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The Jackson Inauguration: King Mob or Champion of Democracy?

Topic
Instructional Objectives
Background Information
Activities
Evaluation
Extension Ideas

Topic

Students examine the inauguration of Andrew Jackson in 1828 and identify the ways Jackson's election signaled important changes in the American political landscape.

Instructional Objectives

By using the activities of this lesson, the students will:

  1. describe the inauguration of Andrew Jackson;
  2. discuss how Jackson embodied the political culture of his era;
  3. compare the politics of Jacksonian democracy with contemporary American politics.

Background Information

The election of Andrew Jackson was seen by many as a victory for the common citizen in much the same way as Jefferson brought an end to the Federalist aristocracy. He was the first president elected from a state that was not one of the original thirteen colonies, and he represented the interests of the rural western frontier rather than the industrial northeast.

Although Jackson is said to have slipped quietly into the Capitol in February 1829, his inauguration seemed to predict the tone of his administration. The usually uninhabited town of Washington, D.C., was packed with inaugural onlookers who saw Jackson as a savior. Cheering was heard when Jackson emerged on the steps of the capitol to take the presidential oath, muffling the oath as well as the inaugural address. The throng crowded the new president as he made his way to the White House.

The inaugural ball has been recorded by history as a raucous event that showed little discipline or culture. Participants in the festivities ranged from the highest members of the American political elite to the mud-covered agrarian element so strongly represented by the Jeffersonian ideal. The crowd became so rowdy that Jackson was forced to slip out of the White House secretly. As the party was moved outside, many of the guests used all exits, including windows, to be present for the ice cream and wine. Even though his inauguration seemed to symbolize the excesses of democracy, to many of his day, it was a refreshing wind that removed the corruption and incompetence of an antiquated system and installed a new era of rule by the people.

Activities

  1. Research Andrew Jackson's life and rise to power. Some good sites include:

  2. Ask students to brainstorm what they know about Jackson's predecessor, John Quincy Adams. Information about Adams may be found at the following sites:

  3. Is George W. Bush more like John Quincy Adams or Andrew Jackson? Create visual displays that show what characteristics Bush shares with each of these former presidents.

  4. Explain that when Jackson was elected, many viewed it as a victory for the "common man" (see Background Information, above). Prior to Jackson's election, many citizens and public figures had feared that American politics was too elitist. Ask students if they think politics today is elitist. Stage a debate, a mock political talk show, or ask students to write position papers defending their opinions with examples.

Evaluation

The lesson may be evaluated through the following measures:

  1. the informational content and organization of the student's chart comparing George W. Bush, Andrew Jackson, and John Quincy Adams;
  2. the student's ability to defend his or her opinions about contemporary American politics with specific examples, either orally or in writing.

Extension Ideas

  1. Have students examine primary source documents and images related to Jackson's inauguration. Some good resources include:

    Ask students to write a first-person account of the inauguration and describe the nation's capital as it would have existed in 1829.

  2. How do modern inaugural ceremonies compare with the events surrounding Jackson's inauguration? Visit the Senate's Inaugural Ceremonies site to learn more about recent ceremonies. Take elements from different ceremonies, add your own, and design an "ideal" inaugural program. Send your ideas to the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (contact information provided on the Senate Web site).

Image Copyright 1997 The Smithsonian Institution