The election of 1824 brought a massive change to how parties functioned in the U.S. The Jacksonian Age is highlighted by the growth of democracy. Whereas before, only property-owning men could vote.
By 1824 most states had dropped property requirements allowing all white men the vote. Most states did not add racial requirements before the 1820s. While land requirements restricted most Blacks, some did vote. It wasn’t until the 1820s when free Black men could vote that states began enforcing new racial rules.
The principal reason for the change was that new western states like Kentucky and Tennessee did not have property requirements. Landless men in states like Vir-ginia realized that all they needed to do was move further west and they could have a voice. Suddenly the original states began losing population as the poor migrated in masses forcing the original states to change their laws or risk population drain.
The other big change by 1824 was how electors to the Electoral College were chosen.
Before 1824, presidential candidates were chosen by party caucus where the party leaders gathered or wrote letters and decided who to run. Electors to the College were then chosen by the state.
This system went back to the Founders’ fear of the population choosing the president. A popularly chosen president would wield too much power and could become a demagogue like Caesar.
Yet by 1824, every state except for South Carolina began voting for electors to the College, giving the people much more say in the president. With mass democracy and electing electors, the nation suddenly had a new type of politician who had a new way of looking at parties.
Up to that point elected officials were supposed to be our betters. We purposely chose a republic over a democracy because the Founders did not trust the masses. Instead, the people were supposed to choose someone smarter than them to make the decisions.
In reality, elected officials are not supposed to poll their constituents; we elect them to make the decisions. Remember, when discussing classical conservatives, the idea’s founder, Edmund Burke, said, “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays you instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
That system worked for the landed population. But now the new voter decided that instead of someone better, they wanted someone who knew them, someone like them. They wanted Andrew Jackson.
Jackson was born into poverty and orphaned as a boy. He moved to Tennessee and clawed his way up into society, something one could do much better in the frontier of Nashville than North Carolina.
When the War of 1812 broke out Jackson was commissioned Major General of the Tennessee Militia. By the time the war was over, he was the nation’s biggest celebrity.
Tennessee nominated their favorite son for president in 1824. He was one of five Republicans running for that office. The other four were traditional blue bloods, while Jackson was a rough westerner who drank, gambled, swore, raced horses and even killed a man in a duel. In short, he was one of the people.
At first, Jackson was not sure he wanted to be president. After he had the popular vote but lost the presidency because he did not win the Electoral College, he became convinced he lost to corruption and set out to win the presidency in 1828.
(Side note, no one received a majority of the Electoral College in 1824, so the top three recipients were sent to the House of Representatives where John Quincy Adams was chosen.)
Jackson was incensed by what he saw as corruption and also furious that Adams could win the Republican Party a man Jackson saw as a Federalist in Republican sheep’s clothing.
Jackson was a classic liberal and true Jeffersonian. He hated what was happening to his party and the election of Adams was a last straw. Right away he began his campaign for the next election.
To distinguish himself from Adams’ Republicans, Jackson’s supporters began calling themselves Democratic Republicans. Before long, the Republican part of the name was dropped and it was simply the Democratic Parfield ty, the same one that is used today.
Republicans ran candidates in 1828 and 1832 but were trounced by Jackson so badly both times that the party ceased to exist ending the First American Party System for good, but it prepared the way for the Second American Party System and a new way of seeing political parties.
James Finck, Ph.D. is a professor of history at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma. He can be reached at HistoricallySpeakingl firstname.lastname@example.org.