President Andrew Jackson may be called the first Democrat, the first President to run and be elected on the ticket of the Democratic Party--now the oldest continually operating political party in the world. (This credit might alternatively be given to Thomas Jefferson, since the political grouping he represented-ironically called Republican--was the direct ancestor of the later Democratic Party. But the party continuity from Jefferson to Jackson is much weaker than the subsequent continuity of the Democratic Party from Jackson's day to our own.) In a broader sense, he may be called the first democrat: the first political leader, perhaps, since ancient Athens to stand for direct majoritarian democracy rather than a "mixed" republic in which democratic elements were intermixed with oligarchic elements.
Modern times have not been sympathetic to Jackson. His democratic values are now taken for granted in American politics, so that how new and radical they were in his own day is forgotten. His famous Inaugural celebration is usually seen through the eyes of horrified Northeastern blue-blood contemporaries, and thus presented not as a celebration of the people's rule but as a redneck party.
His economic policies, rooted in laissez-faire and encapsulated in his struggle against the Second Bank of the United States, are to us in part obscure (who today cares one way or another about the Second Bank?) and in part contradictory. Today we associate laissez-faire economics with the tradition and heritage of conservative Republicanism, of Coolidge and Reagan, not the Democratic tradition of Roosevelt and Kennedy. Above all, Jackson's support of slavery and his championing of Indian removal align him with the darkest chapters of the American past.
Altogether, it seems too easy to paint Old Hickory as a Southern populist-racist, the spiritual ancestor of Theodore Bilbo and George Wallace--not someone who present-day Democrats (or,...