Common Man and Contradictions: A Mock Trial of Andrew Jackson

by John P. Duckhorn

Overview

The election of Andrew Jackson in 1828 marked a change in American politics. For the first time a presidential candidate had been elected from west of the Appalachian Mountains, marking an end to the streak held by wealthy eastern elitists. Jackson represented the emergence of a new middle-/working-class America. The war hero from the Battle of New Orleans who did not have a college education, chewed tobacco, and dueled with pistols to defend his wife’s honor reflected the ideals of the western portion of the United States. The appeal of Jackson to the ordinary man helped lead to the new period known as “the common man era.”

As president, Andrew Jackson embraced the role of protecting “common men”—his decisions in matters such as the rotation of office holders can be argued as being in their interest. By limiting a federal office holder’s tenure to one term, Jackson could make room for another deserving candidate, promoting the concept that one man is just as good another. However, some might argue that rotating office holders left room for government corruption, as party loyalty played an important role in the replacement of office holders from previous administrations.

President Jackson’s title as “the common man president” often detracts students from looking further into his decision-making to unveil contradictions. The question we must ask is to what extent was Andrew Jackson truly a common man? Was he a reflection of the new democracy emerging in the country? How might he have influenced this new ideology himself? How do we measure Jacksonian Democracy in light of his treatment of groups such as Native Americans?

Through participation in a mock trial of Andrew Jackson, students will analyze primary sources and participate in role-playing activities in an effort to lead them to an informed decision of whether or not Andrew Jackson was truly representative of “the common man.”

 

Objectives

  1. Students will be able to analyze primary sources and documents.
  2. Students will be able understand factual information of the Jacksonian time period.
  3. Students will be able to synthesize events, actions, and decisions from the Jacksonian era and determine whether these make Andrew Jackson deserving of the title of “common man” or show evidence of his contradictions.
  4. Students will be able to formulate higher-order-thinking questions during the mock trial.
  5. Students will understand the basic structure of a trial (ie, prosecution, defense, jury, key witnesses, and judge).
  6. Students will engage in historical research, critical analysis, and discussion.

 

Materials

Day 1

  • Introduce Andrew Jackson and the concept of a “common man president”—an elected official reflecting the masses. Show evidence of both the criticism and support of Andrew Jackson in this role.
  • Introduce the assignment and explain the objectives of a mock trial. Hand out the Mock Trial Format sheet.
  • Form the prosecution and defense teams and describe/assign other roles including Andrew Jackson and Davy Crockett. Hand out the Responsibilities of Role Players sheet.
  • Hand out pre-selected evidence (documents) to all groups.

Day 2

  • Prosecution and defense teams begin analysis of documents and fill out Document Analysis Worksheet.
  • Role players begin to research their characters and fill out the appropriate Character Bio Sheet. Each role player must find five relevant quotations from their character and fill them in on the Role Player Quotation Sheet.
  • Jury reviews and analyzes the evidence/documents.

Day 3

  • Prosecution and defense teams develop their opening statements, decide which documents they will use in their presentations, formulate questions for key witnesses, and prepare a rebuttal. 
  • Role players are interviewed by the teacher to ensure that students have a strong understanding of their characters supported by evidence in the documents and the quotations they’ve chosen in the Role Player Quotation Sheet 
  • Jury reviews the format of the mock trial, receives the Jury Worksheet and analyzes documents.

Day 4

  • Conduct the trial. Please see the Role-Playing Activity Tips and Suggested Time Format for organization strategies.

Day 5

  • Jury deliberation may continue if there was not enough time on the previous day.
  • Open a concluding discussion of Andrew Jackson as the first “common man president,” highlighting the excellent points students made throughout the trial.
  • Assign potential extension activities based on the ongoing debate generated by the mock trial.

Events to Consider for Preparation of Jackson Mock Trial

  • Jackson’s military background (Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Indian battles)
  • Universal male suffrage
  • Indian removal
  • National Bank Veto
  • Pet banks
  • The Specie Circular
  • Nullification Crisis
  • Peggy Eaton Affair
  • Maysville Road
  • Spoil system
  • Rotation of office holders

Useful Websites

 

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