Expanding Democracy / Jacksonian Democracy / White Men’s Democracy

by Stephanie Skier

Editor’s Note: this lesson is retrievable from https://edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plans/lesson-1-1828-campaign-andrew-jackson-expansion-voting-base; Henretta et al (2014). America’s History, For the AP® Course, 8th edition.

Key Historical Themes/Trends: expansion of the franchise; rise of popular politics; rise of “democracy”; decline of notables (prominent elites) – John Quincy Adams as “the last notable president” (JQA refused to adjust to the new style of party politics); explicit exclusion of women and African Americans: “white men’s democracy”; rise of political machines; new forms of political corruption

Learning Objective: Explain the causes and effects of the expansion of participatory democracy from 1800 to 1848.

Historical Developments: The nation’s transition to a more participatory democracy was achieved by expanding suffrage from a system based on property ownership to one based on voting by all adult white men, and it was accompanied by the growth of political parties.

Do Now: Silently and independently answer questions 1-5 based on the following maps (figure 1): Figure 1:

  1. How many states or territories had property qualifications for voting in 1800?
  2. How many states or territories had property qualifications for voting in 1830? 
  3. How many states or territories had universal white male suffrage in 1830?
  4. What do you think could have caused this the expansion of the franchise from 1800 to 1830?
  5. In your opinion, what is the significance of the change shown in the maps?

White Man’s Democracy

Old cultural rules and new laws denied the vote to most women and free African American men.  When women and free African Americans sought voting rights amidst the new expansion of voting rights to poorer white men, legislators wrote explicit race and gender restrictions into state constitutions.  These exclusions often covered not just voting, but also serving on juries and running for public office. An 1821 New York State constitutional convention approved nearly universal suffrage for white men but set a high property threshold for blacks. The new constitution was overwhelmingly approved by New York State voters in January 1822 by 74,732 to 41,402.

“Article II, Section 1. Every male citizen of the age of twenty-one years, who shall have been an inhabitant of this state one year preceding any election . . . shall be entitled to vote in the town or ward where he actually resides . . .; but no man of colour, unless he shall have been for three years a citizen of this state, and for one year next preceding any election, shall be seized and possessed of a freehold estate of the value of two hundred and fifty dollars, over and above all debts and incumbrances [debts] charged thereon; and shall have been actually rated, and paid a tax thereon, shall be entitled to vote at any such election.

Turn and talk:

  1. How did New York State restrict voting rights for men of colour [black]?
  2. In your opinion, why do you think that race and gender restrictions on voting were added at the same time that property restrictions on voting were removed? 
  3. Do you think that the results were more democratic or less democratic than before?

Political Parties Take Command

  1. As the power of the notables declined, the political party emerged as the organizing force in the American system of government.
  2. Parties were political machines that gathered the diverse agenda of social and economic groups into a coherent legislative program.
  3. Although the beneficiary of elitist education and financial support, Martin Van Buren advocated a political order based on party identity, not family connections.
  4. Between 1817 and 1821, Van Buren created the first statewide political machine, and he later organized the first nationwide political party.
  5. Keys to Van Buren’s political success were his systematic use of party newspapers to promote a platform and drum up the vote and his use of patronage. He and his party made six thousand political appointments in New York. Van Buren then used the spoils system to award public jobs to political supporters after an electoral victory. Under the spoils system, public jobs were given to reward party allegiance, not based on an individual’s qualifications for the job.
  6. Van Buren insisted on disciplined voting as determined by a caucus, a meeting of party leaders, to ensure passage of the party’s legislative program.

Directions: Fill in the political parties and key political leaders for the Transition and the Second Party System shown in the diagram below. List 3 key organizing tools/methods that political parties used under the Second Party System and the purpose or effect of each of those tools/methods. (Hint: look among the bolded words in the “Political Parties Take Command.”

Method used by Political PartiesPurpose or Effect

Directions: Answer the question below based on the following diagrams.

Question: Describe the overall trend in voter turnout (the percentage of eligible voters who actually voted) from 1824 to 1844.

Image Analysis

Directions: For your group’s assigned image, follow the 4-step Image Analysis procedure below, discussing with your group and jotting down very brief notes in response to the Image Analysis questions (3 minutes).  Then answer the content-specific questions for your image 10 minutes.

Before answering the content-specific questions for your image, conduct a general image analysis using the following four-step procedure.

  1. Visual Inventory: Describe the image, beginning with the largest, most obvious features and proceed toward more particular details. Describe fully, without making evaluations. What do you see? What is the setting? What is the time of day, the season of the year, the region of the country?
  2. Documentation: Note what you know about the work. Who made it? When? Where? What is its title? How was it made? What were the circumstances of its creation (if known)?
  3. Associations: Begin to make evaluations and draw conclusions using observations and prior knowledge. How does this image relate to its historical and cultural framework? Does it invite comparison or correlation with historical or literary texts? Do you detect a point of view or a mood conveyed by the image? Does it present any unexplained or difficult aspects? Does it trigger an emotional response in you as a viewer? What associations (historical, literary, cultural, artistic) enrich your viewing of this image?
  4. Interpretation: Develop an interpretation of the work that both recognizes its specific features and also places it in a larger historical or thematic context.
The County Election

Figure 1: George Caleb Bingham, The County Election, oil on canvas, 1851-1852

Group A: With your group, analyze the painting below and answer Questions 1-7.

  1. According to the painting, who is shown participating in elections?  Describe the people shown in the crowd in terms of their race/ethnicity; sex/gender; class; and age.
  2. As shown the painting, was this election day gathering formal or casual?  What does that suggest about politics during this time period?
  3. According to the painting, what might have drawn people from rural areas to go the polling place on election day, aside from the election itself?
  4. Based on the painting, where and how did people cast their votes?  Was voting by secret ballot or in public? 
  5. Based on the painting, how do you think the people shown were getting information about the candidates and forming their decisions about how they will vote?
  6. Do you see anything in the painting to suggest to presence of political parties? How does Bingham portray them?
  7. What does the painting suggest about elections in which common people (not just wealthy property owners) can vote?

Group B: With your group, analyze the political cartoon and captions below and answer Questions 1-

Agrarian Workingmen’s Party of New York City, political cartoon, 1830

Captions:  Upper left: “We are in favour of Monarchy, Aristocracy, Monopolies, Auctions, laws that oppress the Poor, Imposture and the rights of the rich man to govern and enslave the Poor man at his will and pleasure, denying the Poor the right to redress, or any participation in political power.” Satan: “Take any, my dear Friend, they will all help you to grind the WORKIES [workingmen]!!”  

Box in Satan’s hand: “Ballot Box”  

Man in top hat: “My Old Friend, give me one of your favourites — TAMMANY — SENTINEL, or JOURNAL, or the POOR will get their rights. I’ll pay all.”  

Box in lower left foreground: “This contains the cause of all the misery and distress of the human family.”  

Upper right: “We are opposed to Monarchy, Aristocracy, Monopolies, Auctions, and in favour of the Poor to political power, denying the right of the rich to govern the Poor, and asserting in all cases, that those who labour should make the laws by which such labour should be protected and rewarded and finally, opposed to degrading the Mechanic, by making Mechanics of Felons. Our motto shall be LibertyEquityJustice, and The Rights of Man.”  

Liberty’s banner [Candidates of the Agrarian Workingmen’s Party, Nov. 1830 election]: “Register, John R. Soper, Mariner. Assembly, Henry Ireland, Coppersmith; William Forbes, Silversmith; William Odell, Grocer; Micajah Handy, Shipwright; Edmund L. Livingston, Brassfounder; Joseph H. Ray, Printer; Merritt Sands, Cartman; Samuel Parsons, Moroccodresser; Thompson Town, Engineer; Alexander Ming, Senior, Printer; Hugh M’Bride, Cartman. For Lieutenant-governor, Jonas Humbert, Senior, Baker. Senator, George Bruce, Typefounder. Congress, Alden Potter, Machinist; John Tuthill, Jeweller; Thomas Skidmore, Machinist.  

Worker: “Now for a noble effort for Rights, Liberties, and Comforts, equal to any in the land. No more grinding the POOR — But Liberty and the Rights of man.”  

Box in Liberty’s hand: “Ballot Box”  
  1. Compare the clothes of mainstream political party politician (shown in the middle left) with the clothes of the working man (middle right). What do their clothes indicate about each man?
  2. What is the politician doing in the cartoon?
  3. According to the cartoon, what were the roles of political parties and their newspapers?
  4. What is the Devil (on the left)) shown doing?  What is his symbolism in the cartoon?
  5. What is “Mother Liberty” (the figure on the right) shown doing?  What is her symbolism in the cartoon? 
  6. What opinion of the Working Men’s Party (the list of candidates shown on the right half of the cartoon) does the cartoonist present?
  7. Which figure — the working man or the party politician — did the cartoonist present as being the legitimate protector of the accomplishments of the American Revolution?
  8. What solution does the cartoonist offer to solve the problems of political corruption and working-class oppression?

Education: Debates and Changes

Question: What were some of the major changes in education that occurred over the period of the 1820s-1850s?

  • Although families provided most moral and intellectual training, republican ideology encouraged publicly supported schooling.
  • Bostonian Caleb Bingham, an influential textbook author, called for “an equal distribution of knowledge to make us emphatically a ‘republic of letters.’”
  • Farmers, artisans, and laborers wanted elementary schools that would instruct their children in reading, writing, and arithmetic.
  • Although the constitutions of many states encouraged the use of public resources to fund primary schools, there was not much progress until the 1820s.
  • To instill self-discipline and individual enterprise in students, reformers chose textbooks that praised honesty and hard work while condemning gambling, drinking, and laziness. American history was also required learning.
  • Horace Mann (1796–1859), the nation’s leading educational reformer, led the fight for government support for public schools. As a state legislator in Massachusetts, in 1837 Mann took the lead in establishing a state board of education and his efforts resulted in a doubling of state expenditures on education. He also won state support for teacher training, an improved curriculum in schools, the grading of pupils by age and ability, and a lengthened school year. He was also partially successful in curtailing the use of corporal punishment. In 1852, three years after Mann left office to take a seat in the U.S. Congress, Massachusetts adopted the first compulsory school attendance law in U.S. history.
  • However, most northern cities specifically excluded African Americans from the public schools. It was not until 1855 that Massachusetts became the first state to admit students to public schools without regard to “race, color, or religious opinions.” 
  • Women and religious minorities also experienced discrimination. For women, education beyond the level of handicrafts and basic reading and writing was largely confined to separate female academies and seminaries for the wealthy. Emma Hart Willard opened one of the first academies offering advanced education to women in Philadelphia in 1814.
  • Many public school teachers showed an anti-Catholic bias by using texts that portrayed the Catholic Church as a threat to republican values and reading passages from a Protestant version of the Bible. Beginning in New York City in 1840, Catholics decided to establish their own system of schools in which children would receive a religious education as well as training in the arts and sciences.
  • In higher education, a few institutions opened their doors to African Americans and women.
  • In 1833, Oberlin College led by the revivalist minister Charles G. Finney, became the first co-educational college in the United States. Four years later, Mary Lyon established the first women’s college, Mount Holyoke, to train teachers and missionaries. A number of western state universities also admitted women.
  • Three colleges for specifically for African Americans, including Lincoln University, were founded before the Civil War.  A few other colleges, including Oberlin, Harvard, Bowdoin, and Dartmouth, admitted small numbers of black students.

Final Writing Task

Directions: Silently and independently read and annotate the quotations below.  Then write a 3-5 sentences response to the prompt based on the quotations.

1. Compare and contrast the opinion presented by Alexander Hamilton and the opinion presented by the New York Working Men’s party.

2. Connect to the theme: How do these primary source documents connect to larger changes in U.S. politics that occurred over this time period?

turbulent: unsteady, fluctuating, stormy
imprudence: recklessness, lack of caution, lack of forethought
New York Workingmen’s Party: Formed in 1829, rose quickly to prominence and then disappeared in 1831, when much of the party’s agenda and voters were coopted by the Tammany Hall Democratic Party political machine.  The New York Workingmen’s Party successfully supported the end of imprisonment for debt in New York state and expanded funding for public education in New York City. 

 “All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and the well born, the other the mass of the people… The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. … Give, therefore to the first class a distinct permanent share in the government…. Can a democratic Assembly, who annually revolve in the mass of the people, be supposed steadily to pursue the public good? Nothing but a permanent body can check the imprudence of democracy.” —Alexander Hamilton, 1787

“All children are entitled to equal education; all adults, to equal property; and all mankind to equal privileges.” — New York Workingmen’s Party, 1829

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