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Andrew Jackson vs. the Whig Party: Rise of Executive Power

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  • 0:04 Jackson's…
  • 2:36 Strengthening His…
  • 5:57 Jackson's Power Expands
  • 8:37 The Veto
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Steven Shirley
In this lesson, we will discuss how Andrew Jackson's administration strengthened executive power as well as the rise of the Whig Party in opposition to Jackson and his policies.

Jackson's Administration Begins

'Old Hickory' Andrew Jackson had little time to bask in the victory of 1828. He had implored the common man for their support, he got it, and now it was time to deliver. Surely the loss of his wife Rachel left an indelible mark on Jackson's first years in office, but it did not damper his popularity or his penchant for populist politics.

His inauguration became the first that was open to the public, and the public came in droves. It became a wild party for some of his supporters, who drank, ate, and celebrated the election of someone they viewed as one of their own.

Jackson did little to dissuade this perception. He took a meandering 3-week journey from Tennessee to D.C., greeted by joyous supporters all along the way, before finally emerging in front of an estimated 21,000 supporters at his inauguration on the Capitol steps.

One eye witness wrote of his impressions of this moment:

'Never can I forget the spectacle which presented itself on every side, nor the electrifying moment when the eager, expectant eyes of that vast, motley multitude caught sight of the tall, imposing form of their adored leader, as he came forth between the columns of the portico, the color of the whole mass changed, as if by miracle; all hats were off at once, and the dark tint which usually pervades a mixed map of men was turned, as by magic wand, into the bright hue of ten thousand upturned and expectant human faces, radiant with sudden joy. The peal of shouting that arose rent the air, and seemed to shake the very ground. But when the Chief Justice took his place and commenced the brief ceremony of administering the oath, it quickly sank into comparative silence; and as the new President proceeded to read his inaugural address, the stillness gradually increased; but all efforts to hear him, beyond the brief space immediately around were utterly in vain.'

The inauguration of President Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson Inauguration

With the festivities over, it was time to get down to business.

Strengthening His Power and the Rise of the Whigs

While he criticized John Quincy Adams for cronyism, Jackson swept out many long-serving and high-ranking government officials in order to fill the seats with his own supporters. He rejected the accusations that this was cronyism; instead, it was more of a spoils system, where the victorious party dutifully filled important posts with ideological kin, and this was done, of course, as Jackson argued, to ensure efficiency and accountability.

Call it what you want, but the tradition of a new administration sweeping out the old to make room for the new is one still carried on to this day as Republicans and Democrats bring a bevy of bureaucrats to office with them in each election cycle they win.

Jackson's summary dismissing of so many career bureaucrats in the executive branch led to considerable opposition. These men he was dismissing and replacing were men of means; elites, men of status, as it were, and they would be quick to oppose Jackson on every front. Gradually, these men joined other dissatisfied factions and coalesced into a political party all their own; an opposition party, an anti-Jackson party with the strangest of names: the Whigs.

This did not literally mean that those in the party enjoyed wearing wigs; instead, the name harkened back to a long tradition of political parties that shared this name in the past. Those names, too, had nothing to do with head dress, but came from the Scottish word 'whiggamore', applied to a group who at the time opposed the king and his policies.

To the opponents of Jackson, the name was a perfect fit, as they saw Jackson's strengthening of the executive branch's power as monarchical and even mockingly labeled the new president as 'King Andrew.'

He wasn't really a king, of course, but the hyperbole on the opposite side of the aisle reached new heights during his presidency with some, including his old foe Henry Clay, accusing him of trying to establish a military dictatorship and threaten the Constitution itself.

Clay wasn't alone in his opposition. The new Whig party attracted an eclectic mix of members including Southerners fighting for state's rights, nationalists, agriculturalists and Northern free trade capitalists, and a host of others, all unified in their dislike for Andrew Jackson. They were also active on many fronts, both progressive and conservative, seeking to maintain American uniqueness, holding to strict moral codes, such as no consumption of alcohol or mail on Sundays, while at the same time seeking internal improvements to roads, bridges, schools, and reforming prisons.

Through it all, the diversity of the party was held together by their common dislike and distrust of Andrew Jackson.

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