populism: a political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite
The election of 1828, with National Republican John Q. Adams running against Democrat Andrew Jackson, was one of the most bitter campaigns in American history. Jackson’s followers repeated the charge that Adams was an “aristocrat” who had obtained office as a result of a “corrupt bargain.” The Jackson forces also alleged that the president had used public funds to buy personal luxuries and had installed gaming tables in the White House. However, despite negative campaigns, the Jackson campaign in 1828 was successful because it was the first campaign to appeal directly for voter support through a professional political organization. Skilled political organizers created an extensive network of campaign committees and subcommittees to organize mass rallies, parades, and barbecues, in order to involve the common man in politics.
For the first time in American history, a presidential election was the focus of public attention, and voter participation increased dramatically. Twice as many voters cast ballots in the election of 1828 as in 1824, four times as many as in 1820. As in most previous elections, the vote divided along sectional lines. Jackson swept every state in the South and West and Adams won the electoral votes of every state in the North except Pennsylvania and part of New York.
Contemporaries interpreted Jackson’s resounding victory as a triumph for political democracy. Jackson’s supporters called the vote a victory for the “farmers and mechanics of the country” over the “rich and well born.” Even Jackson’s opponents agreed that the election marked a watershed in the nation’s political history, signaling the beginning of a new democratic age. One Adams supporter said bluntly, “a great revolution has taken place.” This revolution involved the triumph of populism over the aristocracy.
Jackson’s early presidency was unlike many others because his agenda and his general vision was to bring American people into the presidency. While he was a strong presence in Washington, he held events to open the executive office to the American public and hear out the problems of the common man. This showed his faith in the wisdom of the American people to know what is in the best interest of the nation. Jackson also wanted to expand the power of the executive office because of his contempt for elitist politicians and his belief in capitalist, free market economics. Jackson, overall, wanted to increase the equality of economic opportunity for all Americans and to strengthen the American government to provide more for the public. Jackson convinced many Americans that their votes mattered. He espoused a political ideology of “democratic republicanism” that stressed the common peoples’ virtue, intelligence, and capacity for self-government. He also expressed a deep disdain for the “better classes,” which claimed a “more enlightened wisdom” than common men and women, and instead, espoused the ideals of populism.
This campaign poster for Andrew Jackson calls him "a man of the people" and "the hero of two wars and of Orleans." This poster makes reference to the fact that Jackson won the popular vote in the previous election, but John Quincy Adams became president.
This engraving depicts people eating from a huge wheel of cheese in the White House. President Andrew Jackson invited members of the public into the White House for many parties. At his last one, 1,400 lbs. of cheese was eaten in less than two hours. The White House smelled of cheese for weeks.
This illustration that appeared in the Century depicts the crowd that gathered for the reception following the inauguration of President Andrew Jackson when for the first time the White House was opened to the public.
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