This era is often referred to as the “Era of the Common Man.” One reason for this is that it was the first election of a President from the “West,” since President Andrew Jackson was not from Virginia or Massachusetts. Andrew Jackson, a military hero from the War of 1812, was thought to represent the average American which included farmers, frontiersmen, and laborers, rather than the privileged class from the East who were often tied to the Second Bank of the United States. This era is marked by progress in expanding the role of the common man in the democratic process, but also marked with conflict with Native Americans over the movement west.


John Quincy Adams was the sixth President of the United States and the first President whose father was also President. A Harvard graduate, Adams was fluent in several languages. At 26, Adams was appointed Minister to the Netherlands and Russia. As a diplomat he helped negotiate the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819. As a result the U.S. bought Florida from Spain. Prior to his presidency, he served as a U.S. Senator and U.S. Secretary of State, and helped formulate the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. In the 1824 election, he ran against Andrew Jackson who claimed that Adams’ victory represented a “corrupt bargain.” He ran for reelection in the 1828 but lost to Jackson. He is the only President to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives after his presidency. In 1841, he served as counsel to the slaves on board the Amistad and argued their case before of the U.S. Supreme Court, where he defended their right to be free.
Andrew Jackson was born on the border between North and South Carolina but always considered himself to be a South Carolinian. His success as a self-taught lawyer allowed him to build a home in Tennessee and buy slaves. He was that state’s first Congressman and also served in the Senate. Jackson was a general in the War of 1812, and he befriended Sam Houston. His defeat of the British at New Orleans made him a national hero. General Jackson also oversaw the military removal of many Indian Tribes in Georgia, Alabama, and Spanish Florida, and negotiated several treaties securing Indian land for the US. He was elected President in 1828 and two years later proposed the Indian Removal Act. As a result of the legislation, 46,000 American Indians were removed from their homes. Many died on the Trail of Tears heading west, and 25 million acres of land were opened to settlement by the US. Jackson saw himself as a populist—having been elected with a greater portion of the popular vote than any previous candidate—and proposed eliminating the Electoral College in his first address to Congress. Jackson frequently exercised his veto power over Congress’ legislation, which resulted in a split within Jackson’s political party. Those who opposed his policies included John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, who ran against him for president in 1832. Jackson was reelected in 1832 with five times more electoral votes than Clay.
Over the years from the first tariff in 1789, Congress had raised the tariff not only to raise revenue for the operation of the government, but sometimes to protect the growing industries of the U.S. When the tariff was raised to assure that the foreign manufactured goods were more than the U.S. goods, it was called a protective tariff. Most of the industries were in the Northern states, while the Southern states continued to rely on agriculture. Most farmers in the South were involved in cash-crop agriculture meaning they grew one major crop such as cotton, rice, indigo, and tobacco. Once they sold their crop they used their profits to buy whatever they needed and often had to pay tariffs for imported goods. The South resented the tariff since they felt it favored the Northern interests, especially when it was protective in nature. In 1828, Congress passed the Tariff of 1828 which raised the tariff to an average of 45% on certain manufactured goods imported from other nations mainly to protect New England mills. The South reacted by threatening to declare the tariff null and void. They even went so far to threaten to secede if the U.S. government tried to enforce the tariff. Eventually a compromise was reached and the tariff was lowered over the next few years.
Early during George Washington’s administration, our nation attempted to develop a Native American policy. His policy had been to recognize the tribes as autonomous nations and allow them to keep their tribal lands provided they began to assimilate with the American culture. However, as the nation grew, the wisdom of this policy became controversial. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson persuaded Congress to pass the Indian Removal Act. This act granted the Indians including the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole, and the Cherokee unsettled land west of the Mississippi in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders. Some believed that the only way to prevent the complete destruction of the Indian culture was to move them west. Others saw the movement west as a way for the Southerners to gain valuable land from the Indians. The results of this act included two Supreme Court cases, Cherokee Nation v. Georgia and Worcester v. Georgia and the “Trail of Tears” which occurred when Indians were forced to move west at gunpoint in the middle of winter.
The U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall first addressed the question of the Indian’s land in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831). The Cherokees had appealed to the Supreme Court asking the federal government to step in against the laws being passed by the state of Georgia that threatened their land. The Court ruled that the Indians were not a foreign nation, but rather a domestic nation, dependent on the United States. Therefore, the Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction to rule in this case. This left the Cherokees at the mercy of the land-hungry state of Georgia. Georgia responded to this decision by passing a law requiring anyone living on Indian territory to obtain a license from the state. This law was aimed at stopping Christian missionaries from living and helping the Indians keep their land.
Worcester, a non-Indian missionary along with several others had settled on Cherokee land at the request of the Cherokees and with the approval of the U.S. government. The state of Georgia charged Worcester and the other missionaries with “residing within the limits of the Cherokee nation without a license.” They were convicted and sentenced to four years of hard labor. Worcester and the others then appealed to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Marshall ruled in favor of Worcester saying that the Cherokee nation was a “distinct community with self-government” in which the laws of Georgia had no force. In response to this Supreme Court ruling, President Jackson supposedly said, “John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it.” The struggle for the land continued and eventually resulted in the Native Americans being forced to move by gunpoint in the middle of winter in what has become known as the Trail of Tears.


In 1824 there were four candidates for the presidency of the United States: John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, Henry Clay of Kentucky, Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, and William Henry Crawford of Georgia. Each candidate represented a different section of the country. It was a close race, and none of the four received a majority of the electoral votes although Andrew Jackson received more popular and electoral votes than did any of the other three. When no candidate has a majority, the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution states that the House of Representatives decides who will be president from the top three candidates. Henry Clay was Speaker of the House of Representatives and thus had a huge influence on the vote. In what became known as the “Corrupt Bargain,” Clay supported John Quincy Adams. John Quincy Adams became President, and Clay secured a new job as the Secretary of State for himself in the process when Adams appointed him to that position.
After losing the presidential election of 1824 in the House of Representatives, Andrew Jackson ran once more against John Quincy Adams for President in 1828. Jackson ran as a Democrat and Adams ran as a Whig. Jackson was one of the first candidates to personally campaign for the presidency. He traveled the country visiting taverns and talking to people. He portrayed himself as a “common man.” With this persona, and increased male suffrage (voting) by non-landowners, Jackson easily won the election. Jackson supported limited government powers and hands-off government. He used the spoils system to reward political supporters with government jobs.
The Nullification Crisis of 1828-1832 was a conflict between the national government and Southern state governments over the issue of tariffs. John C. Calhoun, Vice President of the United States, wrote the South Carolina Exposition and Protest in response to what the South called the “Tariff of Abominations.” He argued that a state could nullify (declare invalid) a federal law it saw as unconstitutional. President Andrew Jackson argued for national sovereignty, and Calhoun argued for state sovereignty. South Carolina threatened nullification and secession (to officially withdraw from the U.S.) unless the Tariffs of 1828 and 1832 were repealed. Congress repealed the tariffs but passed the Force Bill allowing the President to send troops to enforce its laws. South Carolina nullified the Force Bill. Although a compromise was reached, the threat of Civil War loomed over the country.
The Trail of Tears was the result of the forced removal of Indians living in the Southeastern United States from their ancestral lands to the Oklahoma Territory. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 had authorized the removals. During the march west the Indians were guarded by state and local militia. Thousands died due to disease, starvation, and exposure during the winter. The removal of the Native Americans resulted in opening approximately 25 million acres of land for settlement and agricultural expansion in the South.
This term refers to the 1832-1836 conflict between supporters of the Second Bank of the U.S. and Andrew Jackson. President Andrew Jackson vetoed (rejected) Congress’ re-charter of the Bank of the United States, thus forcing it to close. He had the U.S. government’s money removed from the National Bank and deposited in state banks called “pet banks.” This led to an economic panic.