Andrew Jackson as The Common Man: History and Analysis

Taylor Mendelsohn, Steven Shirley
  • Author
    Taylor Mendelsohn

    Taylor holds an M.A. in English from the University of New Orleans and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Vermont. He also holds an ESL/TEOFL certification from Oxford Seminars. Taylor has been an educator for over five years now, focusing mostly on Egnlsih composition and civics/social studies. He also spent two years in publishing, having been active with the University of New Orleans Press and also with Chin Music Press, based in Seattle, WA.

  • Instructor
    Steven Shirley
Learn about Andrew Jackson and the Age of the Common Man. Explore Jackson's early years, the election of 1828 and the impact of his election and presidency. Updated: 08/01/2022

Table of Contents


Andrew Jackson's Early Years

Andrew Jackson was born in 1767 in the western frontier of the South Carolina colony. The settlement where he spent his childhood and early teenage years was rural and remote, offering few opportunities for formal education. His father died from a logging accident when Jackson was two years old. The Revolutionary War began in 1775, and at age 13, Jackson joined the local militia along with his brother. Both were captured by the British and were poorly treated as prisoners of war. His brother died as a result of the treatment, and his mother died of cholera while treating other captured American soldiers.

After the Revolutionary War, Jackson eventually made his way to Salisbury, North Carolina, where he studied law. He was admitted to the bar in 1787. From there, he traveled to the frontier territory of what was soon to become the state of Tennessee. After practicing law there for several years, conflict with Britain erupted again in the War of 1812. Jackson still harbored much resentment for the British and joined the U.S. army. Of his military accomplishments, none became so renowned as his defense of New Orleans, defeating a much larger British invasion force.

Jackson came from humble roots and overcame significant challenges. He lost his family at a young age and had nearly died while a prisoner of war. He pursued his education and fostered a career of his own making in law, war, and politics. These early experiences were essential in crafting the mythos of Andrew Jackson as a harbinger of the age of the common man, demonstrating the American convictions of individualsim and self-reliance.

An oil painting portrait of Andrew Jackson.

An oil painting portrait of Andrew Jackson wearing a black cloak with a red collar.

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Election of 1824

Andrew Jackson, by this time a U.S. senator from Tennessee, was one of four presidential candidates in the 1824 election. Jackon received the highest plurality of both electoral and popular votes, with John Quincy Adams close behind in second place. However, when no candidate has a clear majority, the 12th Amendment of the US Constitution dictates that the House of Representatives must decide the elections.

William Crawford held a distant third place in the initial race and was not expected to win. Henry Clay, having come in fourth place, was not included in the House of Representatives vote. So it was Jackon versus Adams in this exceptionally tight presidential race. Although from the same Democratic-Republican Party, the two men represented very different ideals. John Quincy Adams was formally educated and from an established, wealthy New England lineage. He was in favor of a national bank and interested in expanding U.S. influence abroad. Andrew Jackson, the common man, was wary of international involvement and suspicious of banking, blaming the industry for the Panic of 1819. Public sentiment was growing along similar lines, distrusting the social and bureaucratic elites that dominated U.S. politics. In Jackson, many saw themselves: a common man for the common people.

Henry Clay, though dropped from the presidential lineup, remained very influential in his capacity as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Clay did not believe Jackson was fit for the presidency. Instead, Clay threw his public support behind John Quincy Adams, convincing many other members of the House to do the same. So despite initially coming in second numerically, John Quincy Adams was elected as the sixth U.S. president. After his inauguration, he appointed Henry Clay as Secretary of State. Jackson was furious about his loss and what he saw as obvious cronyism, labeling the whole affair as a "corrupt bargain."

Changing Political Landscape

Jackons' supporters were equally discontented and splintered off to create the Democratic Party, resulting in the U.S. returning to a two-party system which was beneficial to Jackson. This has remained the norm for most of U.S. history, though with some occasional upheavals in one party or another. In the previous election, all four candidates were from the same party, which blurred the lines between each one. However, by publicly withdrawing from that party and establishing a separate political demarcation, Jackson built an even stronger rhetorical position as an anti-establishment leader. Like his heroic defense of New Orleans, this dramatic act increased his allure in the public eye. Just months into Adams' presidency, Jackson was nominated for the 1828 presidential election, his supporters believing that this was an age of Jackson despite his initial loss.

Also to Jackon's benefit was the gradual expansion of voting rights throughout the 1820s. By the 1828 election, almost all white men in the United States were eligible to vote. Previously this right was limited to land owners, thereby limiting suffrage to a smaller number of more affluent people. The growing demographic of voting-age common men found a likeness in Andrew Jackson's image as a self-made man and political outsider.

Election of 1828

The much-anticipated faceoff arrived with the Election of 1828. John Quincy Adams was rebranded under the banner of the National Republican Party and Andrew Jackson of the Democratic Party. In an unusual and perhaps awkward twist, Jackson's running mate ended up being the incumbent vice president, John C. Calhoun, who switched parties to join Jackson. The race was ugly, characterized by extensive mudslinging (personal insults and fabricated accusations) by both campaigns. Jackson was accused of having an illegitimate marriage; Adams was accused of procuring a sex worker while abroad. Jackson was reviled for his explosive and violent anger; Adams was accused of abusing public funds. Though their campaigns were similar in their use of slander, their campaigning styles were different. Adams took a more distanced approach, preferring to govern from the White House rather than engage in campaigning directly. Jackson did more or less the opposite, campaigning strongly and vehemently. Jackson won in a landslide with 178 electoral votes to Adam's 83, with 80% of qualified voters participating.

Electoral college results of the Election of 1828.

A map showing electoral college results of the Election of 1828

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who started the Age of the Common Man?

Andrew Jackson strongly and publicly advocated for the admiration of the self-reliant, independent citizen as the epitome of American values. Jackson was from humble origins, having risen to fame and power by his own making. For these reasons, he was considered the progenitor of the Age of the Common Man.

Why was the Age of Jackson also known as the Age of the Common Man?

The Age of Jackson refers to the sociopolitical philosophy that emphasized the humble, working individual as a representative of American identity rather than social elites or large institutions. Against the backdrop of this popular political philosophy was the removal of land ownership as a prerequisite for voting, thereby expanding suffrage to a larger number of individual citizens.

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