Second Party System

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The Second Party System is a name for the political party system in the United States during the 1800s. It is a phrase used by historians and political scientists used to describe the time period between 1828 and 1854. People quickly became more interested in voted starting in 1828. More people came to political rallies and showed up to vote on election day. The number of partisan newspapers, which supported a certain political party, also went up. People became very loyal to their party. [1] [2]

There were two main political parties during this time period. One was the Democratic Party, led by Andrew Jackson. The other was the Whig Party, started by Henry Clay. The Whig party was made up of members of the National Republican Party and other people who opposed Jackson.

There were also a number of important minor parties. The Anti-Masonic Party (1827-34) was important in developing political ideas and laws. The Liberty Party in the 1840s was an important abolitionist party (against slavery). The United States Free Soil Party in 1848 and 1852 was another anti-slavery party.

The Second Party System was an important part of the politics, society, economics, and culture of the Jacksonian Era. It was followed by the Third Party System after 1854. [3]

Patterns[change | edit source]

The phrase "second party system" was defined by the historian Richard P. McCormick. He said that the system was:[4]

  • It was a distinct party system.
  • It was created over 15 years. The exact amount of time it took to evolve was different for each state.
  • It was caused by leaders trying to become president. Each candidate built his own national coalition.
  • The popularity of a leader and his followers depended on the region. For example, John Quincy Adams was strongest in New England. Andrew Jackson and his supporters were strongest in the American Southwest.
  • For the first time, the South and West had two-party politics. (Before that, these regions only had one political party.)
  • In each region, the two political parties had equal support.
  • The parties were vulnerable to issues specific to a particular region (like slavery).
  • The same two parties appeared in every state.
  • The Anti-Masonic party was popular only in the states with a weak second party.
  • The caucus replaced the political convention as a way for people with the same views to meet and discuss politics.
  • Political campaigning began to focus more on the popular vote – the support of the common people.
  • Voters were more interested in close elections. In earlier systems, voters were interested in charismatic (well-spoken) candidates and particular issues.

Leaders[change | edit source]

A number of important historical people were political leaders in this system. Some famous democrats were: Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, John C. Calhoun, James K. Polk, Lewis Cass, and Stephen Douglas. Some famous Whigs were: Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, William H. Seward, and Thurlow Weed.[2]

Beginnings[change | edit source]

The U.S. presidential election in 1824 did not have any political parties. There were four main candidates for president: Henry Clay, William Crawford, Andrew Jackson, and John Quincy Adams. At the end of the race, none of the candidates had enough votes in the electoral college to win, and the United States House of Representatives had to choose the winner. The three final candidates were Adams, Crawford, and Jackson. Even though Clay was not one of these finalists, he was the Speaker of the House, and it was his job to negotiate who would become president. Jackson had the most popular votes (votes cast by citizens) and the most electoral votes (votes cast by the electoral college), but was not elected. Instead, John Quincy Adams was elected president. He immediately chose Clay to be his Secretary of State.[5]

Jackson loudly declared this to be a "corrupt bargain." Jackson was a very popular politician, the most famous fighter of the American Indian Wars, and a hero of the War of 1812. He gathered his supporters in politics and the local militias and created the Democratic Party. Martin Van Buren, a brilliant leader in New York politics, was Jackson's most important supporter. Van Buren was popular in Virginia and Pennsylvania, and he had the support of their electoral college votes. The new Democratic Party beat Adams in the U.S. presidential election of 1828 and Jackson was elected president. Van Buren became the Secretary of State, and later Vice President. Adams, Clay, and their supporters in the Democratic-Republican Party became known as the National Republicans.[5]

The Bank War[change | edit source]

Andrew Jackson opposed (was against) the idea of giving special favors to special interest groups. He strongly opposed the Second Bank of the United States. [6] The Bank was a federal institution that worked somewhat like a central bank. (It was very similar to the Federal Reserve System that would be developed later.) The bank was controlled by the banker Nicholas Biddle and supported by Henry Clay. Jackson did not like any banks, and he did not believe in paper money. (He believed that money should only be gold and silver.) As president, he was able to close the Second Bank.[2]

Jackson continued to attack the banking system. He issued his Specie Circular in July 1836. (Specie is a word that means gold and silver used as money.) The Circular said that only gold and siver coins, and not paper money, could be used to buy federal land. This made most businessmen and bankers join the Whig party. Also, cities that depended on commerce (trade) and industry became supporters of the Whig party. Jackson became more popular with subsistence farmers (farmers who grow crops to eat, but not to sell) and day laborers.[6]

Spoils System[change | edit source]

In US politics, the Spoils System was the practice of a political party giving its supporters positions in government. These government jobs were given as rewards and incentives (something that makes a person try harder) to keep working for the political party.

Jackson used the spoils system a lot when he was president. He rewarded his supporters and promised future jobs if local and state politicians joined his team. He believed in the theory of rotation in office, where people would only remain in a position for a short time.[7] He believed that this would keep the civil service from becoming corrupt. Other leaders of the Democratic Party wanted to give civil service jobs to friends and loyal party members. In total, Jackson dismissed less than twenty percent (20%) of the original civil service.[8]

As president, Jackson encouraged the use of the spoils system. It became an important part of the Second Party System and the Third Party System. The spoils system was ended in the 1890s.

Related pages[change | edit source]

References[change | edit source]

Bibliography[change | edit source]

  • Brown, David (1999). "Jeffersonian Ideology and the Second Party System". Historian 62 (1). in Questia
  • Holt, Michael F. (1992). Political Parties and American Political Development: From the Age of Jackson to the Age of Lincoln. Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 978-0807126097.
  • Howe, Daniel Walker (2009). What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195392432.
  • McCormick, Richard P. (1966). The Second American Party System: Party Formation in the Jacksonian Era. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 9780807809778.
  • Parsons, Lynn H. (2009). The Birth of Modern Politics: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and the Election of 1828. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195312874.
  • Wilentz, Sean (2006). The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0393329216.

Other websites[change | edit source]