The Most Consequential Elections in History: Andrew Jackson and the Election of 1828

Jackson's term changed the way Americans thought of the presidency.


The dawn of a new populist era was vividly clear on Inauguration Day. Jackson opened the White House to his backers, and hundreds of them pushed and shouted their way through the building in search of conviviality as they celebrated their hero's victory. Many were rough men in muddy boots who climbed on the chairs and devoured the food and drink provided by uniformed waiters. Women, children, farmers, laborers, ambassadors, members of Congress—a stream of humanity took over the place for the day. "Several thousands of dollars' worth of art glass and china were broken in the attempt to get at the refreshments; punch, lemonade, and other articles were carried out of the house in buckets and pails," wrote a shocked witness. "Women fainted; men were seen with bloody noses; and no police had been placed on duty."From the start of his administration, Jackson fought what he considered a profligate and selfish American aristocracy and worked on behalf of western farmers and eastern laborers. He tried to weed out corruption and incompetence from the civil service. He dismissed many government workers and installed loyalists. A backer said Jackson found "nothing wrong in the rule that to the victors belong the spoils of the enemy." He vetoed the recharter of the Bank of the United States, saying it would have made "the rich richer and the potent more powerful." His extensive use of the veto, in fact, set the precedent of making the chief executive central to the legislative process. Until that time, presidents generally exercised their veto power only when a bill seemed unconstitutional. Jackson broadened the criteria for veto to include bills he disagreed with. Most Americans liked what they saw.One of the strongest presidents in history, Andrew Jackson insisted that federal authority must be preserved from attacks by southern states. One of his worst crises came when South Carolina leaders declared that the tariffs of 1828 and 1832 were null and void. Threatening to secede from the Union, South Carolina forbade federal officers from collecting revenues in the state. Jackson was incensed, and he promised in the fiercest of terms to strictly enforce federal laws. "If a single drop of blood shall be shed there in opposition to the laws of the United States," he said, "I will hang the first man I can lay my hands on engaged in such conduct upon the first tree that I can reach." Eventually a compromise was found—the tariffs were reduced—and the crisis passed.Jackson easily won re-election in 1832.

More from our Most Consequential Elections series:
George Washington and the Election of 1788

Thomas Jefferson and the Election of 1800

Abraham Lincoln and the Election of 1860

Abraham Lincoln and the Election of 1864

Theodore Roosevelt and the Election of 1904

Woodrow Wilson and the Election of 1912

Franklin Roosevelt and the Election of 1932

Lyndon Johnson and the Election of 1964

Ronald Reagan and the Election of 1980