Mar. 4 – Jackson holds open house at the White House
Jacksonian Democracy is the ideology that the people should be able to vote and that the elites in Washington don’t run the show alone but rather they are beholden to the people. To symbolize his connection to the people, in March 4, 1829, Andrew Jackson held an open house and invited the public into the White House. The event became a real house party. More than 20,000 people showed up, creating a boisterous mob scene. Visitors broke dishes, stood on the furniture, and left the carpet smelling like cheese for months afterward. Jackson had been the largest vote-getter in the election of 1824, but because he didn’t have a majority in the electoral college, the decision was sent to the House of Representatives, where deal-makers gave the presidency to John Quincy Adams. Jackson campaigned in 1828 as even more of a man of the people, and against elites in Washington and the corrupt bargain which had put Adams in the White House. In 1828, in addition to fighting a two-way race, instead of three-way, Jackson was aided by the fact that the United States was moving toward more universal suffrage, as property requirements for voting were eliminated. Ironically, replacing property as the qualification for voting had the unintended consequence of taking the vote away from some property-owning women, in the name of extending the vote to all white men, and after the 15th Amendment, to all men.
- For Washington elites, the behavior of the crowds in Jackson’s open house only reinforced their view that most people were not fit to exercise political responsibility. In today’s political environment, how does this question of elites versus the people play itself out? Do you think of yourself as part of the political elite? Or the people? How does that affect your views on political questions?
- How (short of the president throwing more parties) do you think we could make the political system more accountable to the people?
- In 1953, the East German people revolted against the communist government then in power. That revolt was violently suppressed. In response, the Author’s Union circulated a leaflet declaring that the people had lost the confidence of the government, and needed to redouble its efforts to regain it. To which author Bertold Brecht is reported to have said, Wouldn’t it be simpler for the government to dissolve the people, and elect a new one? How might this story be applied to the United States today?
Cruikshank, Robert. President’s Levee, or all Creation going to the White House. Digital FileLC-DIG-ppmsca-50970. Library of Congress. 1841.