He was the most candid of men, and was capable of the profoundest dissimulation... A democratic autocrat. An urbane savage. An atrocious saint.
—James Parton, biographer, 1859
Andrew Jackson strongly disagreed with the Founding Fathers who envisioned that Congress, not the president, would provide political leadership for the nation. Having recently deposed a King, most Founders wanted a president who would merely serve as the federal government's chief law-enforcement officer, responsible for seeing that the laws passed by Congress were duly implemented and obeyed.
Jackson would have none of this.
In his view, the president was the only government official elected by all the people, unlike senators and representatives who were elected by state legislatures and individual voter constituencies, and this bestowed a heavy responsibility—to serve the good of all the people—and significant power on the presidency.
"Andrew Jackson was the first modern president, because he was the first one who asserted that the president was not merely a member of the government's symphony: he was its conductor."
—Jon Meacham, historian
By the early 1820's, Jackson enjoyed immense popularity. Encouraged to run for president in 1822 by friends and supporters, Jackson thought it was important that the American people choose their leader, not a small political elite who had selected America's first five presidents. Though defeated in 1824, his progressive thinking, combined with his supporters' energetic campaigning, enabled Jackson to win the presidency in 1828.
Immediately upon taking office, Jackson began "reforming" the federal government. He fired scores of federal employees, alleging they were corrupt. In their place, Jackson appointed politicians and newspaper editors whose only qualification, in the eyes of many, was their loyalty to Old HickoryJackson's nickname given by his troops in 1813 for his loyalty and strength.. To his opponents, this amounted to a "spoils systemJackson's practice of filling political positions with his supporters. ," in which Jackson's enemies were punished and his friends rewarded.
The Democratic PartyThe party created in 1828 by Jackson and his supporters to mobilize constituents., which was established by Jackson's supporters and still exists today, was another important, political legacy of Andrew Jackson. Though he remained skeptical of the value of political parties, many of his supporters defended them for empowering the masses and providing opportunities for regular citizens to participate in the government. Parties, they felt, enabled like-minded voters to rally behind candidates who shared their principles.
In 1832 the Democratic Party held a national delegate convention in Baltimore, nominated Martin Van BurenA trusted colleague to Jackson and 8th President of the United States. for vice-president, and launched Jackson's successful reelection bid. When the national Whig PartyParty formed in the 1830s in opposition to the Democratic Party and Andrew Jackson. was organized later in the decade, the current two-party political system was born.
Andrew Jackson carved out a new, far-reaching role for the president during his two terms in office, forcing himself to the forefront of the federal government, and provocatively leading the nation as it navigated the major issues of the day.
Even today, Jackson continues to serve as a model of the activist president.