Andrew Jackson was a completely different type of presidential candidate from anything the young American nation had ever seen. Coming from the backwoods of North Carolina, Jackson was “the first presidential candidate from the ‘up-by-your-bootstraps’ American tradition. By age fifteen, Jackson was both a battle-hardened veteran of the Revolutionary War and alone, his parents and siblings dead. A combination of this upbringing and the fact that the presidency was essentially stolen from him in 1824 by John Quincy Adams despite him winning the popular vote, Jackson set out to win the presidency in 1828 and inadvertently created the template for nearly every presidential campaign in the future. Jackson’s nickname, Old Hickory, became the first brand name in presidential politics. Local political organizations supporting Jackson became “Hickory Clubs,” hickory trees were planted at barbeques and rallies, drawings of hickory branches and leaves, along with likeness of Jackson adorned campaign paraphernalia. History is Now Magazine notes, “The Jackson campaign became a popular juggernaut the likes of which the new nation had never seen before, and that the Adams forces were powerless to stop.” Adam’s campaign nevertheless tried, and the resulting attacks set a precedence of digging into the opposition’s personal life to dissuade voters. Despite all of this Jackson was elected in 1828, marking a switch in the nation from the Founders to a separate, democratic identity. Politics “became a form of entertainment and sport for the people, with the ‘Old Hickory’ collectibles and Jackson’s mass appeal forming a common bond among the common man.”
Andrew Jackson initiated a new era of parties that remains impactful today. He created the Democratic Party, putting into motion the two-party system. In addition, he brought a new authoritative energy to the presidency, accumulating power through the use of the veto, by dominating the cabinet, and by creating a connection with the average voter of the time. He coined the idea of the “people’s president” which remains the heart of the Democratic Party today. However, the Miller Center notes that many of his policies reflect those of the Republican party today, particularly the use of laissez-faire as a means of liberty, the importance of limited government intervention, and the idea that a republican government “should be simple, frugal, and accessible.” Jackson was also instrumental in holding off the Civil War, believing that the relatively young nation was perpetual and indivisible. Jackson’s character is still controversial among historians today. Some see him as “a shining symbol of American accomplishment” while others view him as “an incipient tyrant.” Either way, there is no denying that he left a permanent mark on our nation’s government.
During Jackson’s political career and particularly during his presidency, the nature of America flipped from a republic to a democracy. Jackson was the first president to sense the power of large acts of nay-saying to resolve major issues: vetoes, threats of force, the destruction of the Second Bank of the United States, the removal of the native tribes, etc. James M. Banner Jr. from the Washington Post further points out, “An arrangement of carefully calibrated structural checks and balances and legislative representation gave way to a national political community in which the will of the majority of adult white males was embodied in the chief magistrate of the land.” In other words, what had previously been a nation that was cautiously run solely on planned out structure became more of the nation we see now. Jackson flipped the presidency into a position of truly representing the people –or, at least those who could vote– rather than simply an executive, like the presidents before him and the English monarchy before them. The people (i.e. white males) had finally found their voice. This idea of a representative democracy, that we elect leaders we believe will best represent us, believe what we believe, maybe even look like us, is how most people in the United States vote today.