Jeffersonian democracy was a major political outlook in the United States at the turn of the 17th century. It was a term used to refer to the opposition Democratic-Republican Party founded by President Thomas Jefferson to oppose the Federalist Party culminating in election of Jefferson as the third president in 1801(Dunlap, 2009). A party devoted to liberty for the ‘plain folks’, Jeffersonian democracy’s tenets formed the basis for the Democratic Party, with some of its values still evident in the party today.
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Jeffersonian democracy was opposed to autocratic government and corruption, whilst promoting virtue. It campaigned for universal white male suffrage, with half of the states adapting this by the end of the era as opposed to two before the advent of the democracy. It also started campaigning for popular votes to decide presidential elections. Subsequently, Jefferson’s party took control of state legislature, city hall and the presidency(Bowers, 1954).
Jeffersonian democracy was replaced by Jacksonian democracy at the time of the Second Party System characterized by increasing awareness and interest of voters. This latter greater democratic outlook lasted from the election of President Andrew Jackson as the seventh president in 1828 to the time of abolitionism and subsequent American Civil War from the 1850s when the Third Party System came into being(Bowers, 1954). Jacksonian democracy arose out of factionalism among Jeffersonians. The anti-Jacksonian brigade formed the Whigsas inheritors of Jeffersonian democracy.
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While promoting the common white man’s involvement in government, Jacksonian democracy empowered the presidency and the executive. It empowered the states, rewriting many state laws. The Jacksonians campaigned for election of judges, rather than their appointment. (Hofstadter, 1989). However, both Jacksonians and Whigs avoided the slavery issue and did not extend democracy to Native Americans, which subsequently led to emergence of the Third Party System.
So while Jeffersonian democracy was against autocratic government and campaigned for white male suffrage, Jacksonian democracy was against monopolization of power by a few privileged. The former was against inherited elitism and for education while the latter was for the common white man, whilst concentrating powers on the presidency and the federal government. President Andrew Jackson famously faced down South Carolina over federal-versus-state legislation during the Nullification Crisis(Wilentz, 2005).
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Jeffersonian democracy led to distribution of power via empowerment of the states at the expense of nationalism: though it was during this time that the nation expanded to double its size through acquiring the Louisiana Territory(Dunlap, 2009). Jeffersonian state empowerment is still evident today with state governments having a lot of powers and big budgets.
Both Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracies contributed to expansion of freedoms in America. Political, social and economic developments during the two eras laid the foundation for freedom for all that America enjoys today by shunning autocratic government and ushering in universal white male suffrage and concomitant abolitionism and recognition of the right to vote for all adults.
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Jeffersonians and Jacksonians were the forefathers of today’s Democratic Party. Their basic democratic tenets of populism and egalitarianism, mixed with racism, are still evident in America today(Wilentz, 2005). An understanding of these early democracies offers a way to untangle the society from the problems besetting it today.
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