams, (shown right) the highly intelligent, well-educated, multi-lingual, and irascible son of our second president, John Adams.  He was known for thoughtful introspection, no doubt the product of many years as an American diplomat.  Andrew Jackson, on the other hand, was an orphan who clawed his way to success in the American frontier as a military hero and the beneficiary of Tennessee politics.  Jackson was uncouth, known for his violent encounters and duels.  Both of these men, or their surrogates, attacked one another unmercifully … Adams to retain the presidency, Jackson to gain it.

In understanding Jackson, one has to realize that he obsessed over the presidency and, much like Lyndon Baines Johnson, he was willing to do anything to get it.

Jackson 001What eventually made him popular among voters was his appeal to the average Joe.  As a war hero, Jackson (shown left) was best remembered for his victory over the British at New Orleans[1].  After one failed bid for the presidency in 1824 (known in history as the “Corrupt Bargain,” an interesting story in and of itself), Jackson re-entered the fray in 1828 —his heart filled with hate and vengeance toward his political opponents.  This feeling would only increase as his political opponents attacked his wife, which he believed resulted in her untimely death.

1828 was also a time of momentous changes to the way American did their politics.  There were vicissitudes in voting qualifications and participation, and in this time, the American people witnessed the formation of the Democratic Party[2]; it was a watershed moment in politics because it ushered in America’s two-party system.

Andrew Jackson’s appeal to the average American served him well and he handily defeated his opponent.  In the aftermath of the election campaign, at Jackson’s inauguration, he was so angry that he refused to pay the customary courtesy call on out-going President Adams.  Adams reciprocated by refusing to attend Jackson’s inauguration.  The bitterness of this election lasted many years into the future.

With Jackson’s ascension to the presidency, America entered a period we now refer to as “Jacksonian Democracy.”   It was a period of time when Jackson himself proclaimed “an end to elitist’s monopoly in government,” and it was during this period when suffrage was extended to nearly all white male citizens and a broadening of citizen participation in the affairs of government.  Jacksonian democrats demanded the election of judges; it was a time when many state governments re-wrote their state constitutions.  It was a time when Democrats favored geographical expansion of the United States, justified in terms of the so-called notion of “Manifest Destiny”—a belief that white Americans had a duty to settle the western reaches of the continent with yeoman farmers.  “Free soilers,” led principally by Van Buren, began to argue for limitations on slavery as a means of allowing the poor white farmer to flourish.

Jackson also initiated the spoils system, or patronage, which was a policy of placing political supporters into appointed offices.  Perhaps fostered by Jackson’s personality, patronage was a view that rotating political appointees was the right and duty of the winners of political contests. The idea was that patronage would encourage political participation by the common man and therefore make politicians and bureaucrats more accountable to the people.  The result was the hiring of incompetent and corrupt officials, emphasizing political loyalty above all other considerations.

Initially, Andrew Jackson favored a government of limited federal power; he promised to guard against encroachments of state sovereignty … but in time, Jackson’s views shifted to policies favoring an expansion of federal power … specifically, presidential power, but in terms of the economy, Jackson favored a hands-off approach.  He opposed federal involvement in infrastructure, national economy, and monetary policy.  He used banks as the boogey-man as a means of gaining support among the common man, few of whom understood any of this.

Under Jacksonian democracy, the president could explain to the illiterate citizen what government ought to be … regardless of any previous notions of federalism (state sovereignty), or the wisdom of checks and balances in a democratic republic.  As a case in point, Jackson decided how the US government should deal with American Indians —ending in what most people today regard as a national disgrace.  Socially and intellectually, Jacksonians not so much represented a national insurgency as a diverse (and in some circles), a testy national coalition.

(To be continued)


[1] Some historians have concluded the Jackson so hated the British that he wantonly slaughtered their troops at New Orleans in the battle that took place there between mid-December 1814 and mid-January 1815, but the fact is that the British intended to seize the port of New Orleans, in order to deny its access to the United States.  By the time of the battle, a treaty had already been signed between the United States and Great Britain in December 1814, a treaty not ratified by the United States until February 1815.  Neither General Jackson or General Pakenham could have known about the peace treaty, however.

[2] Mostly the result of superior organizational skills of Martin Van Buren.

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7 Responses to Where America Went Wrong, Part I

  1. geeez2014 says:

    So 1828 was the dark day in American history, huh? W#($*&@#($&*#
    This is terrific and SO informative…amazing stuff, so much research…thank you, Mustang.

    And thanks, too, for including my new blog on your blogroll…so proud to be there. And thanks again for your help. Am beginning to figure things out…kind of proud of myself, frankly! But so needed your input (again!) Thanks, friend. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mustang says:

      We can learn so much from history, if only we knew it. Thank you for your kind words. As for the help, such that it was, you’re very welcome … and happy to do it any time.


  2. Baysider says:

    Excellent! And welcome back to blogging – or at least I just found you today thanks to Ms. Z.

    Few people know the extent to which the the country was divided on the “Indian issue” which also contributed to the rancor of the Adams-Jackson contest. Land developers were heavily involved in indian removal from the south. (Surprised? Hah!) Southern states wanted to seize their lands, and New Englanders flooded Congress with protests. This was a near even split.

    This isn’t exactly the content I was looking for (which I think comes from a Page Smith book read 30 years ago), but interesting in that it shows Adams’ gradual shift in opinion on Indian policy.


    • Mustang says:
      Thank you for stopping by … I try to publish here once a week; for now it is all I want to do in terms of blogging.

      Land developers had been running amok since during the American Revolution and there was quite a lot of competition between the British government trying to keep these lands from speculators, and people looking to profit from it -including colonial governments. In the absence of a robust treasury, how do you pay men to fight for you? You pay them in land … promised to them now for payment at some time later. For example, in exchange for his service and the services of his men, the Virginia legislature promised George Rogers Clark quite an expanse of land as far as the Ohio Valley; he later turned most of this land over to the men who had rendered their services (or their widows). But the point is that while Clark did not seem to spend much time worrying about whether Virginia’s governor or legislature was lying to him, nor even whether the new state of Virginia was even entitled to all of those lands, everyone involved in land speculation realized that the American Indian must be dispossessed of these lands—and didn’t much care so long as they profited from their efforts; it was pure greed.


  3. geeez2014 says:

    Mustang…this AND writing wonderful blog pieces for others 🙂


  4. Jersey Jack says:

    I think I’ve heard it a thousand times in my life…”Buy dirt” before it runs out. The question is when will it run out if ever because of speculation and its accumulation of wealth will never cease to exist. Or will it? For centuries men have been willing to wage countless wars for their greed and desire for expansion. Let’s face it…we would not be the country we are today, border to border, east to west and one ocean to another if men such as Monroe, Jefferson or Jackson hadn’t the desire for it.
    And there’s still plenty of room to add another country to occupy in these borders too.


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