Jackson and Internal Improvement - History

Jackson and Internal Improvement - History

President Andrew Jackson was conflicted about his positions on “internal improvement”. He supported the idea in theory. However, Jackson questioned both the cost of these improvements, as well as whether it was constitutional for the federal government to support internal improvement. Early in his term Jackson vetoed a bill that would have authorized the construction of what was called “the Maysville Road”. The Mayville Road was to be part of a larger national road system. The road was to pass through the hometown of Henry Clay, one of Jackson’s political rivals. The location of the proposed road did not hurt Jackson’s enthusiasm for the veto. Jackson’s veto message was ambiguous enough to be well received. President Jackson stated that he was in favor of improvements– but for improvements that were for the national good, and not merely for sectional good. Jackson also wanted to ensure that the government did not grow too large. Therefore, Jackson contended that national involvement in improvements should be limited.

Jackson’s ambiguity on the matter of improvement served him well. He did not set clear criteria. Thus he was able to approve or disapprove projects based, not only on the national good, though rather on his political needs at the time. Despite Jackson’s inclination not to support the involvement of the federal government in the internal improvement projects, those projects funded by the federal government increased rapidly during his presidency.


Andrew Jackson and the Constitution

In 1860, biographer James Parton concluded that Andrew Jackson was “a most law-defying, law obeying citizen.” Such a statement is obviously contradictory. Yet it accurately captures the essence of the famous, or infamous, Jackson. Without question, the seventh president was a man of contradictions. To this day, historians have been unable to arrive at accepted conclusions about his character or impact on the nation. Was he, as Robert Remini has argued across the pages of more than a dozen books, the great leader and symbol of a burgeoning mass democracy? Or was Jackson merely a vainglorious bully with no vision for the nation, reacting in response to his own sensitive pride, as Andrew Burstein and others have insisted?

There is much that one can look at in Jackson’s life when attempting to arrive at conclusions. In particular, his relationship with the law and Constitution offer a significant window into his worldview. Whether it was illegally declaring martial law in New Orleans, invading Spanish Florida and executing British citizens, removing federal deposits from the Bank of the United States, or questioning the Supreme Court’s authority in Worcester v. Georgia, Jackson acted in a manner that was at times distinctly illegal yet widely hailed by supporters as being in the nation’s best interest. And before we conclude that this support was partisan banter bestowed by his own Democratic Party, we must remember that historians and legal scholars to this day have wrestled with the larger ideological and constitutional meaning of Jackson’s beliefs and actions. One thing is certain: Jackson had no qualms about overstepping the law, even the Constitution, when he believed that the very survival of the nation required it. Moreover, this perspective remains at the heart of debate in a post-9/11 America. The essential question stands—can a leader violate the law in order to ultimately save it and the nation?

Andrew Jackson’s fame came with the Battle of New Orleans in 1814 and 1815, where he demolished a seasoned British army with virtually no loss to his troops. The victory launched the general to national stardom and ultimately the presidency. Yet there were looming, constitutionally delicate issues that roiled beneath the surface of this victory, namely Jackson’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and declaration of martial law. The first was authorized by the Constitution, but the Supreme Court had determined that only Congress could suspend the privilege of the writ, which allowed a judge to “bring a body” before the court thus making it impossible for an arresting authority (the police or military) to hold a person indefinitely without filing charges. Jackson suspended the writ anyway, and went even further by imposing martial law, which canceled all civilian authority and placed the military in control. The act was wholly illegal. There existed no provision in the Constitution authorizing such an edict. The rub was that martial law saved New Orleans and the victory itself saved the nation’s pride. After several years of dismal military encounters during the War of 1812 and the burning of the nation’s capitol to the ground in the summer of 1814, no one, especially President Madison, was in the mood to investigate, let alone chastise, the victorious General Jackson’s illegal conduct. Thus Jackson walked away from the event with two abiding convictions: one, that victory and the nationalism generated by it protected his actions, even if illegal and two, that he could do what he wanted if he deemed it in the nation’s best interest.

Jackson’s convictions came into play only three years later in 1818, when the indomitable general exceeded his orders to protect the Georgia frontier by crossing into Spanish Florida, where he invaded two towns and executed two British citizens for making war on the United States. Once again, Jackson’s actions were questionable, if not outright illegal. He essentially made war on Spain without congressional approval, overstepped his own boundaries as a commander, and summarily executed two men, which could very well have incited legal and military difficulties with Great Britain and Spain. However, Jackson’s conduct was once again seen by many, including himself, as a necessary defense of the nation. The Spanish had done nothing to stop the marauding Seminole Indians from crossing the border and attacking American farms. The general’s actions were therefore justified as national self-defense by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, the sole member of President Monroe’s cabinet to support Jackson. Adams used the turmoil over the incident to convince Spain that they should sell Florida for a measly $5 million.

Unlike Jackson’s use of martial law in New Orleans, Congress debated Jackson’s rogue behavior in Florida, with Henry Clay announcing that the general was a “military chieftain” and dangerous to a young republic. Although legislators wrangled over the matter, nothing significant resulted except that Jackson became a more and more polarizing figure, particularly because of his political aspirations. When he ran for president in 1824, critics unleashed a torrent of abuse, much of it focused on his lawless ways. Jackson was forced to respond, and commented specifically on his violations of the Constitution. He noted that some in the nation believed him to be “a most dangerous and terrible man. . . . and that I can break, & trample under foot the constitution of the country, with as much unconcern & careless indifference, as would one of our backwoods hunters, if suddenly placed in Great Britain, break game laws.” He continued, “it has been my lot often to be placed in situations of a critical kind” that “imposed on me the necessity of Violating, or rather departing from, the constitution of the country yet at no subsequent period has it produced to me a single pang, believing as I do now, & then did, that without it, security neither to myself or the great cause confided to me, could have been obtained.”

Jackson’s ideological conviction about the flexible nature of the law and Constitution in the face of dangers confronting the still-fledgling nation can be seen in many subsequent Jacksonian battles. When President Jackson confronted the Bank of the United States in 1832, he did so with the belief that it was a corrupt fiscal monster threatening the nation’s economic security. He not only vetoed the Bank’s recharter, which was within his right as chief executive, but went a step further by removing federal deposits even after Congress had deemed them safe. Jackson transferred one secretary of the treasury and fired another in order to secure the deposit removals. His actions were questionable, if not completely illegal, and the Senate censured him by making a notation in their journal. They didn’t attempt impeachment for lack of support.

Other legal conflicts surfaced. Jackson allegedly defied the Supreme Court over Worcester v. Georgia (1832), announcing, “John Marshall has made his decision now let him enforce it.” The case revolved around Georgia’s attempt to apply state laws to Cherokee lands. The Court had ruled against Georgia’s authority to do so and Jackson, dedicated to Indian removal, allegedly challenged Marshall. Although there is little evidence to support the above quotation, it certainly sounds like Jackson. Nonetheless, the case required nothing of Jackson and was ultimately settled out of court. The fact remained, however, that in this case and in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), when it was ruled that the Bank of the United States was in fact constitutional, Jackson challenged the Court’s authority as the final arbiter. As president, Jackson believed that his authority to deem what was constitutional equaled the Supreme Court’s.

Jackson’s views regarding American Indians also challenged the law. Treaties were and continue to be legal agreements among sovereign nations. However, Jackson refused to believe that Native American tribes were sovereign and thus viewed Indian treaties as an absurdity. Ultimately, he forcibly removed a number of tribes, most notoriously the Cherokee, from their homes. The Trail of Tears is one of Jackson’s most infamous legacies. Yet even removal and issues of tribal sovereignty fit within a larger context of Jackson’s convictions regarding national security and state sovereignty. The general’s rise was due to his success as an Indian fighter on the frontier. He always, and to some extent legitimately, viewed American Indians as a serious threat to settlers. As president, Jackson understood the sentiment of southern states and their conception that states could not be erected within sovereign states such as Georgia. All of this, of course, revolved around the larger issue of Native American dispossession and who rightfully owned of the land. This ideological—and to some extent legal—issue remains unresolved.

A variety of other incidents in Jackson’s life and career expose the nature of his relationship with the law and Constitution: the fact that he was a lawyer who engaged in dueling his actions during the Nullification Crisis and his failure as president to follow federal guidelines concerning mail delivery of abolitionist propaganda. Most fit within his larger conception of duty, honor, and what was necessary for the sanctity of the Union. Jackson’s ideology remains as controversial now as it was in his own time. There are few easy answers. Yet this is what makes Jackson’s views and conduct so relevant today. When presented with Jackson’s history, students invariably split down the middle over whether he was justified in his conduct, regardless of legality. In this sense, Jackson continues to serve as an important source of reflection when considering how America should and should not act when it comes to matters of national security.

Matthew Warshauer is a professor of history at Central Connecticut State University and author of Andrew Jackson in Context (2009) and Andrew Jackson and the Politics of Martial Law: Nationalism, Civil Liberties, and Partisanship (2006).


Andrew Jackson - Internal improvements

Indian removal showed that Jackson's goal of assuring a virtuous yet progressive society was circumscribed by race. At the same time, he clarified other aspects of his program by reversing the trend toward expanded federal assistance for internal improvements. In his first annual message in December 1829, Jackson brought the issue to Congress' attention by announcing that many people considered previous policy unconstitutional or inexpedient. "The people expected reform, retrenchment and economy in the administration of Government," he explained privately. "This was the cry from Maine to Louisiana, and instead of these the objects of Congress, it would seem , is to make mine one of the most extravagant administrations since the commencement of the Government."

Bogged down in the Eaton affair, Indian removal, and other matters, Jackson left it to Van Buren to choose an appropriate measure to initiate his new policy. Van Buren waited until April 1830, when a Kentucky congressman introduced a bill calling upon the federal government to purchase stock in a corporation to construct a road in Kentucky from Maysville to Lexington. The Maysville Road was considered by its advocates as part of a more extensive interstate road system and, therefore, deserving of federal support. The bill readily passed the House of Representatives at the end of April, with the backing of many Jackson men. Van Buren then brought it to Jackson's attention during one of their daily horseback rides, and Jackson promptly agreed that since the road was located entirely within one state, it would serve admirably.

Rumors circulated that Jackson might veto the Maysville bill, and a group of western Democrats appealed to Representative Richard M. Johnson of Kentucky to present their case for the road. Johnson explained that the improvement was needed and that a veto would severely damage the Jackson party in Kentucky. Warming to his subject, Johnson dramatically declaimed, "General! If this hand were an anvil on which the sledge hammer of the smith was descending and a fly were to light upon it in time to receive the blow he would not crush it more effectually than you will crush your friends in Kentucky if you veto that Bill!"

Jackson rose to his feet and responded in equally fervent language, bluntly remarking that there was "no money" for the expenditures desired by the friends of internal improvements. "Are you willing—are my friends willing to lay taxes to pay for internal improvements?—for be assured I will not borrow a cent except in case of absolute necessity!" he heatedly proclaimed. Jackson soon ended the interview on a more amicable note, promising to examine the bill from all angles before making up his mind, but Johnson left the White House convinced that the bill was as good as dead. "Nothing less than a voice from Heaven would prevent the old man from vetoing the Bill," Johnson explained to his colleagues, and he "doubted whether that would!"

Johnson was right, for Jackson handed down his veto, rejecting the bill on grounds that were both constitutional and pragmatic. Affirming that internal improvements could be constitutionally appropriated only for purposes of national defense and national benefit, Jackson condemned the measure as "of purely local character." He also skillfully argued against the expediency of such proposals even if they fell within his constitutional rule. Recalling the American responsibility to perpetuate "the republican principle," Jackson urged lightening public burdens, ending wasteful expenditures, and eliminating the corruption and special privilege associated with government investment in private corporations.

Over the eight years of his presidency, Jackson elaborated and refined his objections to internal-improvements projects. He warned that federal involvement risked jurisdictional clashes with the states and that government investment in private transportation companies delegated public responsibilities to private agencies and led to charges of "favoritism and oppression." He also protested against the "flagicious logrolling" that encouraged inequities of burdens and benefits and was destructive of legislative harmony. Jackson was not against economic progress, but he maintained that demands for an extensive, federally sponsored system of improvements endangered republican government and distorted natural economic growth.

Internal-improvements spending did not cease during Jackson's administration. Indeed, he spent more money—about $10 million—than all previous administrations combined. But given the pressure for improved communication and transportation facilities placed on all levels of government by economic expansion, evidence of Jackson's commitment to restraint can be found in the lack of new proposals emanating from his administration and the discouragement of new pet projects caused by actual or threatened vetoes. Most of the money approved by Jackson was for projects already begun under earlier administrations or involved activities and locales that were clearly under federal jurisdiction. Jackson therefore halted the drive for a national system of improvements and located the major responsibility for projects on state and local governments and on private funding.

More than the Indian removal bill, Jackson's internal-improvements policy began the process of identifying Jackson's followers with a party platform. Jackson himself broadcast the idea that his position on internal improvements was a testing ground for the emerging party divisions. "The line . . . has been fairly drew," he announced after issuing the Maysville message.

The veto also signaled a significant change in presidential power. Prior to Jackson's presidency, the veto had been resorted to only nine times, generally on grounds of unconstitutionality or to protect the executive against legislative encroachment. Jackson exercised the veto on more occasions, a total of twelve times frequently employed the pocket veto, by which a president withholds a bill, unsigned, until Congress adjourns and expanded the grounds for vetoing a measure. Indeed, it was the portions of Jackson's veto messages dealing with nonconstitutional matters that generally contained the most authentic examples of Jacksonian rhetoric and had the greatest popular appeal. In directing his vetoes to the people, moreover, Jackson enhanced presidential power and made the chief executive substantially the equivalent of both houses of Congress.


State governments take charge

With the federal government temporarily out of the picture, state governments picked up the internal improvements torch. New York was the first state to undertake a massive internal improvement project with its own public funds. In 1817 the legislature authorized the construction of the Erie Canal, to run from the Hudson River to Buffalo on Lake Erie, under the watchful eye of the state's governor, DeWitt Clinton. Critics of the plan thought that it would never succeed and referred to the project as "Clinton's Big Ditch." But in 1825, only eight years after work on the project had begun, the Erie Canal was finished. The fruits of the endeavor were both impressive and immediate. In the first year of its operation, toll revenues on the Erie Canal surpassed the annual interest on the state's construction debt as traffic on the improvement ranged from heavy freight including lumber and wheat to small manufactured valuables to passengers utilizing the canal for both speedy transportation and leisure. By 1837 the revenues from the Erie Canal had erased New York's construction debt completely—only twelve years after beginning operation. The waterway shortened the time and expense required for the transportation of both bulk and high value commodities considerably and also effectively opened up New York's western counties to development the growing cities of Buffalo, Syracuse, and Rochester all prospered from bordering the Erie Canal. Moreover, as a public works project constructed by New York's state government, the Erie Canal demonstrated the potential benefit that a state-funded internal improvement networks could provide.

Many states rushed to copy New York's success with the Erie Canal. During the 1820s the state of Virginia took over the James River and Kanawha Canal project, which was designed to cross the mountains and enrich the inland counties along the way. In 1826 Pennsylvania decided to build a statewide system of trunk and branch canals, commonly known as the State Works. Even states west of the Appalachian Mountains such as Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois rushed to build systems of their own, and during the 1830s a full-blown canal boom gripped the United States. But as quickly as many of these projects were begun, they began to see diminishing returns. Because many canal projects were inspired more by political expediency than by an actual prospect of improved economic efficiency, they lost money.

In addition to building these roads themselves, states also chartered transportation companies that provided funding for other ventures. Probably the most famous example of this is the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. In 1827 a group of Baltimore merchants met to discuss ideas about a central line of improvements for Maryland. They looked at the case of New York and Pennsylvania to the north and Virginia to the south and saw that these states were all planning massive canal systems to aid the development of their interior counties. Since Maryland had no sizable river system to expand upon like the Hudson River in New York or the James River in Virginia, they decided to experiment with a new form of transportation known as the railroad. These merchants petitioned the legislature for a charter, and in February 1827 the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was created with a capital stock of $3 million. But more important, of the company's thirty thousand shares of $100, the state subscribed to ten thousand, for $1 million. In exchange for the rights of eminent domain and exemption from taxation, the Maryland legislature received the right to set passenger and freight rates. Railroads, like turnpikes, would be built by private firms, but often with limited public financial backing.


Jacksonian Democracy

An ambiguous, controversial concept, Jacksonian Democracy in the strictest sense refers simply to the ascendancy of Andrew Jackson and the Democratic party after 1828. More loosely, it alludes to the entire range of democratic reforms that proceeded alongside the Jacksonians’ triumph𠅏rom expanding the suffrage to restructuring federal institutions. From another angle, however, Jacksonianism appears as a political impulse tied to slavery, the subjugation of Native Americans, and the celebration of white supremacy—so much so that some scholars have dismissed the phrase “Jacksonian Democracy” as a contradiction in terms.

Such tendentious revisionism may provide a useful corrective to older enthusiastic assessments, but it fails to capture a larger historical tragedy: Jacksonian Democracy was an authentic democratic movement, dedicated to powerful, at times radical, egalitarian ideals𠅋ut mainly for white men.

Socially and intellectually, the Jacksonian movement represented not the insurgency of a specific class or region but a diverse, sometimes testy national coalition. Its origins stretch back to the democratic stirrings of the American Revolution, the Antifederalists of the 1780s and 1790s, and the Jeffersonian Democratic Republicans. More directly, it arose out of the profound social and economic changes of the early nineteenth century.

Recent historians have analyzed these changes in terms of a market revolution. In the Northeast and Old Northwest, rapid transportation improvements and immigration hastened the collapse of an older yeoman and artisan economy and its replacement by cash-crop agriculture and capitalist manufacturing. In the South, the cotton boom revived a flagging plantation slave economy, which spread to occupy the best lands of the region. In the West, the seizure of lands from Native Americans and mixed-blood Hispanics opened up fresh areas for white settlement and cultivation𠅊nd for speculation.

Not everyone benefited equally from the market revolution, least of all those nonwhites for whom it was an unmitigated disaster. Jacksonianism, however, would grow directly from the tensions it generated within white society. Mortgaged farmers and an emerging proletariat in the Northeast, nonslaveholders in the South, tenants and would-be yeomen in the West𠅊ll had reasons to think that the spread of commerce and capitalism would bring not boundless opportunities but new forms of dependence. And in all sections of the country, some of the rising entrepreneurs of the market revolution suspected that older elites would block their way and shape economic development to suit themselves.

By the 1820s, these tensions fed into a many-sided crisis of political faith. To the frustration of both self-made men and plebeians, certain eighteenth-century elitist republican assumptions remained strong, especially in the seaboard states, mandating that government be left to a natural aristocracy of virtuous, propertied gentlemen. Simultaneously, some of the looming shapes of nineteenth-century capitalism𠅌hartered corporations, commercial banks, and other private institutions—presaged the consolidation of a new kind of moneyed aristocracy. And increasingly after the War of 1812, government policy seemed to combine the worst of both old and new, favoring the kinds of centralized, broad constructionist, top-down forms of economic development that many thought would aid men of established means while deepening inequalities among whites. Numerous events during and after the misnamed Era of Good Feelings𠅊mong them the neo-Federalist rulings of John Marshall’s Supreme Court, the devastating effects of the panic of 1819, the launching of John Quincy Adams’s and Henry Clay’s American System𠅌onfirmed a growing impression that power was steadily flowing into the hands of a small, self-confident minority.

Proposed cures for this sickness included more democracy and a redirection of economic policy. In the older states, reformers fought to lower or abolish property requirements for voting and officeholding, and to equalize representation. A new generation of politicians broke with the old republican animus against mass political parties. Urban workers formed labor movements and demanded political reforms. Southerners sought low tariffs, greater respect for states’ rights, and a return to strict constructionism. Westerners clamored for more and cheaper land and for relief from creditors, speculators, and bankers (above all, the hated Second Bank of the United States).

It has confounded some scholars that so much of this ferment eventually coalesced behind Andrew Jackson𠅊 one-time land speculator, opponent of debtor relief, and fervent wartime nationalist. By the 1820s, however, Jackson’s personal business experiences had long since altered his opinions about speculation and paper money, leaving him eternally suspicious of the credit system in general and banks in particular. His career as an Indian fighter and conqueror of the British made him a popular hero, especially among land-hungry settlers. His enthusiasm for nationalist programs had diminished after 1815, as foreign threats receded and economic difficulties multiplied. Above all, Jackson, with his own hardscrabble origins, epitomized contempt for the old republican elitism, with its hierarchical deference and its wariness of popular democracy.

After losing the 𠇌orrupt bargain” presidential election of 1824, Jackson expanded upon his political base in the lower and mid-South, pulling together many strands of disaffection from around the country. But in successfully challenging President John Quincy Adams in 1828, Jackson’s supporters played mainly on his image as a manly warrior, framing the contest as one between Adams who could write and Jackson who could fight. Only after taking power did the Jacksonian Democracy refine its politics and ideology. Out of that self-definition came a fundamental shift in the terms of national political debate.

The Jacksonians’ basic policy thrust, both in Washington and in the states, was to rid government of class biases and dismantle the top-down, credit-driven engines of the market revolution. The war on the Second Bank of the United States and subsequent hard-money initiatives set the tone𠅊n unyielding effort to remove the hands of a few wealthy, unelected private bankers from the levers of the nation’s economy. Under the Jacksonians, government-sponsored internal improvements generally fell into disfavor, on the grounds that they were unnecessary expansions of centralized power, beneficial mainly to men with connections. The Jacksonians defended rotation in office as a solvent to entrenched elitism. To aid hard-pressed farmers and planters, they pursued an unrelenting (some say unconstitutional) program of Indian removal, while backing cheap land prices and settlers’ preemption rights.

Around these policies, Jacksonian leaders built a democratic ideology aimed primarily at voters who felt injured by or cut off from the market revolution. Updating the more democratic pieces of the republican legacy, they posited that no republic could long survive without a citizenry of economically independent men. Unfortunately, they claimed, that state of republican independence was exceedingly fragile. According to the Jacksonians, all of human history had involved a struggle between the few and the many, instigated by a greedy minority of wealth and privilege that hoped to exploit the vast majority. And this struggle, they declared, lay behind the major problems of the day, as the 𠇊ssociated wealth” of America sought to augment its domination.

The people’s best weapons were equal rights and limited government𠅎nsuring that the already wealthy and favored classes would not enrich themselves further by commandeering, enlarging, and then plundering public institutions. More broadly, the Jacksonians proclaimed a political culture predicated on white male equality, contrasting themselves with other self-styled reform movements. Nativism, for example, struck them as a hateful manifestation of elitist puritanism. Sabbatarians, temperance advocates, and other would-be moral uplifters, they insisted, should not impose righteousness on others. Beyond position-taking, the Jacksonians propounded a social vision in which any white man would have the chance to secure his economic independence, would be free to live as he saw fit, under a system of laws and representative government utterly cleansed of privilege.

As Jacksonian leaders developed these arguments, they roused a noisy opposition—some of it coming from elements of the coalition that originally elected Jackson president. Reactionary southern planters, centered in South Carolina, worried that the Jacksonians’ egalitarianism might endanger their own prerogatives𠅊nd perhaps the institution of slavery—if southern nonslaveholders carried them too far. They also feared that Jackson, their supposed champion, lacked sufficient vigilance in protecting their interests�rs that provoked the nullification crisis in 1832-1833 and Jackson’s crushing of extremist threats to federal authority. A broader southern opposition emerged in the late 1830s, mainly among wealthy planters alienated by the disastrous panic of 1837 and suspicious of Jackson’s successor, the Yankee Martin Van Buren. In the rest of the country, meanwhile, the Jacksonian leadership’s continuing hard-money, antibank campaigns offended more conservative men—the so-called Bank Democrats—who, whatever their displeasure with the Second Bank of the United States, did not want to see the entire paper money credit system dramatically curtailed.

The oppositionist core, however, came from a cross-class coalition, strongest in rapidly commercializing areas, that viewed the market revolution as the embodiment of civilized progress. Far from pitting the few against the many, oppositionists argued, carefully guided economic growth would provide more for everyone. Government encouragement—in the form of tariffs, internal improvements, a strong national bank, and aid to a wide range of benevolent institutions—was essential to that growth. Powerfully influenced by the evangelical Second Great Awakening, core oppositionists saw in moral reform not a threat to individual independence but an idealistic cooperative effort to relieve human degradation and further expand the store of national wealth. Eager to build up the country as it already existed, they were cool to territorial expansion. Angered by Jackson’s large claims for presidential power and rotation in office, they charged that the Jacksonians had brought corruption and executive tyranny, not democracy. Above all, they believed that personal rectitude and industriousness, not alleged political inequalities, dictated men’s failures or successes. The Jacksonians, with their spurious class rhetoric, menaced that natural harmony of interests between rich and poor which, if only left alone, would eventually bring widespread prosperity.

By 1840, both the Jacksonian Democracy and its opposite (now organized as the Whig party) had built formidable national followings and had turned politics into a debate over the market revolution itself. Yet less than a decade later, sectional contests linked to slavery promised to drown out that debate and fracture both major parties. In large measure, that turnabout derived from the racial exclusiveness of the Jacksonians’ democratic vision.

The Jacksonian mainstream, so insistent on the equality of white men, took racism for granted. To be sure, there were key radical exceptions—people like Frances Wright and Robert Dale Owen—who were drawn to the Democracy’s cause. North and South, the democratic reforms achieved by plebeian whites𠅎specially those respecting voting and representation�me at the direct expense of free blacks. Although informed by constitutional principles and genuine paternalist concern, the Jacksonian rationale for territorial expansion assumed that Indians (and, in some areas, Hispanics) were lesser peoples. As for slavery, the Jacksonians were determined, on both practical and ideological grounds, to keep the issue out of national affairs. Few mainstream Jacksonians had moral qualms about black enslavement or any desire to meddle with it where it existed. More important, they believed that the mounting antislavery agitation would distract attention from the artificial inequalities among white men and upset the party’s delicate intersectional alliances. Deep down, many suspected that the slavery issue was but a smokescreen thrown up by disgruntled elitists looking to regain the initiative from the real people’s cause.

Through the 1830s and 1840s, the mainstream Jacksonian leadership, correctly confident that their views matched those of the white majority, fought to keep the United States a democracy free from the slavery question𠅌ondemning abolitionists as fomenters of rebellion, curtailing abolitionist mail campaigns, enforcing the congressional gag rule that squelched debate on abolitionist petitions, while fending off the more extremist proslavery southerners. In all of this fighting, however, the Jacksonians also began to run afoul of their professions about white egalitarianism. Opposing antislavery was one thing silencing the heretics with gag rules amounted to tampering with white people’s equal rights. More important, Jacksonian proexpansionism—what one friendly periodical, the Democratic Review boosted as “manifest destiny”—only intensified sectional rifts. Slaveholders, quite naturally, thought they were entitled to see as much new territory as legally possible opened up to slavery. But that prospect appalled northern whites who had hoped to settle in lily white areas, untroubled by that peculiar institution whose presence (they believed) would degrade the status of white free labor.

It would take until the 1850s before these contradictions fully unraveled the Jacksonian coalition. But as early as the mid-1840s, during the debates over Texas annexation, the Mexican War, and the Wilmot Proviso, sectional cleavages had grown ominous. The presidential candidacy of Martin Van Buren on the Free-Soil ticket in 1848𠅊 protest against growing southern power within the Democracy𠅊mply symbolized northern Democratic alienation. Southern slaveholder Democrats, for their part, began to wonder if anything short of positive federal protection for slavery would spell doom for their class𠅊nd the white man’s republic. In the middle remained a battered Jacksonian mainstream, ever hopeful that by raising the old issues, avoiding slavery, and resorting to the language of popular sovereignty, the party and the nation might be held together. Led by men like Stephen A. Douglas, these mainstream compromisers held sway into the mid-1850s, but at the cost of constant appeasement of southern concerns, further exacerbating sectional turmoil. Jacksonian Democracy was buried at Fort Sumter, but it had died many years earlier.


24e. Jackson vs. Clay and Calhoun


Andrew Jackson viewed Henry Clay, the Great Compromiser, as opportunistic, ambitious, and untrustworthy.

Henry Clay was viewed by Jackson as politically untrustworthy, an opportunistic, ambitious and self-aggrandizing man. He believed that Clay would compromise the essentials of American republican democracy to advance his own self-serving objectives. Jackson also developed a political rivalry with his Vice-President, John C. Calhoun. Throughout his term, Jackson waged political and personal war with these men, defeating Clay in the Presidential election of 1832 and leading Calhoun to resign as Vice-President.

Jackson's personal animosity towards Clay seems to have originated in 1819, when Clay denounced Jackson for his unauthorized invasion of Spanish West Florida in the previous year. Clay was also instrumental in John Quincy Adams's winning the Presidency from Jackson in 1824, when neither man had a majority and the election was thrown into the House of Representatives. Adams' appointment of Clay as Secretary of State confirmed Jackson's opinion that the Presidential election has been thrown to Adams as part of a corrupt and unprincipled bargain.

Clay was called The Great Compromiser , and served in the Congress starting in 1806. He had a grand strategic vision called the American System. This was a federal government initiative to foster national growth though protective tariffs, internal improvements and the Bank of the United States. Clay was unswerving in his support for internal improvements, which primarily meant federally funded roads and canals. Jackson believed the American System to be unconstitutional &mdash could federal funds be used to build roads? He vetoed the Maysville Road Bill , Clay's attempt to fund internal improvements. His veto of the Bank Recharter Bill drove the two further apart.


Calhoun and Jackson held separate views on many issues, including states' rights.

Jackson's personal animosity for Calhoun seems to have had its origin in the Washington "social scene" of the time. Jackson's feelings were inflamed by the Mrs. Calhoun's treatment of Peggy, wife of Jackson's Secretary of War, John Eaton . Mrs. Calhoun and other wives and daughters of several cabinet officers refused to attend social gatherings and state dinners to which Mrs. Eaton had been invited because they considered her of a lower social station and gossiped about her private life. Jackson, reminded of how rudely his own wife Rachel was treated, defended Mrs. Eaton.

Many political issues separated Jackson from Calhoun, his Vice President. One was the issue of states rights. Hoping for sympathy from President Jackson, Calhoun and the other states-rights party members sought to trap Jackson into a pro-states-rights public pronouncement at a Jefferson birthday celebration in April 1832. Some of the guests gave toasts which sought to establish a connection between a states-rights view of government and nullification. Finally, Jackson's turn to give a toast came, and he rose and challenged those present, " Our Federal Union &mdash It must be preserved ." Calhoun then rose and stated, "The Union &mdash next to our liberty, the most dear!" Jackson had humiliated Calhoun in public. The nullification crisis that would follow served as the last straw. Jackson proved that he was unafraid to stare down his enemies, no matter what position they might hold.


Andrew Jackson: Domestic Affairs

Jackson entered the White House with an uncertain policy agenda beyond a vague craving for "reform" (or revenge) and a determination to settle relationships between the states and the Indian tribes within their borders. On these two matters he moved quickly and decisively.

During the campaign, Jackson had charged the Adams bureaucracy with fraud and with working against his election. As President, he initiated sweeping removals among highranking government officials—Washington bureau chiefs, land and customs officers, and federal marshals and attorneys. Jackson claimed to be purging the corruption, laxity, and arrogance that came with long tenure, and restoring the opportunity for government service to the citizenry at large through "rotation in office." But haste and gullibility did much to confuse his purpose.

Under the guise of reform, many offices were doled out as rewards for political services. Newspaper editors who had championed Jackson's cause, some of them very unsavory characters, came in for special favor. His most appalling appointee was an old army comrade and political sycophant named Samuel Swartwout. Against all advice, Jackson made him collector of the New York City customhouse, where the government collected nearly half its annual revenue. In 1838, Swartwout absconded with more than $1 million, a staggering sum for that day. Jackson denied that political criteria motivated his appointments, claiming honesty and efficiency as his only goals. Yet he accepted an officeholder's support for Adams as evidence of unfitness, and in choosing replacements he relied exclusively on recommendations from his own partisans. A Jackson senator from New York, William L. Marcy, defended Jackson's removals by proclaiming frankly in 1832 that in politics as in war, "to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy." Jackson was never so candid—or so cynical. Creating the "spoils system" of partisan manipulation of the patronage was not his conscious intention. Still, it was his doing.

Indian Removal

Indian nations had been largely erased or removed from the northeastern United States by the time Jackson became President. But in the southwest, the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, and Creeks still occupied large portions of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. For many years, Jackson had protested the practice of treating with Indian tribes as if they were foreign nations. Jackson did not hate Indians as a race. He was friendly with many individual Indians and had taken home an Indian orphan from the Creek campaign to raise in his household as a companion to his adopted son. But Jackson did believe that Indian civilization was lower than that of whites, and that for their own survival, tribes who were pressed by white settlement must assimilate as individuals or remove to the west out of harm's way. Confident that he could judge the Indians' true welfare better than they, Jackson, when employed as an Indian negotiator in his army years, had often used threats and bribery to procure cessions of land. Formalities notwithstanding, he regarded tribes resident within the states not as independent sovereign entities but as wards of the government and tenants-at-will.

The inherent conflict between tribal and state authority came to a head just as Jackson assumed office. The Cherokee nation had acquired many of the attributes of white civilization, including a written language, a newspaper, and a constitution of government. Under its treaties with the federal government, the tribe claimed sovereign authority over its territory in Georgia and adjoining states. Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi countered by asserting state jurisdiction over their Indian domains.

Jackson backed the states. He maintained that the federal government had no right to defend the Cherokees against Georgia's encroachments. If the Indians wished to maintain their tribal government and landownership, they must remove beyond the existing states. To facilitate the removal, Jackson induced Congress in 1830 to pass a bill empowering him to lay off new Indian homelands west of the Mississippi, exchange them for current tribal holdings, purchase the Indians' capital improvements, and pay the costs of their westward transportation. This Indian Removal Act was the only major piece of legislation passed at Jackson's behest in his eight years as President.

Indian removal was so important to Jackson that he returned to Tennessee to conduct the first negotiations in person. He gave the Indians a simple alternative: submit to state authority or emigrate beyond the Mississippi. Offered generous aid on one hand and the threat of subjugation on the other, the Chickasaws and Choctaws submitted readily, the Creeks under duress. Only the Cherokees resisted to the bitter end. Tentatively in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia in 1831 and more forcefully in Worcester v. Georgia the next year, the Supreme Court upheld the tribes' independence from state authority. But these legal victories pointed out no practical course of resistance for the tribe to take. Tacitly encouraged by Jackson, Georgia ignored the rulings. Jackson cultivated a minority faction within the tribe, and signed a removal treaty with them in 1835. Though the vast majority of Cherokees rejected the treaty, those who refused to remove under its terms were finally rounded up and transplanted westward by military force in 1838, under Jackson's successor Martin Van Buren. The Cherokees' sufferings in this forced exodus became notorious as the "Trail of Tears."

Meanwhile, dozens of removal treaties closed out pockets of Indian settlement in other states and territories east of the Mississippi. A short military campaign on the upper Mississippi quelled resistance by Black Hawk's band of Sacs and Foxes in 1832, and in 1835 a long and bloody war to subdue the Seminoles in Florida began. Most of the tribes went without force.

Given the coercion that produced them, most of the removal treaties were fair and even generous. Their execution was miserable. Generally the treaties promised fair payment for the Indians' land and goods, safe transportation to the West and sustenance upon arrival, and protection for the property of those who chose to remain behind under state jurisdiction. These safeguards collapsed under pressure from corrupt contractors, unscrupulous traders, and white trespassers backed by state authority. Jackson's desire to economize and avoid trouble with the state governments further undercut federal efforts to protect the tribes. For this record he bore ultimate responsibility. Jackson did not countenance the abuses, but he did ignore them. Though usually a stickler for the precise letter of formal obligations, he made promises to the Indians that the government did not and perhaps could not fulfill.

The American System and the Maysville Road Veto

When Jackson took office, the leading controversies in Congress concerned the "American System" of economic development policies propounded by Henry Clay and furthered by the previous Adams administration. As a senator in 1824, Jackson had backed the System's twin pillars of a protective tariff to foster domestic industry and federal subsidies for transportation projects (known as "internal improvements"). These policies were especially popular in the country's mid-section, from Pennsylvania west through Ohio to Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. They were widely hated in much of the South, where they were regarded as devices to siphon wealth from cotton planters to northern manufacturers.

Many Americans judged the American System by its impact on their local interests. Jackson had supported it on national grounds, as a means to build the country's strength and secure its economic independence. Poor transportation in particular had hamstrung the American military effort in the War of 1812. But the unseemly scramble in Congress for favors and subsidies and the rising sectional acrimony over the tariff during the Adams presidency turned Jackson against the System. As a nationalist, he deplored sectional wrangling that threatened disunion, and he came to see protective tariffs and transportation subsidies as vehicles for corruption and for the advancement of special privilege.

Jackson announced his new policy by vetoing a bill to aid the Maysville Road in Kentucky in 1830. A string of similar vetoes followed, essentially halting federal internal improvement spending. Reversing himself on the tariff, Jackson renounced protection in 1831 and endorsed a reduction in rates. Invoking Jeffersonian precedent, he urged a return to simple, frugal, minimal government.

At the same time, Jackson reproved the increasingly strident Southern sectional opposition to the tariff headed by his own vice president, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. Radical South Carolinians blamed the tariff for all their economic woes and misfortunes. They denounced it as an unconstitutional exercise of congressional power, a measure to illegitimately channel wealth from South to North under the guise of an import tax. Drawing on the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions against the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, Calhoun fashioned an argument that an individual state, acting through a formal convention, could interpose its authority to declare null and void any federal law that it deemed to violate the Constitution. Jackson thought this nullification doctrine treasonous and absurd. At a political dinner in 1830 he stamped his disapproval on it by staring at Calhoun and toasting, "Our federal Union: It must be preserved."

The Eaton Affair

Jackson was already becoming estranged from Calhoun over a simmering Washington scandal. Jackson's secretary of war, John Henry Eaton, was an old army comrade, Jackson's his campaign biographer, and a Tennessee neighbor. He was the President's one personal confidante in a cabinet made up of near-strangers. Just before the inauguration, Eaton had married Margaret O'Neale Timberlake, the vivacious daughter of a Washington hotelier. Scandalous stories circulated about "Peggy" O'Neale, whose first husband, a purser in the Navy, had died abroad under mysterious circumstances not long before her marriage to Eaton. Rumor said that he committed suicide over her dalliance with Eaton. Cabinet wives, including Calhoun's wife Floride, regarded Peggy with abhorrence and conspicuously shunned her.

In the snubbing of Mrs. Eaton, Jackson saw the kind of vicious persecution that he believed had hounded his own Rachel to her death. He also believed he spied a plot to drive out Eaton from his cabinet, isolate him among strangers, and control his administration. The master of the plot, Jackson came to decide, was Calhoun. He was also shown evidence that during the controversy over his Florida incursion back in 1818, Calhoun had criticized him in Monroe's cabinet while publicly posturing as his defender. Jackson now accused Calhoun of treachery, initiating an angry correspondence that ended with the severing of social relations between the two.

The Eaton scandal cleaved Jackson's own household. His niece, White House hostess Emily Tennessee Donelson, refused to associate with Mrs. Eaton, and Emily's husband, Jackson's nephew and private secretary Andrew Jackson Donelson, backed her up. The one cabinet officer who stood apart from the snubbing was a man with no wife to contend with—Secretary of State Martin Van Buren of New York, a widower. Jackson was drawn to Van Buren both by his courtliness to Peggy Eaton and his policy views. Van Buren wished to return to the minimalist, strict constructionist governing philosophy of the old Jeffersonian party. In practical political terms, he sought to rebuild the coalition of "planters and plain republicans"—put concretely, an alliance of the South with New York and Pennsylvania—that had sustained Jefferson. Van Buren opposed the American System, but on broad philosophical rather than narrow sectional grounds.

As Jackson separated from Calhoun, he became more intimate with Van Buren. By 1831, the Eaton imbroglio threatened to paralyze the administration. Eaton and Van Buren created a way out: they resigned, giving Jackson an occasion to demand the resignations of the other secretaries and appoint a whole new cabinet. To reward Van Buren, Jackson named him as minister to Great Britain, the highest post in the American diplomatic service. The nomination came before the Senate, where Vice-President Calhoun, on an arranged tie vote, cast the deciding vote against it. Van Buren, who had already assumed his station abroad, came home as a political martyr, Jackson's choice for vice-president in 1832, and his heir apparent to the presidency.

The Nullification Crisis and the Compromise of 1833

As Van Buren rose and Calhoun fell, the tariff controversy mounted to a crisis. Congress passed a new tariff in 1832 that reduced some rates but continued the protectionist principle. Some Southerners claimed this as a sign of progress, but South Carolinians saw it as reason to abandon hope in Washington. In November, a state convention declared the tariff unconstitutional and hence null and void. South Carolina's legislature followed up with measures to block the collection of federal custom revenues at the state's ports and to defend the state with arms against federal incursion.

Jackson responded on two fronts. He urged Congress to reduce the tariff further, but he also asked for strengthened authority to enforce the revenue laws. Privately, and perhaps for calculated political effect, he talked about marching an army into South Carolina and hanging Calhoun. In December, he issued a ringing official proclamation against nullification. Drafted largely by Secretary of State Edward Livingston, the document questioned Carolinians' obsession with the tariff, reminded them of their patriotic heritage, eviscerated the constitutional theory behind nullification, and warned against taking this fatal step: "Be not deceived by names. Disunion by armed force is treason. Are you really ready to incur its guilt?"While Jackson thundered, Congress scrambled for a solution that would avoid civil war. Henry Clay, leader of the congressional opposition to Jackson and stalwart of the American System, joined in odd alliance with John C. Calhoun, who had resigned his lame-duck vice-presidency for a seat in the Senate. They fashioned a bill to reduce the tariff in a series of stages over nine years. Early in 1833, Congress passed this Compromise Tariff and also a "force bill" to enforce the revenue laws. Though the Clay-Calhoun forces sought to deny Jackson credit for the settlement, he was fully satisfied with the result. South Carolina, claiming victory, rescinded its nullification of the tariff but nullified the force bill in a final gesture of principled defiance. The Compromise of 1833 brought an end to tariff agitation until the 1840s. First with internal improvements, then with the tariff, the American System had been essentially stymied.

The Bank Veto

The congressional Clay-Calhoun alliance foreshadowed a convergence of all Jackson's enemies into a new opposition party. The issue that sealed this coalition, solidified Jackson's own following, and dominated his second term as President was the Second Bank of the United States.

The Bank of the United States was a quasi-public corporation chartered by Congress to manage the federal government's finances and provide a sound national currency. Headquartered in Philadelphia with branches throughout the states, it was the country's only truly national financial institution. The federal government owned one-fifth of the stock and the President of the United States appointed one-fifth of the directors. Like other banks chartered by state legislatures, the Bank lent for profit and issued paper currency backed by specie reserves. Its notes were federal legal tender. By law, it was also the federal government's own banker, arranging its loans and storing, transferring, and disbursing its funds. The Bank's national reach and official status gave it enormous leverage over the state banks and over the country's supply of money and credit.

The original Bank of the United States was chartered in 1791 at the urging of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. Opposition to it was one of the founding tenets of the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republican party. That party allowed the Bank to expire when its twenty-year charter ran out in 1811. But the government's financial misadventures in the War of 1812 forced a reconsideration. In 1816, Congress chartered the Second Bank, again for twenty years.

Imprudent lending and corrupt management brought the Second Bank into deep disrepute during the speculative boom-and-bust cycle that culminated in the Panic of 1819. Calls arose for revocation of the charter. But the astute stewardship of new Bank president Nicholas Biddle did much to repair its reputation in the 1820s. By 1828, when Jackson was first elected, the Bank had ceased to be controversial. Indeed, most informed observers deemed it indispensable.

Startling his own supporters, Jackson attacked the Bank in his very first message to Congress in 1829. Biddle attempted to conciliate him, but Jackson's opposition to renewing the charter seemed immovable. He was convinced that the Bank was not only unconstitutional—as Jefferson and his followers had long maintained—but that its concentrated financial power represented a dire threat to popular liberty.

Under the advice of Senators Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, Biddle sought a congressional recharter in 1832. They calculated that Jackson would not dare issue a veto on the eve of the election if he did, they would make an issue of it in the campaign. The recharter bill duly passed Congress and on July 10, Jackson vetoed it.

The veto message was one of the defining documents of Jackson's presidency. Clearly intended for the public eye, parts of it read more like a political manifesto than a communication to Congress. Jackson recited his constitutional objections and introduced some dubious economic arguments, chiefly aimed at foreign ownership of Bank stock. But the crux of the message was its attack on the special privilege enjoyed by private stockholders in a government-chartered corporation. Jackson laid out an essentially laissez-faire vision of government as a neutral arbiter, phrased in a resonant populism:"It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society—the farmers, mechanics, and laborers--who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing."

Though some original Jackson men were flabbergasted and outraged at his turn against the Bank, the veto held up in Congress. It became the prime issue in the ensuing presidential campaign, with both sides distributing copies of Jackson's message. Jackson read his re-election as a mandate to pursue his attack on the Bank further.

Removal of the Deposits

As soon as the nullification crisis was resolved, Jackson took his next step. The Bank's open involvement in the presidential campaign convinced him more than ever of its inherent corruption. To draw its fangs until its charter ran out in 1836, he determined to withdraw the federal government's own deposits from the Bank and place them in selected state-chartered banks.

This was a maneuver requiring some delicacy. Under the charter, the secretary of the treasury, not the President, had authority to remove the deposits. He had also to explain his reasons to Congress, where the House of Representatives had just voted by a two-to-one margin that the deposits should stay where they were. Jackson canvassed his cabinet on removal. Most of them opposed it, but he got the support and arguments he needed from Attorney General Roger Taney. Jackson drew up a paper explaining his decision, read it to the cabinet, and ordered Treasury Secretary William John Duane to execute the removal. To Jackson's astonishment, Duane refused. He also refused to resign, so Jackson fired him and put Taney in his place. Taney ordered the removal, which was largely complete by the time Congress convened in December 1833.

Even many congressional foes of the Bank could not countenance Jackson's proceedings against it. He had defied Congress's intent, rode roughshod over the treasury secretary's statutory control over the public purse, and removed the public funds from the lawfully authorized, responsible hands of the Bank of the United States to an untried, unregulated, and perhaps wholly irresponsible collection of state banks. To many, Jackson seemed to regard himself as above the law.

Fortunately for Jackson, Bank president Nicholas Biddle over-reacted and played into his hands. Regarding the removal of deposits as a declaration of open war, Biddle determined to force a recharter by creating a financial panic. Loss of the deposits required some curtailment of the Bank's loans, but Biddle carried the contraction further than was necessary in a deliberate effort to squeeze businessmen into demanding a recharter. This manipulation of credit for political ends served only to discredit the Bank and to vindicate Jackson's strictures against it.

Congress did not even consider recharter, but it did lash out at Jackson. Clay men and Southern anti-tariffites could not agree on the American System they could not all agree on rechartering the Bank but they could unite in their outrage at Jackson's high-handed proceedings against it. In the 1833-1834 session, Jackson's congressional foes converged to form a new party. They took the name of Whigs, borrowed from Revolutionary-era American and British opponents of royal prerogative.

Whigs held a majority in the Senate. They rejected Jackson's nominees for government directors of the Bank of the United States, rejected Taney as secretary of the treasury, and in March 1834, adopted a resolution of censure against Jackson himself for assuming "authority and power not conferred by the Constitution and laws, but in derogation of both." Jackson protested the censure, arguing that the Senate had adopted the moral equivalent of an impeachment conviction without formal charges, without a trial, and without the necessary two-thirds vote. Led by Thomas Hart Benton, Jackson's defenders mounted a crusade to expunge the censure from the Senate journal. They succeeded in 1837, at the end of Jackson's presidency, after Democrats finally won majority control of the Senate.

Hard Money

The Bank, defeated, retired from the fray after the 1834 session. When its charter expired it accepted a new one from Pennsylvania and continued to operate as a state institution. Meanwhile, the state banks, cut loose from central restraint and gorged with federal funds, went on a lending spree that helped fuel a speculative boom in western lands. Everything came crashing down in the Panic of 1837, which broke just as Jackson retired from office. The ensuing depression plagued Martin Van Buren's presidency and lingered on into the 1840s.

Jackson's unsatisfactory experiment with the state banks helped drive his economic thinking toward more radical extremes. He renounced all banknote currency and demanded a return to the "hard money" of gold and silver. To that end, and to curb rampant speculation, he ordered the issuance of a "Specie Circular" in 1836 requiring payment in coin for western public lands. By the end of his presidency he was attacking all chartered corporations, including manufacturing concerns, turnpike and canal companies, and especially banks, as instruments of aristocratic privilege and engines of oppression. His Farewell Address in 1837, drafted largely by Taney, warned of an insidious "money power" that threatened to subvert American liberty.

Slavery and Abolition

During Jackson's presidency, the momentous question of slavery intruded forcefully into politics. Northern evangelical opponents of slavery known as abolitionists organized and began to bombard the nation and Congress with pleas and petitions to rid the republic of this great wrong. Defenders of slavery responded with denunciations and with violence. They demanded in the interest of public safety that criticism of slavery be not only answered, but silenced. Some, especially the South Carolina nullifiers, linked abolitionism to the tariff as part of a systematic campaign of Northern sectional oppression against the South.

There is nothing to show that Jackson ever pondered slavery as a fundamental moral question. Such thinking was not in his character: he was a man of action, not of philosophy. He grew up with the institution of slavery and accepted it uncritically. Like his neighbors, he bought and sold slaves and used them to work his plantation and wait on his needs. Jackson reacted to the abolitionist controversy in purely political terms. He perceived it as a threat to sectional harmony and to his own national Democratic party, and on that ground he condemned the agitation of both sides.

During Jackson's administration, Congress began adopting annual "gag rules" to keep discussion of abolition petitions off the House and Senate floor. In 1835, abolitionists sent thousands of antislavery tracts through the mails directly to southern clergy, officials, and prominent citizens. Many of these were never delivered, intercepted by southern postmasters or by angry mobs. Jackson and Postmaster General Amos Kendall approved their action. Jackson recommended federal suppression of "incendiary publications" and damned the abolitionists' "wicked attempts" to incite a slave rebellion. His Farewell Address in 1837 warned of the dangers of sectional fanaticism, both northern and southern.


Public

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Jackson vs. Calhoun--Part 1

It has been rare in American political history for presidents and vice-presidents not to get along or like each other, but it has happened. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, and John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson are three pairs that come immediately to mind. However, the most contentious relationship between a chief executive and his backup might be the pair of President Andrew Jackson and Vice-president John C. Calhoun.

Jackson was a self-made man from the backwoods of Tennessee and a military hero. In 1828, he was elected president on a platform of political and financial reform and of protecting states' rights. Calhoun hailed from South Carolina aristocracy and would do anything to protect and defend his native state.

The relationship between Jackson and Calhoun got off to a bad start when shortly after the inaugural in 1829, Calhoun's wife, Flordie, refused to entertain or otherwise acknowledge Peggy Eaton, the wife of John Eaton. Eaton was a senator from Tennessee and a good friend of Jackson whom Jackson appointed as Secretary of War. Peggy Eaton's first husband, a sailor named Timberlake, died while on a Mediterranean cruise -- an assignment Eaton, as Secretary of War, had arranged. It is unclear whether Timberlake died of natural causes or whether he committed suicide upon learning of the affair between Eaton and Peggy, but the fact that he had been assigned to the cruise by the Secretary of War to get him out of the way was scandalous. What made matters worse, John and Peggy lived together while Timberlake was at sea and married just a short time after the sailor's death.

This behavior from a woman was absolutely unacceptable to Flordie Calhoun, so Flordie refused to invite her to the grand social functions a vice-president's wife was obliged to hold for the Washington elite. Flordie's actions caused many of the other wives of cabinet officials to follow suit.

This snub of Jackson's friend infuriated the President, especially after the ugly rumors that had been spread about him and his wife, Rachel, during the previous presidential campaign. A chill developed between Jackson and Calhoun, and Eaton eventually resigned his position in 1831. However, several years later, Jackson appointed Eaton governor of the Territory of Florida.

On the political front, Jackson and Calhoun sparred over internal improvements and states' rights. On the issue of internal improvements, Calhoun supported the use of federal monies to be used for the building of roads, canals, and anything else that would help link the different parts of the country, especially for the benefit of trade and commerce that may help South Carolina.

Jackson, on the other hand, while supporting some improvements with federal money, was strongly influenced by the opponents of internal improvements, especially by his Secretary of State, Martin van Buren. When Congress sent the Maysville Road Bill to Jackson for signing, a bill that would have had the Federal Government buying stock in a private company in Kentucky, Jackson vetoed it instead. His reason was simple and sound: since the Maysville Road Bill allocated money for a project that was solely in the state of Kentucky, and therefore would not benefit any state other than Kentucky, Jackson could not support it. He pulled out the veto stamp and used it.

In his veto message, Jackson said that since monies appropriated by Congress for the general good "have always been under the control of the general principle that the works which might be thus aided should be 'of a general, not local, national, not State,' character[,]" it would not be proper to pass the Maysville Road Bill. He further stated that since all the money would go to a project that was "exclusively within the limits of a State" it would set a bad precedent that "would of necessity lead to the subversion of the federal system&hellip."

But differences over social etiquette and pork barrel projects would be nothing compared to the fight in which Jackson and Calhoun were about to engage.


Elektratig


Having read several books with a Whig orientation recently, I thought that I needed to balance the scales by reading something with a Jacksonian emphasis. Looking over my library, I decided I should re-read Richard Ellis’s The Union at Risk: Jacksonian Democracy, States’ Rights and the Nullification Crisis. I read the book about three years ago and remember liking it a lot at the same time, I was pretty sure that I had read it too early and without adequate background, and that a lot of it had gone over my head.

Although I am now only 35 or so pages in, I already know that I was right. In the opening pages alone, Professor Ellis briefly delivers insightful analyses of a number of issues including: the different “flavors” (my term) of states’ rights, and why traditional states’ righters could be adamantly opposed to nullification and secession, in theory as well as in practice procedural details concerning the Cherokee Indian cases ( Cherokee Nation v. Georgia and Worcester v. Georgia ) that explain why Andrew Jackson was not put in a position in which he had to choose between enforcing or not enforcing the Supreme Court’s order and the pre-history, as it were, of Andrew Jackson’s mixed feelings and mixed signals concerning the Second Bank of the United States before Henry Clay and Nicholas Biddle openly allied and pushed re-charter in 1832.

For purposes of this post, however, let me highlight one other topic that Professor Ellis raises: Jackson’s approach to internal improvements. The opening chapter contains the best analysis of the issue that I have seen.

Jackson famously vetoed the Maysville Road bill in 1830, denouncing federal funding of projects deemed to be local as unconstitutional. Critics have asserted that Jackson’s veto was arbitrary and based on spite (against Henry Clay), citing the fact that “the federal government spent more money on internal improvements during Jackson’s two administrations than during all the previous administrations combined.”

In just a couple of pages, Professor Ellis convincingly rebuts the charge and argues that Jackson’s “internal improvements policy appears to have been both effective and fairly consistent.” Among other things, Ellis dissects Jackson’s veto messages, which drew careful distinctions among different kinds of improvements. Funding for roads and canals, to which Jackson applied a more stringent test, was (with two exceptions I won’t go into here) largely confined to projects in the territories and the District of Columbia.

Jackson’s veto messages, in contrast, indicate that he believed that maritime projects were more likely to warrant federal involvement. Consistent with this stated understanding, “[t]he largest and most frequent [federal] expenditure . . . was on lighthouses and river and harbor improvements.” In addition, Professor Ellis points out that prices rose over 50% during the period 1834-1837, so comparing raw dollar expenditures with those in prior years is misleading.


Watch the video: Michael Jacksons Rocky Relationship with MTV and the VMAs. A Timeline