The Age of Jackson in America came into being, in part, because of three events: the Battle of New Orleans, the Panic of 1819, and the Corrupt Bargain.
Although the expansion of universal white male suffrage was an instigator for the rising of popular politics that was a hallmark of the Jacksonian era, there were specific events aligned to make this age happen. The Battle of New Orleans furnished a hero that the age was named after. The Panic of 1819 created a demand to change the status quo. And the Election of 1824 and the resulting Corrupt Bargain energized a political movement guided by that hero.
Battle of New Orleans
General Andrew Jackson and his motley crew of Tennessee militia, pirates, indians, etc stared down the vaunted victors over Napolean, the British, just south of New Orleans January 8th, 1815. The British methodically marched toward Jackson’s defenses and were shred by massive artillery and gunfire. In a short time, heaps of Redcoat dead and wounded lay on the battlefield as the rest of the British forces limped off to the Gulf of Mexico.
It was a tremendous victory for the United States. Historian Robert Remini called the battle a great turning point in American history, allowing America to prove to the world that their independence wasn’t a fluke. Also just as important, Jackson became the hero of this turning point. Americans showered their thanks and praise onto this man like no other since George Washington.
Panic of 1819
In the four years after the battle, a speculative bubble formed. It popped when London banks called in loans in the United States. The Second Bank of the United States responded by contracting from its expansionist credit policy. This forced state banks, in debt to the B.U.S., to call in their loans. Specie- gold and silver- was now flowing out of the country and confidence in banks plummeted. Businessmen all through the economic chain sought to save themselves. It was the farmer and worker who had less recourse when their loans were called in. They lost their homes, farms, and jobs.
Some of those farmers and workers tended to blame the B.U.S., according to historian Daniel Walker Howe. Some blamed the economic and political elite in Washington D.C. and the northeast. Reform was in the air when the 1824 election campaign commenced. Political elites John Quincy Adams, William Crawford and Henry Clay were in the running but it was a political outsider, the hero of New Orleans, that attracted the people’s attention in hard times.
Those disgruntled farmers and workers went to the polls and gave Jackson a majority in the popular vote. But no candidate received the necessary majority of the electoral college. The election was thrown to the House of Representatives, pitting Jackson, Adams, and Crawford against each other. Clay used his influence in the House to give Adams the presidency.
But rumblings of a quid-pro-quo deal shook the political establishment when Adams nominated Clay for Secretary of State. Jackson and his supporters cried “corrupt bargain!” in having the presidency taken from them. This motivated the Jacksonians to win in 1828, organizing an effective but ruthless campaign to oust Adams and would dominate politics for twenty years. According to David and Jeanne Heidler, the Corrupt Bargain accusation became so entrenched with the Jacksonians and the Democratic Party after 1828, that it became an assumed fact and was brought up in campaigns against their opponents, even though there was no evidence of a Clay-Adams deal.
These three events combined to help produce the Jacksonian era. The Battle of New Orleans provided the leader, the driver if you will. The Panic of 1819 provided the engine, and the Election of 1824/Corrupt Bargain provided the fuel. The vehicle created defined politics between 1825 and 1848.
- Heidler, David S., and Jeanne T., Henry Clay: The Essential American, Random House: New York, 2010.
- Howe, Daniel Walker, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, Oxford: Oxford, 2007.
- Remini, Robert V., The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America’s First Military Victory, Penguin: New York, 1999.