Skip to content

Choose a Chapter | Purchase the eBook

1 The Collision Of Cultures
2 Britain And Its Colonies
3 Colonial Ways Of Life
4 The Imperial Perspective
5 From Empire To Independence
6 The American Revolution
7 Shaping A Federal Union
8 The Federalist Era
9 The Early Republic
10 Nationalism And Sectionalism
11 The Jacksonian Impulse
12 The Dynamics Of Growth
13 An American Renaissance: Religion, Romanticism, And Reform
14 Manifest Destiny
15 The Old South
16 The Crisis Of Union
17 The War Of The Union
18 Reconstruction: North And South
19 New Frontiers: South And West
20 Big Business And Organized Labor
21 The Emergence Of Urban America
22 Gilded-age Politics And Agrarian Revolt
23 An American Empire
24 The Progressive Era
25 America And The Great War
26 The Modern Temper
27 Republican Resurgence And Decline
28 New Deal America
29 From Isolation To Global War
30 The Second World War
31 The Fair Deal And Containment
32 Through The Picture Window: Society And Culture, 19451960
33 Conflict And Deadlock: The Eisenhower Years
34 New Frontiers: Politics And Social Change In The 1960s
35 Rebellion And Reaction In The 1960s And 1970s
36 A Conservative Insurgency
37 Triumph And Tragedy: America At The Turn Of The Century

The Jacksonian Impulse - Document Overview

» Return to Document Reader
» Worksheet

Tennessee militia soldiers, inspired by his toughness, had nicknamed Andrew Jackson "Old Hickory" during the War of 1812. Since that time, less inspired than aggravated, his political opponents called him quite a number of other names. Jackson probably deserved all of the monikers, good and bad, for he was a complex man whose personal and professional decisions produced conflicting reactions during his lifetime and thereafter. Although negative evaluations have mounted in the twentieth century, Jackson was a hero to most of his contemporaries. He seemed to embody the image many Americans had, or wanted to have, of themselves. They embraced the image of the frontiersman, someone they saw as self-reliant, someone whose character was based in action not intellect: someone who used might to make right and who knew instinctively what right was. These Americans applauded him as a self-made man: he was an example to their sons that in America any boy through self determination, direction, and diligence could indeed become powerful. Jackson's opponents, however, pointed out that his conduct also demonstrated how action without full reflection could have negative repercussions. To them, his decisions showed why there had to be checks on the delegation and execution of power.

Jackson, over time, has come to epitomize the myth and reality of a new era in American democracy. The Jacksonian Age was a time when many Americans came to define democracy more inclusively and equality more broadly than the founders had. They accepted and celebrated greater participation by white men, no matter what their economic and social rank, in the political life of the nation. Yet in doing so, showing the complexity and contradictory nature of this age, they also expounded more fully on the ethnic and gendered limits to American democracy, equality, and opportunity. Some Americans did protest those restrictions, and would continue to protest them using the language of Revolutionary America and building upon the broader interpretations of Jacksonian America. During this period, women's suffrage and the abolition of slavery did not yet engage the nation's attention as they would later, but the issue of Native American rights and property certainly did.

Another issue of increasing concern was that of the allocation and exercise of power between national and state governments. This was a problem that was almost as old as the republic, but old compromises were fraying and new ones increasingly difficult to forge. In this new era of the common man there was no question of sovereignty remaining in the people, but there were many heated debates over which government—state or national—best protected that common man's rights and interests. When national and state legislation came into conflict, which one did citizens ultimately want to have precedence? Did they want the one that confirmed rule by the majority, or did they want those that protected minorities (state contingents) to have the power to check a possible tyranny by the majority? Some believed that the primacy of the national government had already been spelled out in the Constitution and confirmed by Supreme Court decisions; others believed that the state governments, which were more closely tied to the people, better represented citizens' interests, and increasingly challenged the former.

Jackson initially straddled the debate, but when put to the test during the nullification controversy, he came down firmly for the supremacy of the national government. Yet as a believer and practitioner in self reliance, he also seemed to believe that the nation should not do what the state could do, nor should the state do what the individual could do. This showed in his constitutional scruples about national power in terms of internal improvements. As did Madison and Monroe before him, Jackson opposed federal support for local projects. Even so, Jackson was not a states-rights proponent; he only supported issues if they fit within his concept of national interests.

As a general and then as president, Jackson's duty was to execute national policy. In pursuing that end—ensuring the security and developing the strength of the country—Jackson assumed and exercised ever greater power, which sometimes got him into trouble. When he was a general, politicians accused him of exceeding his orders and delegated authority; and during his presidency, political opponents accused him of exceeding his constitutional authority. Operating within a rather expansive interpretation of executive limits, Jackson strengthened the power of the presidency through his use of appointments and the veto. While willing to work with the legislative branch, he refused to be ruled by it, just as he refused to allow the Supreme Court or the state governments to have the last say in national affairs. He believed that he knew what was best for the country and acted upon that belief. His popularity with the voters suggests that they agreed with him.

Section Menu





Norton Gradebook

Instructors now have an easy way to collect students’ online quizzes with the Norton Gradebook without flooding their inboxes with e-mails.

Students can track their online quiz scores by setting up their own Student Gradebook.