Jeffersonian Democracy to Jacksonian Democracy


Among the several reasons why Jefferson’s vision for the nation (Jeffersonian Democracy) began to change towards a more egalitarian form of democracy, the more prominent reasons can be found by examining both the growth of the west and the Panic of 1819. Jeffersonian Democracy describes Thomas Jefferson’s philosophy regarding the application of democratic principles fit for the success of the newborn United States. Among the more important elements of Jefferson’s democratic philosophy can best be summed up by a quote of his, “The government that governs least, governs best.” This quote shows his theory on the degree of power that a central government should have. His philosophy that advocated more power to the states (states’ rights) and less power for the central, or federal, government, as opposed to the Federalist view that advocated a strong central government. However, this does not mean that he believed that the federal government should be weak in its power; just that the states’ should have more power in governing. Another important element of Jefferson’s philosophy was the belief that government should be for the people. He was in support of universal white manhood suffrage, however he believed that this could not be applied to the United States at the stage it was at. At the time, many Americans were uneducated and it was Jefferson’s belief that the uneducated masses could no be trusted to govern themselves efficiently. It was his philosophy to educate the masses before giving them the ability to govern themselves. Although Jeffersonian Democracy has many other elements that are of importance, these two are more relative to the purpose of this essay.


As I stated, one of the reasons why American democracy began to shift from its Jeffersonian tendencies towards more egalitarian tendencies can be found by examining the growth of the west. Westward movement, or migration, had always been characteristic of America, as an independent nation and as colonies of Britain. Since 1791, nine states had joined the union. These states had never acquired the long-established history of states’ rights characteristic of the original thirteen colonies. These states had been founded by a motley population immigrating from the east and depended more on the federal government from whom the states had secured their land. The population of these states was therefore regarded the federal government as more important than their state government. This led to a more increased national identity as Americans, rather than the traditional identification due to your home state, for example as a Virginian or as a New Yorker. Also, the United States emerged from the War of 1812 with a more nationalistic spirit. The country as a whole was optimistic about its future, due in part to the explosion of westward expansion. The expansion of the west is important in highlighting the reasons for the shift from Jeffersonian democracy to a more egalitarian democracy because it has an important effect on the economic situation that causes the Panic of 1819. In between 1812, and 1821, six western states granted universal manhood suffrage.


In discussing the reasons for this shift from Jeffersonian democracy to a more egalitarian form of democracy, an important factor is the Panic of 1819, as I have stated. The Panic of 1819 refers to the economic depression that hit the United States in 1819. This depression resulted from many things, although the most immediate cause was overspeculation on western lands by banks, especially by the Bank of the United States. Another less important factor for the Panic was the fact that the Bank of the United States forced many “wildcat” western banks to foreclose on western farms. The Panic of 1819 resulted in calls for economic and governmental reform and pressure for increased democracy. The results of the Panic of 1819 is where its importance in the rise of more egalitarian democratic principles is evidential. The Panic left many Western farmers with a contempt for the Bank of the United States. The poorer classes of the United States were hard hit by the depression, leaving them looking for a government that was more responsive to the common man than it was before.


Resulting largely from westward expansion, the Panic of 1819 resulted in what is referred to as a “New Democracy.”