Lesson Plans

Early National

Jacksonian Democracy?
Author: Joseph Jelen
School: Northwood High School
Grade Level: AP US History 9th-12th
Time Estimated: 1 day (80 minutes)

Enduring Understanding

When Andrew Jackson assumed office in March 1829, he did so with thousands of Americans from a wide cross section of society alongside him at the Capitol in Washington D.C. For his supporters, Andrew Jackson represented the elimination of favoritism paid to the powerful land owning elites by the American government. However, Jackson seemed a contradiction, as he himself was a wealthy aristocrat. The difference though for many, was that Jackson and his closest allies were self-made men who sold others on the idea that they too could rise to distinction through hard work and vigor.

Most agreed in the mid 19th century that the rise of Andrew Jackson signified a great inclusion of people who were before unheard from in politics, however, should Andrew Jackson be celebrated as such a champion of democracy today? Arguments over the portrayal of Jackson as a champion of the common man have continued among today's historians. Noted Jackson historian Robert Remini, for example, has championed Jackson as a man of the people in his time but notes his shortcomings in making American society more democratic. On one hand, it can be argued that Jackson expanded who was included in the democratic society by drawing in poor whites, but it can also be said that Jackson constricted rights for others, namely women, blacks, and particularly Native Americans. Historical wrangling leaves the legacy of Andrew Jackson on democracy open for debate.


Students will evaluate the extent to which Andrew Jackson deserves to be celebrated as champion of democracy by selecting evidence to support one's assigned position. Students will complete a DBQ (document-based question) essay using the documents they select and obtain a score of 4 or better on the College Board DBQ rubric to demonstrate mastery.


Unit 8:3, Lesson 3.2: "Jacksonian Democracy"



Introducing the Lesson (5 minutes):

  • Warm up – Ask students "What does the concept of the "common man" mean to you today?"
  • Follow up with discussion of what the "common man" would have meant to people in 1830. Who is missing from the definition in 1830?

Lesson Activities (65 minutes):

  • Discuss the issue of "presentism" in studying history. In other words, ask students if they feel their own moral judgment clouds their historical understanding of the past. Should historians try to not pass judgments on the past or is it okay to? For example, when we write about slavery should we avoid using words like "evil" in describing slavery since slavery was widely accepted at the time?
  • Introduce this question for probing: "Does Andrew Jackson deserve to be on the 20 dollar bill?" Discuss how we can answer this from two perspectives (from today's perspective vs. 1830's perspective). Decide with students to answer the question using present understanding.
  • Use PowerPoint presentation to introduce structured academic controversy and organize group activity.
  • Students will analyze the documents in pairs and find documents to support their assigned point of view. Circulate through room to view capture sheet progress to check for understanding of the documents.
  • Students will present their positions to their other group members citing evidence from the document packet. The pair not presenting will take notes on the other pair's arguments.
  • Build consensus. As a group of four, instruct students to discuss their findings and debate. (Check for understanding: are students debating and citing documents?)

Concluding the Lesson (10 minutes):

  • Class discussion: Sample the groups' responses to the question. What conclusions did they arrive at?


Students will write a DBQ essay to address the prompt: "Andrew Jackson deserves to be celebrated today as a champion of democracy." Assess the validity of this statement using the documents provided.


This lesson is differentiated to allow students to work with heterogeneous partners and groups. Within their partnership, students can ask questions of one another to clarify understanding. As partners are working together, the teacher is able to circulate to support students in drawing conclusions at the level at which they are at, be it helping high achieving students draw more sophisticated conclusions from the documents or helping struggling students find meaning in the documents. This activity is geared towards advanced placement students, but can be used with lower ability students if the teacher uses fewer documents and cuts down the documents into smaller chunks.


DBQ (document-based question) essay using the Advanced Placement rubric included. Students should score a 4 or higher to demonstrate mastery.

References: Web

Electronic texts for the study of American History
I found this site useful in locating the work of Alexis de Tocqueville, but the site also includes hundreds of authors who have examined American culture in their writings. The site features a search engine in which you can search the larger works of authors to find specific quotes.
The Avalon Project at Yale Law School
This site at Yale provides extensive documents related to past laws and diplomatic actions. The site provides an alphabetical listing according to era. The text of almost every single important legal action can be found at this site.
Eyewitness to History
This commercial site should be used carefully, but it does contain some good primary sources written by people who were at significant events. Of interest within the site are eyewitness accounts of Washington crossing the Delaware, the Boston Massacre, and immigrant accounts of reaching America.