The people [have] been cheated. Corruptions and intrigues at Washington...defeated the will of the people. Andrew Jackson
Mythologized figures are created to meet the needs of society at specific moments in history. Andrew Jackson is undeniably such a myth-figure. The advent of political image making is often traced to the Jacksonian party. The "Age of Jackson" is represented by one man in his time like no other period of American history.
Circumstances were ideal for Andrew Jackson to take over the presidency in 1828, but the society that welcomed such a leader began taking shape long before this campaign. At the turn of the century, Americans were just beginning to form a unique identity. The revolutionary generation was still strong, serving as a living reminder of English roots and the fight for independence. The northeast retained many of the aristocratic tendencies of their forefathers, with an emphasis on wealth and family name still pervasive in politics, business and society.
By the early 1800's, families were moving out of the Northeast and settling in the southern and western portions of the country. It was a time of great changes and new beginnings. The quest for an American identity was central to people's actions. In this new democratic society, men no longer relied on family background, occupation, or class to define themselves. People were presented the difficult task of assigning worth to themselves and others by new standards. Manliness in the form of competitiveness, physical strength and tall tales gained importance. The violent, egotistical, and bawdy stereotypes applied to men in these sections of the country stem from this period of unrest.
The anti-Jacksonian characters created in Southwestern humor during the 1830s and 40s are the hyperbolic stereotype of the frontier man. A majority of Jackson's support stemmed from his popularity in the South and the West. The humorists played up the Whig fear that Jackson was himself an uncouth and violent frontiersman, often using Jackson as the model for their characters. The contrast is particularly striking in comparison with the refined, educated easterner typified by Adams and Jefferson.
The presidential election of 1824 appears in the foreground of this identity crisis. The campaign was one of personalities rather than education, experience or ideas -- "real issues". The original candidates included Henry Clay, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, William H. Crawford and John C. Calhoun. These men were all members of the Republican party, which had dominated the country since 1816, and so the candidates professed virtually the same stand on major issues. This lack of political differentiation allowed for a competition based on regional loyalty and persona.
Eventually, Jackson's popularity in the West and South caused Calhoun to resign from the presidential race with a promise of running as Jackson's vice-president. Thus the Republican ticket consisted of four candidates. This created a situation in which no one could win a majority of electoral votes. As a result, the presidential outcome was taken to the House of Representatives for a decision. John Quincy Adams was "elected" to the presidency, despite the fact that Jackson had won a plurality of the popular and the electoral vote (Gammon, 19). The people made their voice heard, but were ignored.
This election fueled the suspicions of the common man; politicians did not respect the will of the people, choosing instead to retain power in the hands of an elite minority. The Jacksonians charged the Adams Administration with a "corrupt bargain", accusing Adams of offering Clay an appointment as secretary of state in exchange for the necessary votes in the House of Representatives to win the election. Using this accusation as evidence, Jackson's 1828 campaign relied heavily on the promise of cleaning up corruption in Washington. To make matters easier for the Jacksonians, Adams expressed his distrust of democracy in his first address to Congress, warning of the danger of becoming "palsied by the will of our constituents" (Gammon, 22). With such statements, Adams justified the argument of the Jacksonians, and fostered the people's desire for Jackson as president.
The attack on the Adams' Administration by the Jacksonians exploited a trend toward democracy and away from republicanism that already had its foundations in the West and South. Andrew Jackson was the ideal man to satisfy the desires of the public for a democratic president, a true representative of the people. If persuasion is the art of discovering weak spots in the arguments or images of others and replacing them with well constructed images of one's own (Boulding, 134), the Jacksonians persuaded the American public to choose Andrew Jackson over John Quincy Adams in 1828. The election consisted of passionate, well-organized and combative campaigning that centered almost totally on the character and past of the two men. Jackson's campaign, unlike Adams', however, constructed an appropriate image to fill the needs and desires of the society.
The above image on the left portrays the realistic 'mob' that descended on the White House to celebrate Jackson's victory in 1828, while the image on the right is the idealized version of a 'civilized' inaugural ceremony -- now hanging in the capitol rotunda.
In a contest of personalities, Jackson had all the advantages. A strong military commander who valued the will of the people, he was also a charismatic and passionate man of action. Adams had government experience, but was formal and cold when speaking. His aristocratic demeanor and reputation for disdain of the masses did not aid in a competition against the popular Jackson. Jackson's position was clearly stated and the contrast noted as Jackson announced in his first inaugural address, "The majority is to govern."