Wikiquote:Transwiki/American History Primary Sources The Age of Jackson


The Rise of Democracy

1821 “The question before us is the right of suffrage — who shall or shall not have the right to vote.... To me the only qualification seems to be the virtue and morality of the people.” Nathan Sanford, speech at the New York State Constitutional Convention.

1826 “Thomas Jefferson still lives.” John Adams, last words; both Jefferson and Adams died on July 4, 1826, exactly 50! years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson actually dies a few hours earlier.

1826 “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and father of the University of Virginia. Epitaph for his tombstone chosen by President Thomas Jefferson.

c. 1830 “[An American] is brought up with the idea that he will have some particular occupation, that he is to be a farmer, artisan, manufacturer, merchant, speculator, lawyer, physician... and that if he is active and intelligent he will make his fortune.” French traveler Michel Chevalier.


“They who have reasoned ignorantly, or who have aimed at affecting their personal ends by flattering the popular feeling, have boldly affirmed that ‘one man is as good as another’; a maxim that is true in neither nature, revealed morals, nor political theory...

“All that democracy means is as equal a participation in rights as practicable; and to pretend that social equality is a condition of popular institutions... [is] destructive of civilization; for, as nothing is more self-evident that the impossibility of raising all men to the highest standard of tastes and refinement, the alternative would be to reduce the entire community to the lowest.”

James Fenimore Cooper, in The American Democrat

The Election of President Andrew Jackson (1828)

1825 “Well General, we did all we could for you here, but the rascals at Washington cheated you out of it.” Friend of Gen. Andrew Jackson, on the “corrupt bargain” between Henry and John Quincy Adams that led to the House of Representative electing Adams as president.

1828 “[E]very American of whatever condition in life is a Politician.... We hear nothing but Jackson and Adams.... These Candidates are freely talked over and their merits discussed by every man in the country. The subject is now so worn out that I am quite tired of their names.... A common address in a stage coach, which has been often put to me, is ‘I says Mister, are you for Jackson or Adams?’ My answer is generally ‘for which you like sir.’” Colonel John Baillie, a British traveler in the United States during the presidential election of 1828.

1828 “The virtuous portion of the people have well sustained me. I am filled with gratitude.” General Andrew Jackson, upon being elected president.

1829 “It was a proud day for the people. General Jackson is their own president.” Jackson supporter Amos Kendall, describing enthusiasm for the inauguration of President Jackson.

1829 “I have never seen such a crowd before. Persons have come five hundred miles to see General Jackson, and they really seem to think that the country has been rescued from some dreadful danger.” Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, on the Jackson inauguration festivities.

Jackson in Power

1829 “To the victor belong the spoils of the enemy” Jackson supporter, urging Jackson to throw out any enemies working for the Federal Government.


“Upon this country more than any other has, in the providence of God, been cast the special guardianship of the great principle of adherence to written constitutions. If it fail here, all hope in regard to it will be extinguished.

"That this was intended to be a government of limited and specific, and not general, powers, must be admitted by all, and it is our duty to preserve for it the character intended by its framers. If experience points out the necessity for an enlargement of these powers, let us apply for it to those for whose benefit it is to be exercised, and not undermine the whole system by a resort of overstrained constructions.

"The scheme has worked well. It has exceeded the hopes of those who devised it and become an object of admiration to the world. We are responsible to our country and to the glorious cause of self-government for the preservation of so great a good. The great mass of legislation relating to our internal affairs was intended to be left where the Federal Convention found it — in the state governments. Nothing is clearer, in my view, than that we are chiefly indebted for the success of the Constitution under which we are now acting....

“I cannot, therefore, too strongly or too earnestly,... warn you against all encroachments upon the legitimate sphere of state sovereignty.”

President Andrew Jackson, annual state of the Union message to Congress (December 8, 1829)

1830 “If it be the wish of the people that the construction of roads and canals should be conducted by the federal government, it is not only highly expedient but indispensably necessary that a previous amendment of the Constitution, delegating the necessary power and defining and restricting its exercise with reference to the sovereignty of the states, should be made. Without it, nothing extensively useful can be effected.” Pres. Andrew Jackson, Veto of the Maysville Road Bill.

The Nullification Crisis


“While the Union lasts, we have high, exciting, gratifying prospects spread out before us, for us and our children....

“When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union; on states dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood! Let their last and lingering glance rather behold the glorious ensign of the republic, now known and honored throughout the earth, still full high advanced,... not a stripe erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured, bearing for its motto, no such miserable interrogatory as... ‘Liberty first and Union afterwards’; but everywhere... that other sentiment, dear to every true American heart — Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable.”

Daniel Webster, speech in Senate.

1830. “Our Federal Union: it must be preserved.” President Andrew Jackson, toast said at Jefferson Day (April 13) dinner.

1830 “The Union, next to liberty, the most dear.” Vice President John C. Calhoun, a supporter of nullification by his native state of South Carolina, answering Jackson’s toast.

1832 “We... the people of the state of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, do declare and ordain... that the several acts and parts of acts of the Congress of the United States purportedly to be laws for the imposing of [tariff] duties and imposts... are unauthorized by the Constitution of the United States and violate the true meaning and intent thereof, and are null, void, and no law, nor binding upon this state, its officers, or citizens.” South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification

1832 “I consider... that the power to annul a law of the United States, assumed by one state, incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted expressly by the Constitution, unauthorized by its spirit, inconsistent with every principle on which it was founded,, and destructive of the great object for which it was formed.” Pres. Andrew Jackson, Proclamation against South Carolina Nullification

Jackson v. The Bank of the United States

1832 “The Bank... is trying to kill me, but I will kill it.” President Jackson, while ill, on his opposition to the Bank of the United States.

Jacksonian Democracy v. Native Americans

1828 “I frequently saw as I rode from place to place, Cherokee letters painted or cut on the trees by the roadside, on fences, houses, and often on pieces of bark or board, lying about the houses.” A traveler in Cherokee Indian territory, commenting on their use of the written language invented in 1821 by Sequoya.

c. 1829 “[Indians in the East are a barrier to] the waves of population and civilization... rolling westward.” President Jackson

1830 “[Eastern Indians will own land in Oklahoma] as long as grass grows and water runs.... It will be yours forever.” President Jackson to Indians of the Southeast.

c. 1830

“We never had a thought of exchanging our land for any other, as we think we would not find a country that would suit us as well as this we now occupy, it being the land of our forefathers, if we should exchange our lands for any other, fearing the consequences may be similar to transplanting an old tree, which would wither and die away, and we are fearful we would come to the same....

“We wish our father [President Jackson] to extend his protection to us here, as proposes to do on the west of the Mississippi, as we apprehend we would, in a few years, experience the same difficulties in any other section of the country that might be suitable to us west of the Mississippi.”

Leaders of the Chickasaw tribe to Congress, protesting their removal to Oklahoma.

1832 “John Marshall has made his decision.... Now let him enforce it.” President Andrew Jackson, commenting on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, that the state government had no power to evict the Cherokees from their lands.

c. 1832 “Our cause is your own. It is the cause of liberty and justice. It is based upon your own principles.” Letter of Southeastern Indians to Congress, opposing the Indian Removal Act.

1838 “Trail of Tears” The forced evacuation of 16,000 Cherokee Indians from Georgia in the winter of 1838-1839.

1838 “Murder is murder and somebody must answer, somebody must explain the streams of blood that flowed in Indian country in... 1838. Somebody must explain the four thousand silent graves that mark the trail of the Cherokees to their exile. I wish I could forget it all, but the picture of six hundred and forty-five wagons lumbering over the frozen ground with their cargo of suffering humanity still lingers in my memory.” John G. Burnett, a soldier in the force escorting the Cherokees from Georgia to what is now Oklahoma.

c. 1838 “My Brothers!... [T]he white man says I shall go, and he will send people to make me go; but I have a rifle, and I have some powder and some lead. I say, we must not leave our homes and lands. If any of our people want to go west we won’t let them; and I tell them they are our enemies, and we will treat them so, for the great spirit will protect us. Seminole Chief Osceola

The Panic of 1837 and Depression

1837. “Matters worse and worse in Wall Street as far as I can learn; everyone discouraged; prospect of universal ruin and general insolvency of the banks, which will be terrible indeed if it takes place. Workmen thrown out of employ by the hundreds daily.” George Templeton Strong, Diary entry for May 2.

The Whig Party

1840 “My friends are north the powder and shot it will take to kill them. I am the most unfortunate man in the history of parties: always run by my friends when sure to be defeated, and now betrayed of a nomination when I, or any one, would be sure of election.” Henry Clay, after the Whigs nominated Gen. William Henry Harrison, instead of him, as its presidential candidate.

1840 “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” “Van, Van is a used up man.” Presidential campaign slogans of the Whig Party, headed by Gen. William Henry Harrison, victor of the Battle of Tippecanoe, with John Tyler as the vice-presidential candidate, running against President Martin Van Buren.

Jacksonian Democracy and Reform Movements

The Second Great Awakening

1801 “The vast sea of human beings seemed to be agitated as if by a storm. I counted seven ministers, all preaching at one time.... Some of the people were singing, others praying, some crying for mercy. A particularly strage sensation came over me.... I felt as though I must fall to the ground.” James Finley, later a Methodist minister, recalling a revival at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, early in the Second Great Awakening.

c. 1830 Let the truth take hold upon your conscience — throw down your rebellious weapons — give up your refuges of lies.... Another moment’s delay, and it may be too late for ever. The Spirit of God may depart from you... and seal you over to all the horrors of eternal death.” Revivalist minister Charles Grandison Finney, popular in the Northeast in the 1820s and 1830s.

c. 1830

“Preach the Gospel; I will put words in your mouth, and will turn your enemies to become your friends....

“If a man may preach because the Savior died for him, why not the woman? Seeing he died for her also. Is he not a whole Savior, instead of a half one?”

African-American female Methodist Minister Jarena Lee, saying that a heavenly voice had called on her to preach to the people.

The Temperance Movement

1842 “Upwards of 100 gallons of spirits were poured not down people’s throats but on the sand and I believe there is now none in the place. [Liquor sellers] Dean and Knotts have become members of the Temperance Society and are now earnestly seeking religion.” Report of a woman who attended a revivalist meeting in Maryland.

1852 “To my mind the bread problem lies at the base of all the desirable and practical reforms which our age meditates. Not that bread is intrinsically more important to man than temperance, morality, and religion, but that it is essential to the just application of all these.... ‘Morality,’ ‘religion,’ are but words to him who fishes in the gutters the means of sustaining life and crouches behind barrels in the street for shelter from the cutting blasts of a winter’s night.” Horace Greeley, letter to Paulina Davis

1854 “I never knew a man to go to the almshouse that he hadn’t rum to blame for his poverty.” Character in the pro-Temperance novel, “Ten Nights in a Bar-Room and What I Saw There.” The Rise of the Labor Movement

1827 “When the efforts and disposition of one part of mankind to oppress another have become too manifest to be mistaken and too pernicious in their consequences to be endured, it has often been found necessary for those who have been aggrieved to associate for the purpose of affording to each other mutual protection from oppression.” Statement of Philadelphia Journeymen Mechanics.

Humanitarian Reforms

1831 “[T]he penitentiary system in America is severe. Whilst society in the United States gives examples of the most extended liberty, the prisons of the same country offer the spectacle of the most complete despotism. The citizens subject to the law are protected by it; they only cease to be free when they become wicked.” Comment by Gustave de Beaumont, sent by the French government along with Alexis de Tocqueville to examine prisons in the United States.


“I come to place before the legislature of Massachusetts the condition of the miserable, the desolate, the outcast. I come as the advocate of helpless, forgotten, insane, and idiotic men and women....

“If my pictures are displeasing, coarse, and severe, my subjects, it must be recollected, offer no tranquil, refined, or composing features. The condition of human beings, reduced to the extremist states of degradation and misery, cannot be exhibited in softened language, or adorn a polished page.

“I proceed, gentlemen, briefly to call your attention to the present state of insane persons confined within this Commonwealth, in cages, closets, cellars, stalls, pens! Chained, naked, beaten with rods, and lashed into obedience.”

Dorothea Dix, Memorial on the treatment of the insane to the Massachusetts legislature.

Rights of African-Americans

??? “[Education is a] jewel that will elevate, ennoble, and rescue the bodies of our long injured race from the shackles of bondage, their minds from the trammels of ignorance and vice.” Lewis Woodson, African-American educator.

1848 “If this boy passes the examination he will be admitted; and if the white students choose to withdraw, all the income of the college will be devoted to his education.” Pres. Edward Everett of Harvard College, reply to a protest on the admission of a black student

Women’s Rights

c. 1835 “The discussion of the rights of the slave has opened the way for the discussion of other rights, and the ultimate result will most certainly be the breaking of every yoke... an emancipation far more glorious than any the world has ever yet seen.” Angelina Grimké, daughter of a South Carolina slaveholder who became a militant abolitionist.


“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal....

“Now... because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States....

“[Winning the right to vote is necessary because] the power to choose rulers and make laws, was the right by which all others could be secured.”

Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, from the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions of the women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, NY. 1848 “I revolted in spirit against the customs of society and the laws of the State that crushed my aspirations.... But not until that meeting in Seneca Falls in 1848... gave this feeling of unrest form and voice, did I take action.” Emily Collins, from upstate New York, who attended the women’s rights convention.

1851 “The girl... must be taught to look forward to a life of self-dependence and, like the boy, prepare herself for some trade profession.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton, letter.

1851 “Look at my arm! I have plowed and planted and gathered into barns... and ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man — when I could get it — and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seem most of ‘em sold into slavery, and when I cried out my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me — and ain’t I a woman?” Sojourner Truth, at a women’s right state convention in Akron, Ohio.

1854 “I went to the woods because I wised to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived....

“Our life is frittered away by detail.... Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand....” Henry David Thoreau, Walden

1854 “I know nothing.” Statement made by members of the American Party, on being asked about its opposition to immigrants.