The Emergence of Mass U.S. Politics in the 1800s

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  • 0:02 The Uneducated Masses
  • 1:10 The Elections of 1824 & 1828
  • 2:25 The Rise of Mass Politics
  • 3:28 Changing Political Landscape
  • 4:22 Emergence of New…
  • 5:21 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

The early 1800s saw a change in politics in the United States. During Andrew Jackson's presidency, the common man's voice was increasingly heard, marking a shift towards mass politics in America.

The Uneducated Masses

After the American Revolution, the framers of the Constitution were tasked with creating a new government. They knew for certain that the new country should be a democracy. However, many of the nation's leaders were concerned about placing so much power in the hands of the uneducated masses. To safeguard against this, the nation's leaders took measures to limit democratic participation in two ways:

  1. Important political offices were elected by state legislatures
  2. Voters had to meet certain property requirements to participate in an election

Through the first few decades of the 1800s, this began to change. Most states dropped property requirements, leading to universal white male suffrage. Nearly all white males of age were eligible to vote in the U.S. In addition, many political offices that were originally elected by state legislatures were now chosen through direct election. The voter now had the power to elect politicians directly into office. These changes had two significant impacts on American politics:

  1. The number of eligible voters expanded drastically
  2. The types of people eligible to vote changed

The Elections of 1824 and 1828

In the decades following the creation of the Constitution, elite politicians held a monopoly in American politics. Men like John Quincy Adams used their family names and their fortunes to win their political office. This all began to change as a result of the presidential election of 1824.

That year, Andrew Jackson, a rough-and-tumble general and senator from Tennessee, ran against John Quincy Adams and two other candidates. At this time in American history, there were more than two political parties, unlike the two-party system we have today. None of the candidates had a majority of the votes, so the House of Representatives was charged with deciding the election. Even though Jackson had the most electoral votes, Adams' cronies in the House elected him.

Both Andrew Jackson and the American people were outraged. For many Americans, he was the clear favorite. Not to mention, he was much different than the average politician in Washington, DC. Four years later, Jackson ran again, this time winning the election.

The Election of 1828 marked an important turning point in American history. Newly enfranchised voters who had been previously barred by property requirements had their voices heard for the first time. Not only was it the beginning of the Age of Jackson, it marked the beginning of mass politics in the United States.

The Rise of Mass Politics

As the United States grew and expanded, American society began to change. While the East Coast remained very much the same, people living in Western states and territories enjoyed far more social equality. It didn't matter if you had a formal education or if you were raised in the backwoods of Kentucky, if you lived in the West you rolled up your sleeves and did what you had to do to get by. This emerging mentality had a significant impact on the way people perceived America's leaders. People from the Western states looked to Jackson not because he had a fine pedigree, but because he was like them. He was a common man representing the common man.

Through Jackson's presidency, he drastically changed the United States. He broke from traditional party politics and did his best to weed out cronyism and corruption in government (although he was guilty of both of those things himself). Most importantly, he introduced reforms that benefited the working class average Joe, especially farmers. His actions represented the growing voice of the masses. Government participation was no longer limited to the upper class.

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