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Era of the Common Man

Era of the Common Man


The “Era of the Common Man” is a term often used to describe the period in American history from the 1820s to the 1830s, marked by the presidency of Andrew Jackson (1829-1837). This era is characterized by significant political and social changes that emphasized the importance of the average American citizen and sought to democratize American politics. It saw a shift towards greater participation by the common people in the political process and a move away from elitist structures that had previously dominated the government.

Historical Context

  1. Democratic Reforms: The early 19th century saw a wave of democratic reforms that expanded suffrage and increased political participation. Most states abolished property requirements for voting, allowing a broader segment of white male citizens to vote and hold office.
  2. Andrew Jackson’s Election: Jackson’s election in 1828 is often seen as a watershed moment for the “common man.” Jackson, a war hero and self-made man, was viewed as a champion of the average American, contrasting sharply with the previous presidents who were largely from the elite class.

Key Features of the Era

  1. Expansion of Suffrage: The most significant democratic reform was the expansion of suffrage to all white men, regardless of property ownership or wealth. This shift allowed a larger, more diverse electorate and increased political engagement among the working and middle classes.
  2. Rise of Populism: Jackson’s appeal lay in his populist rhetoric, which resonated with the common people. He positioned himself as a defender of the average citizen against the entrenched interests of the wealthy and powerful elites. His policies and political style reflected this populist approach.
  3. Political Campaigning and Party Politics: The era saw the rise of more organized and widespread political campaigning. Jackson’s supporters formed the Democratic Party, which focused on mobilizing the masses and using rallies, parades, and other forms of public engagement to garner support. This period also saw the emergence of the second party system, with the Democrats and the Whigs as the two major parties.
  4. Spoils System: Jackson implemented the spoils system, which awarded government jobs to political supporters and friends. While this practice was criticized for promoting corruption and incompetence, Jackson argued it democratized government by rotating officeholders and giving more people a chance to participate in government.

Major Events and Policies

  1. Bank War: One of the most significant events of Jackson’s presidency was his battle against the Second Bank of the United States. Jackson viewed the bank as a tool of the elite that wielded too much power over the economy. His successful campaign to dismantle the bank in 1833 resonated with his supporters who saw it as a victory for the common man against powerful financial interests.
  2. Indian Removal Act (1830): One of the darker aspects of Jackson’s presidency was his policy towards Native Americans. The Indian Removal Act authorized the forced relocation of Native American tribes from their ancestral lands in the southeastern United States to territories west of the Mississippi River. This policy led to the infamous Trail of Tears, during which thousands of Native Americans suffered and died.
  3. Nullification Crisis (1832-1833): The Nullification Crisis was a confrontation between South Carolina and the federal government over the issue of tariffs. South Carolina declared that it could nullify federal laws it deemed unconstitutional. Jackson firmly opposed this notion, asserting the supremacy of federal law and threatening to use military force to enforce it. The crisis was eventually resolved through a compromise tariff.
  4. Economic Policies: Jackson’s economic policies, including the veto of the national bank and the Specie Circular (which required payment for government land to be in gold and silver), contributed to economic instability and the Panic of 1837, a financial crisis that led to a severe economic depression.

Social and Cultural Impact

  1. Increased Political Participation: The democratization of American politics during this era saw increased political participation among white male citizens. Voter turnout in presidential elections rose significantly as the electorate expanded and political engagement became a cultural norm.
  2. Cultural Shifts: The era also reflected broader cultural shifts towards egalitarianism and the celebration of the self-made man. This period emphasized individualism, personal merit, and the belief that every white man could rise through hard work and determination.
  3. Education and Reform Movements: The period also witnessed the beginnings of various social reform movements, including those focused on temperance, education, and women’s rights. Public education expanded, and reformers worked to address social issues and improve society.


The “Era of the Common Man” was a transformative period in American history that reshaped the political landscape and emphasized the importance of the average citizen in the democratic process. While it brought significant democratic reforms and expanded political participation, it also had its contradictions, such as the exclusion of women, Native Americans, and African Americans from the democratic process. The era set the stage for future democratic developments and remains a crucial chapter in understanding the evolution of American democracy.

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