It has been written that Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton could barely stand to be in the same room together. If Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson had been contemporaries, they would have had difficulty being on the same planet with each other. The differences between Hamilton and Jefferson were to an extent differences between conservative and liberal philosophies. But Jefferson, founder of the Democratic Republican party, was by any definition an aristocrat, a thinker, a philosopher, a man who abhored violence. He and Hamilton lived on the same social plane, though Hamilton's origins were more humble than those of Jefferson. Andrew Jackson, however, was a commoner, a man of humble origins, a fighter, a brawler, and a man who would have been distinctly out of place around Jefferson's table in the White House. Andrew Jackson symbolized a new age, called by historians “the Age of the Common Man.”

As historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., stated in The Age of Jackson, the driving force in Jackson's time was a clash of ideas. The shift in focus of the relationship between the government and the American people in Jackson's era could be called revolutionary. The changes that were brought about, however, were not a result of brawling in the streets so much as a result of spirited, sometimes bitter debates in the halls of government. It was a struggle between the White House and the Congress, and between both of those entities and the court system. Andrew Jackson was, of course, the focus of the White House portion of that struggle, along with Henry Clay in Congress and John Marshall in the court. All of those figures and others played important parts in the reshaping of American ideas of democracy. We said earlier in this text that the United States Constitution created a republic, which is not quite the same as a democracy. But in Jackson's time the political structure America moved from the republican model strongly toward the democratic.

Historians continue to refine concepts of the Age of Jacksonian Democracy, but there is no doubt that the years following Jackson's elevation to the White House were years of tremendous change and development for the United States. The story begins with the life of Jackson himself.



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