Hi I’m John Green. This is Crash Course
U.S. history and today, after last week’s bummer on slavery, we turn to a happier topic:
the rise of democratization in the U.S. This was also known as the Age of Jackson,
no Stan, not that Jackson. No, no, Stan, come’on seriously. No not, no, no, no, no, no, no,
no, no, no, no, no. YES. That Jackson. Andrew Jackson.
intro …Sorry, I just had to check my collar.
Right, so you’ll recall that the initial democracy of the United States wasn’t terribly
democratic—almost all voters were white male land owners.
Mr. Green, Mr. Green. That’s just radically unfair.
Exactly, Me from the Past. But, between 1820 and 1850, this started to change. State legislatures
lowered, or else eliminated, the property qualifications for voting, which allowed many
more people to vote, so long as they were, you know, both white and male.
Mr. Green, Mr. Green. So, I’d be in, right? Yeah, that seems reasonable.
Yeah, Me from the Past, quick privilege check. One of the reasons we study history is so
that you can learn that people like you are not actually at the center of history, even
though, you know, you’ve been taught that. But, anyway, the whole idea of owning land
as a prerequisite for voting is sort of Jeffersonian— an individual who works his own land can be
truly independent, because he doesn’t need to rely upon markets to acquire stuff or,
God forbid, wages to give him money with which to buy stuff. No, he makes his own stuff and
he doesn’t need anybody…except for slaves and also women to make shoes and clothes and
to cook food and also make children. But, in light of the Market Revolution, the
idea of excluding wage workers seemed very outdated.
The idea of excluding women and non-white people, though, still quite popular.
But, this defining characteristic of the Age of Jackson really had very little to do with
Andrew Jackson himself because, by the time he became President in 1829, every state except
for North Carolina, Virginia, and Rhode Island had already gotten rid of their property requirements.
In fact, that’s probably why he got elected. Right so you’ll recall that America’s
mostly fake victory in the War of 1812 and the subsequent collapse of the Federalist
party ushered in the “Era of Good Feelings” which was another way of saying that there
was basic agreement on most domestic policies. The American System was a program of economic
nationalism built on (1) federally financed internal improvements,
like roads and canals, what we would now call “infrastructure”
(2) tariffs, to protect new factories and industries, and (3) a national bank that would
replace the First Bank of the United States whose charter expired in 1811.
You’ll never guess what we called this second bank, unless you guessed that we called it
“The Second Bank of the United States.” The main supporters of this American System
were our old friend John C. Calhoun and our new friend Henry Clay.
Both were Jeffersonian Republicans, which isn’t surprising because that was the only
political party, but it’s kind of surprising because the American System had nothing to
do with the Agrarian Republic that Jefferson had championed.
But whatever, this was the Era of Good Feelings, so we’re gonna go with it. By the way, this
nationalism also extended to foreign affairs. And if they did, we would, like, do stuff.
This so called “Monroe Doctrine” also said that the U.S. would stay out of European
wars. Hahahaha that is hilarious! But, we did live up to the other end of it,
you’ll remember that when the British came for the Falkland Islands, we were like, “This
shall not stand.” Just kidding. We were like, “Go ahead.”
The last Good Feelings era president was John Quincy Adams, who was quite the diplomat and
expansionist. He actually wrote the Monroe Doctrine, for instance.
But in fact, it turns out that all feelings were not good. There was significant disagreement
over three main issues. First, many people felt that the federal government
shouldn’t invest in infrastructure. Like, James Madison, who’d initially supported
those bills, ended up vetoing one of them that included a big spending increase to finance
roads and canals. Now, the roads and canals did get built, but,
in the end, most of the financing fell to the states.
There were also big problems with the Second Bank of the United States, which you know
is why you can’t visit a branch of it these days. But we’ll get to that in a minute!
And, lastly, there was the perennial issue of slavery. In this case the problem started,
as so many problems do, in Missouri. So, in 1819 Missouri had enough people in
it to become a state, but despite the fact that there were already more than 10,000 slaves
there, a New York congressman, named James Tallmadge, made a motion to prohibit the introduction
of further slaves into the proposed state. It took almost two years to work out the John
C. Calhounstorm that blew up after this. Actually, it took more than that. It took until the
end of the Civil War basically. But in the short run, Missouri was allowed
to enter the union as a slave state, while Maine was carved out of Massachusetts to keep
the balance of things. But the Missouri Compromise also said that
no state admitted above the 36 30 line of latitude would be allowed to have slaves,
except, of course, for Missouri itself, which as you can see, is well above the line.
Anyway, this solution to westward expansion worked out magnificently provided that you
enjoy Civil Wars. So, Thomas Jefferson, who was by the way was
still alive, which gives you some context for how young the nation truly was, wrote
that the Missouri Compromise was “like a fire bell in the night that awakened and filled
me with terror. I considered it at once the death knell of the union.”
Eventually, almost. But in the short term, it did mean the rise of political parties.
So, America was becoming more democratic, but if there was only one political party,
that democratic spirit had nowhere to go. Fortunately, there was a tiny little magician
named Martin Van Buren. They really did call him the “Little Magician,”
by the way. Also “The red fox of Kinderhook,” but we remember him as the worst-haired president.
So, despite having been President of the United States, Van Buren is arguably more important
for having invented the Democratic Party. He was first to realize that national political
parties could be a good thing. So, I mentioned that Martin Van Buren was
known as the “Little Magician, and I know this sounds a little bit silly, but I think
it’s telling. You see, Van Buren was only the second American
president with a well-used nickname. And the first was his immediate predecessor, Andrew
Jackson, or Old Hickory. Why does this matter? Well when you’re actually
having to campaign for office, as all presidential candidates did after the election of 1828,
and you’re trying to appeal to the newly enfranchised “common man” what better
way to seem like a regular guy than to have a nickname?
I mean, if you think this is crazy, just think of the nicknames of some some of our most
popular presidents. “Honest Abe,” “The Bull Moose,” “The Gipper.”
Even our lesser known presidents had nicknames. “Young Hickory,” “Handsome Frank;”
“Old Rough and Ready,” “Big Steve.” James Buchanan, and I am not making this up,
was “Old Public Functionary.” Who’re you gonna vote for? Oh, I think the
“Old Public Functionary.” He seems competent. As it happens, he wasn’t.
So, by now you’re probably wondering, where does Andrew Jackson fit into all of this?
When we last caught up with Jackson, he was winning the battle of New Orleans shortly
after the end of the War of 1812. He continued his bellicose ways, fighting
Indians in Florida, although he was not actually authorized to do so, and became so popular
from all of his Indian killing that he decided to run for president in 1824.
The election of 1824 was very close. And it went to the House, where John Quincy Adams
was eventually declared the winner. And Jackson denounced this as “a corrupt bargain.”
So, in 1828, Jackson ran a much more negative campaign—one of campaign slogans was “Vote
for Andrew Jackson who can fight, not John Quincy Adams who can write.”
Adams’ supporters responded by arguing that having a literate president wasn’t such
a bad thing and also by accusing Jackson of being a murderer, which given his frequent
habit of dueling and massacring, he sort of was.
So as you can see, the quality of discourse in American political campaigns has come a
long way. Anyway, Jackson won. Jackson ran as the champion of the common
man and in a way he was. I mean, he had little formal schooling and in some ways he was the
archetypal self made man. Jackson’s policies defined the new Democratic
party, which had formerly been known as the Jeffersonian Democratic Republicans. It’s
very complicated, so here, I made you this chart.
So who were these new Democrats? Well generally, they tended to be lower to middle class men,
usually farmers, who were suspicious of the widening gap between the rich and the poor
that was one of the results of the Market Revolution.
And they were particularly worried about bankers, merchants and speculators, who seemed to be
getting rich without actually producing anything. Stop me if any of this sounds familiar.
This vision probably would have carried the day except a new party arose in response to
Jackson’s election: the Whigs. No, Stan, the Whigs. Yes.
The American Whigs took their name from the English Whigs, who were opposed to absolute
monarchy. And the American Whigs felt that Andrew Jackson
was grabbing so much power for the executive branch that he was turning himself into “King
Andrew.” So, the Whigs were big supporters of the American
System and its active federal government. You know, tariffs, infrastructure, etc.
Their greatest support was in the Northeast, especially from businessmen and bankers who
benefitted from those tariffs and the stability provided by a national bank.
And they also thought the government should promote moral character because that was necessary
for a person to act as a truly independent citizen.
So Jackson’s policies must have been pretty egregious for them to spawn an entire new
political party. What did he actually do as president? Well, let’s go to the Thought
Bubble. Let’s start with Nullification. So, in 1828,
Congress passed the Tariff of 1828 because they were not yet in the habit of marketing
their bills via naming them with funny acronyms. Jackson supported this in spite of the fact
that it benefitted manufacturers. The tariff raised prices on imported manufactured goods
made of wool and iron, which enraged South Carolina because they’d put all their money
into slavery and none into industry. Unlike northerners, who could avoid the higher
prices by manufacturing sweaters and pants and such at home, South Carolinians would
have to pay more. They were so angry at this “Tariff of Abominations” that the South
Carolina legislature threatened to nullify it. Jackson didn’t take kindly to this affront
to federal power, but South Carolina persisted, and when Congress passed a new tariff in 1832
– one that actually lowered the duties — the Palmetto State’s government nullified it.
Jackson responded by getting Congress to pass the Force Act, which authorized him to use
the army and navy to collect taxes. A full blown crisis was averted when Congress passed
a new tariff in 1833 and South Carolina relented. This smelled a bit of dictatorship – armed
tax collectors and all – and helped to cement Jackson’s reputation as a tyrant, at least
among the Whigs. And then we have the Native Americans, much
of Jackson’s reputation there was based on killing them, so it’s no surprise that
he supported southern states’ efforts to appropriate Indian lands and make the Indians
move. This support was formalized in the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which Jackson supported.
The law provided funds to re-locate the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creek and Seminole Indians
from their homes in Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama. In response,
these tribes adopted a novel approach, and sued the government. And then, the Supreme
Court ruled that Georgia’s actions in removing the Cherokees violated their treaties with
the federal government and that they had a right to their land.
To which Jackson supposedly responded by saying, “John Marshall has made his decision. Now
let him enforce it.” So, Jackson set the stage for the forced removal of the Cherokees
from Georgia to Oklahoma, but it actually took place in the winter of 1838-1839 under
Jackson’s successor Van Buren. At least ¼ of the 18,000 Indians died during the forced
march that came to be known as the Trail of Tears.
Boy, Thought Bubble, you do know how to end on a downer. But, thank you.
But Andrew Jackson also changed our banking system. Just as today, banks were very important
to the industrial and mercantile development of the U.S.
And at the beginning of Jackson’s Presidency, American banking was dominated by the Second
National Bank, which you’ll remember, had been established by Congress as part of the
American system. Oh it’s time for the Mystery Document? The
rules here are simple. When I inevitably fail to guess the author
of the Mystery Document, I get shocked with the shock pen.
“The powers, privileges, and favors bestowed upon it in the original charter, by increasing
the value of the stock far above its par value operated as a gratuity of many millions to
its stockholders … Every monopoly and all exclusive privileges are granted at the expense
of the public which ought to receive a fair equivalent. The many millions which this act
proposes to bestow on the stockholders of the existing bank must come directly or indirectly
out of the earnings of the American people … Stan, I know this one! Is it not conceivable. It is not conceivable
how the present stockholders can have any claim to the special favor of Government.
Should [the bank’s] influence become concentrated, as it may under the operation of such an act
as this, in the hands of a self-elected directory … will there not be cause to tremble for
the purity of our elections[?]” It is Andrew Jackson’s veto of the charter
of the Second Bank of the United States. YES. So in 1832 bank leader Nicholas Biddle persuaded
Congress to pass a bill extending the life of the Second US Bank for 20 years.
Jackson thought that the Bank would use its money to oppose his reelection in 1836, so
he vetoed that bill. In fact, the reason I knew that was from the
veto message is because it talks about the bank as an instrument to subvert democracy.
Jackson set himself up as a defender of the lower classes by vetoing the bank’s charter.
Now, Whigs took exception to the idea that the president was somehow a more democratic
representative of the people than the legislature, but in the end Jackson’s view won out. He
used the veto power more than any prior president, turning it into a powerful tool of policy.
Which it remains to this day, by the way. So the Second Bank of the U.S. expired in
1836, which meant that suddenly we had no central institution with which to control
federal funds. Jackson ordered that money should be disbursed
into local banks, unsurprisingly preferencing ones that were friendly to him.
These so-called “pet banks” were another version of rewarding political supporters
that Jackson liked to call “rotation in office.” Opponents called this tactic of
awarding government offices to political favorites the spoils system.
Anyway, these smaller banks proceeded to print more and more paper money because, you know,
free money. Like, between 1833 and 1837 the face value
of banknotes in circulation rose from $10 million to $149 million, and that meant inflation.
Initially, states loved all this new money that they could use to finance internal improvements.
But, inflation is really bad for wage workers. And also, eventually, everyone.
So all this out-of-control inflation, coupled with rampant land-speculation eventually lead
to an economic collapse, the Panic of 1837. The subsequent depression lasted until 1843.
And Jackson’s bank policy proved to be arguably the most disastrous fiscal policy in American
history, which is really saying something. It also had a major effect on American politics
because business-oriented Democrats became Whigs, and the remaining Democrats further
aligned with agrarian interests, which meant slavery.
So the Age of Jackson was more democratic than anything that came before and it gave
us the beginnings of modern American politics. I mean, Jackson was the first president to
really expand executive power and to argue that the president is the most important democratically
elected official in the country. One of the things that makes Andrew Jackson’s
presidency so interesting and also so problematic is that he was elected via a more democratic
process, but he concentrated more power in the executive in a thoroughly undemocratic
way. In the end, Andrew Jackson probably was the
worst American president to end up on currency, particularly given his disastrous fiscal policies.
But the Age of Jackson is still important. And it’s worth remembering that all that
stuff in American politics started out with the expansion of democracy. Thanks for watching.
I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan
Muller. The script supervisor is Meredith Danko. Our associate producer is Danica Johnson.
The show is written by my high school history teacher, Raoul Meyer, and myself. And our
graphics team is Thought Cafe. If you have libertage caption suggestions,
please leave them in comments, where you can also leave questions about today’s video
that will be answered by our team of historians. Thanks for watching Crash Course and as we
say in my hometown, don’t forget to be awesome…WHAT.